Revenge of the Sith Screening

If you’d told me back in 1977, at nine years old, that I’d be seeing the last of the Star Wars movies in 2005 in a theater with George Lucas, well, I’d have probably responded with a “coooool!” and gone off to go and battle imaginary foes with my home-made lightsaber.

Time and the wisdom gained through it has given the event a slightly larger impact.

I’m very lucky to have friends who thought enough of me and my passion for Star Wars to invite me to fly several thousand miles to see the last of the movies as a guest at their employee premiere. When they asked me to go, I was excited, but I did kind of sit around sort of hemming and hawing and thinking, “Well, that’s a lot of money to spend just to see the movie. I mean, yeah, I’m seeing it early, but…wow…it’s a couple hundred bucks a movie ticket.” I even went so far as to think to myself, “If I wanted to see the movie early I could spend that much on a charity premiere and at least the money would go to a good cause.” (Not saying supporting the airline industry isn’t currently a good cause as well, as they seem to currently be operating as not for profit agencies as well.)

At some point, I took a second to travel in time and talk to that nine-year-old me and ask, “Hey…what would you do?”

“Oh man,” he said, rolling his eyes and throwing his arms up, one of them holding a Han Solo toy blaster pistol. “You’ve got to go!”

And I couldn’t dissapoint the nine-year-old me, because I’ve found that, often, he’s a lot smarter than me, and as long as I keep his hand in my adult one when we go into the video game store or toy superstore, things tend to be okay. Perhaps more than okay…they usually turn out to be the more memorable moments in my life.

So my wife and I made the journey to San Francisco for the premiere. Early Saturday morning we set out for the Metreon entertainment complex in San Francisco, where the movie was showing in four theaters at 9:30 am. Only one of the showings was digital, and we all decided that getting into that theater was more important than sleep. (I think the nine-year-olds in all of us were talking.) The line stretched about halfway down the block when we got there at 7:00, showing that Lucas employees are fanboys and fangirls, too.

We passed the time that morning chatting about the movies, the games, all the things George had wrought, until the doors opened and we charged into the building. When we got into the digital theater, our elation was great as we saw a couple of rows of prime seating available in the very middle of the theater. Our hopes were dashed when we discovered those rows were reserved. So we settled in left of center near the front, still happy to be there, and suddenly had the thought, “Hey, who are those seats reserved FOR?”

We didn’t have to wait long for our first celebrity sighting. Robin Williams snuck in with the rest of the crowd and settled into one of the reserved rows. Robin was a hero of mine when I was a kid. I read all the interviews he gave about how he wasn’t a very popular kid and how he was shy, and that was why he developed the whole frenetic comedy persona we all love. I emulated that a bit, and while I never had the talent to be as funny as him, it did help me come out of my shell with people. I was still shy (still am till this day, to tell the truth), but he showed me you could be an extroverted introvert sometimes. So it was cool to share the theater with him, and watch him kind of sneak in and find a seat in much the same quiet way I would, despite the fact that, hey, he’s Robin Williams.

So could it be? Did this celebrity sighting mean we were in for more than just a movie? Sure enough, shortly after that the Lucasfilm celebrities joined us. I recognized Rick McCallum, John Knoll, Howard Roffman (president of Lucas Licensing), and a few others as they settled in. And yes, George was there, too.

When the credits rolled and the “Star Wars” logo shouted across the screen, fading like an echo, I thought, “Wow, somewhere behind me, George Lucas is watching this movie with me. Wow!” And the nine-year-old me sort of thundered with glee. This was total coolness.

The crowd was a little muted during the film. There were only a couple of moments where the collective inner geeks in us allowed us to cheer. (But come those moments did.) It was a great audience to see the film with, and a great way to see it the first time. To really be able to soak it up, and hear all the lines, as opposed to having some washed out by the cheers of the enthusiastic audience. Sounds weird, but I enjoy both ways of seeing the movies, though usually the soaking-in way is reserved for DVD viewings at home.

Having been to a few Walt Disney Feature Animation movie screenings in my time with my wife (who worked for Disney Feature Animation here in Florida for many years), I was aware that at these screenings you don’t jump up to leave when the credits start to roll. It’s a sign of respect to applaud throughout the credits for the people you know whose names are going by on screen.

Once the credits ended, there was a pause, in the dark, and then the lights came up, and as one, we, the audience, rose, turned to George, and gave him a standing ovation that just went on and on.

I swear, George blushed. He kind of looked around and at the ground and waved it all off and when it got quiet he said, simply, to his gathered employees, “This is about you. That,”  he pointed at the screen, “Is YOUR hard work up there on the screen, and I thank you for it.” It was genuine, appreciative, and respectful. George really is a humble guy, and he seems to truly appreciate the artists he works with to make his visions a reality. I felt really honored to be there, and to watch him thank the folks he worked with to make Star Wars for that nine-year-old kid who was jumping up and down and cheering in my head.

More tomorrow about my visit to the Letterman Digital Center, the new home of many of the Lucas companies.