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Phantom of the Sidewalk

[whitespace] Star Wars fan
Chris Gardner

The post-'Wars' generation follows the Force

By Michael Learmonth

First in line on Olin Street is Matthew Serna, 25, one of the few people in line here who was alive--if barely--when Star Wars was released in May 1977. He arrived at the Century 22 Theater in San Jose on May 3, set up a folding chair, pitched a tent and made himself comfortable. By the time opening day for Phantom Menace rolls around next week, he will have been living on a 3-foot-square patch of sidewalk for 16 days.

"It gets a little monotonous sometimes," admits Serna, whose wife stopped by this morning to spell him so he could go home and take a shower. "I've been playing Game Boy, reading books and stuff, but mostly talking to the other guys."

Two weeks before opening night, the sidewalk next to Century 22 is starting to look like a UN refugee center for Silicon Valley's young and underemployed. There are three tents pitched along the sidewalk, dozens of folding lawn chairs, coolers, a card table, lanterns, laptops and just about any other creature comfort that can be transported from home. Encampment boundaries are delineated by strips of duct tape on the sidewalk. Century 22 says it will soon provide a port-a-potty to discourage unauthorized use of nearby shrubbery.

Second in line is Scott Bakalor, 19, born just a year before the release of The Empire Strikes Back, three years before Return of the Jedi. Bakalor has developed a media-friendly persona since he took up residence on Olin Street on May 4, giving interviews to print and television reporters as a resident Star Wars expert and instructing other members of his group to do the same. Bakalor and his group are signing sponsors to raise money for leukemia research. To earn a ticket, each member of the group has to spend 25 hours in line before May 20.

Bakalor's convertible Geo is packed to the gills with a bed roll, clothes, books and some of his most coveted possessions: an X-wing fighter pilot costume, complete with helmet and flight boots, and a box full of first-edition Phantom Menace action figures, still unopened and marked with the coveted first-edition double-zero serial numbers.

On one telephone pole, next to Bakalor's car, is a blue sign: "Steven Curnow: You're With the Force Now." Curnow was one of the kids killed at Columbine High School in Littleton. Though he was only 14, he was well known in Star Wars discussion groups on the Internet. When Bakalor buys his 12 tickets--the maximum allotted--for the first Phantom Menace matinee, he'll save one, unused, to laminate and send to Curnow's family along with a book of signed condolences for the departed Star Wars fan.

I have to admit, I'm touched by the gesture, but I'm still trying to understand why anyone would spend 16 perfectly good days, 384 irreplaceable hours of life, just to be in the first showing of a movie, even one as momentous as Phantom Menace.

Between poker games, Mary Perez, 21, tries to explain.

"Our generation grew up with Star Wars," she says. "For the movie to come out that explains it all ... I mean, you've waited your whole life to know how it all started."

"Our" generation. Perez's attempt at cultural translation is genuine, I know. But she was 3 when Return of the Jedi came out, and with all due respect to the Star Wars faithful, I think that plants her and almost everyone else in line firmly in the "post Star Wars" generation.

Of course there isn't a Wookie worshipper in line who won't profess to having infant memories of seeing Star Wars, Empire or Jedi in the theater.

In a moment of self-righteousness, I decide to give them the story of a member of the real Star Wars generation.

"When I was 7, I saw Star Wars when it was first released," I tell them. "My 13-year-old neighbor had to read the opening out loud so I could keep up. I built paper X-wings from a cutout book--to play with, no less, not to hoard for God knows what purpose."

For a moment I'm transported back to the myriad schoolyard bragfests that took place among the real Star Wars generation: "I've seen it 20 times!" "I've seen it 100 times!"

But it's clear this "Star Wars generation" could care less. Then Brian Lane, a 20-year-old De Anza student, puts it in perspective for me. Turns out he stood in line overnight to see the Spielberg opus Jurassic Park. The Jurassic Park generation. Has a nice ring to it.

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From the May 13-19, 1999 issue of Metro.

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