Star Wars is a beloved franchise, but the buzz surrounding the impending release of the seventh installment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is almost tangible in Los Angeles, where the long-awaited premiere will take place this week. Ever since the first Star Wars film began its journey in 1977 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, LA has had a special relationship with Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.
Posters for the The Force Awakens are plastered all about town, with four alone on the Boulevard. The most glamorous premiere of the cinematic year is set to take place on Monday, while the general release is on Thursday.
Adding to the sense of a (very big) event are the camping fans. The dedicated group – who have called their efforts “the line awakens” – currently has more than 130 people participating, with more likely to join in the coming days. The ordeal was planned by a group of Star Wars fanatics who staged previously successful lines for the franchise’s prequels at the same venue. Campers will be granted one of the many tickets reserved by the small outfit for the first general release showing of The Force Awakens, after spending at least 24 hours in the line. Money raised goes to Starlight Children’s Foundation, reportedly one of the first charities that Mark Hamill contributed to when Star Wars made him a household name.
There’s even an elaborate franchise-themed wedding. Australian Caroline Ritter, who works in the mining industry, is among the flock of diehard campers. She has been outside the cavernous cinema in the heart of Hollywood since 5 December, well ahead of the film’s first screening there on Thursday. Ritter flew in with her fiance, Andrew Porters, to join the line.
They arrived a few days early to enjoy the Star Wars rides at Disneyland before making their way to the cinema. She said the trip had been in the works for 18 months, ever since the release date for The Force Awakens was announced.
Caroline Ritter and Andrew Porters outside Grauman’s, where they will be married before the film opens.
Caroline Ritter and Andrew Porters outside Grauman’s, where they will be married before the film opens. Photograph: Twitter @Saba_h
“Technically, it premieres in Australia first,” she said, noting the time difference between her homeland and Los Angeles. “But the experience of lining up and the friendships we all make outweighs those few hours.”
Just before The Force Awakens is screened, Ritter will marry Porters outside the historic theatre in a ceremony orchestrated by the venue itself. For her big day, Ritter says she will don a classic white dress, with “handmade crystal x-wing starfighters on it”.
“We just wanted to do something unique and fun, and engage the fans,” said the president of Grauman’s, Alwyn Hight Kushner, who said that Ritter would be escorted down the aisle by Darth Vader himself. Officiating at the ceremony will be a friend of the couple who goes by the name of “Obi” Sean.
A number of sponsors have come on board to help with the nuptials: Dunkin’ Donuts will provide the campers with donuts on the morning of the wedding, while Baskin-Robbins has agreed to provide the happy couple with a Star Wars-themed wedding cake. A local boutique hotel has also pitched in to provide the newlyweds with a suite on the night of their wedding.
In the era of reserved seating, when queueing is not actually necessary, the lengthening lines are a testament to the intensity of franchise fandom. “We’ve had reserved seating for a couple years so people don’t line up the way they used to,” said Kushner. “But [Star Wars] is a whole other animal. People are coming from all over the world. It’s not about getting into the theatre first because they have their ticket – it’s about sharing the passion for the film with their comrades.”
Nathan Clukey, who had driven over from Detroit, agreed: “We line up because we used to have to line up: it’s become tradition. I don’t know if it will continue, but as long as there are people like this we’ll do it.”
For Clukey, who sports long brown dreadlocks, this marked his fourth time lining up outside Grauman’s. He joined the organisers of liningup.net for the previous three instalments, starting with The Phantom Menace, which he admitted disliking. “I’m old school,” Clukey said. “I’m a 45-year-old fan of the original trilogy. I keep coming back to pay tribute to the original Star Wars.”
Unlike his fellow campers, Clukey had not made use of the group’s new policy, which allows fans to leave the line by signing out in order to go to work, take a shower, or sleep elsewhere. “The theatre lets us use their facilities around the clock,” he said. “In the past, for the six-week lines, we’d all rent a motel room to go in and shower; this is only for 12 days, so I don’t need that luxury. I just use baby wipes in the bathroom – that’s good enough.”