The Fandom Menace
In front of a movie theater, far, far away, a family sits and waits. Dad is chatting with some cyber buddies, and Mom is reading. She reaches over and smoothes the hair of her youngest, who's playing a video game on her cell phone. Nearby, her two oldest enact a pretend intergalactic battle with huge plastic light sabers, hollering about Gungan energy balls and something called Anakin's pod. A small crowd gathers to watch the children play, and Mom, who glances up from her book, doesn't seem to mind that the group surrounding her kids is made up entirely of grown women in bedsheets and men in android costumes.
A few feet away, a man dressed as a robot is weeping. The power pack attached to his space helmet has malfunctioned, less than an hour before the crowd that's been waiting for weeks to see the new Star Wars movie is about to be let into the theater. There's no time to go home and repair his helmet, and he's inconsolable.
A newspaper reporter stops and asks the robot where one might find the Butler family, and the robot, his head now resting in his own lap, points toward the long line of humanoids and otherworldlies snaking its way toward the movie house. "They're over there," the robot says. "First in line."
The Butler family has been sitting in front of Scottsdale's Harkins Ciné Capri theater for a week now. They've hunkered there in shifts, camped out in a nylon tent, protecting their coveted spot at the front of the line of fans also lined up to be among the first to see Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith. There's Dad, George Butler, a Star Wars devotee since the first movie was released in 1977, who tonight is dressed in full Jedi knight gear. His wife, Lisa, is also wearing a sparkly brown Jedi robe, as are her children, Daniel, 15; Katie, 14; and Susanna "Naboo" Butler, who is too engrossed with her cell phone game to disclose her age.
The Butlers and I crouch in a corner, away from the crowd of Jedi masters and stormtroopers, to discuss their version of a family picnic, and why it's so important that they see this movie the very moment it's released. Perhaps not surprisingly, it's difficult for the Butlers to concentrate on our interview; they're easily distracted by intergalactic friends and foes, several of whom interrupt our conversation to relay gossip from the line or to speculate about whether Anakin will go bionic in Episode III. Whatever that means.
At one point, a woman wearing a toga with cinnamon rolls stuck to either side of her head busts in. "Butler family!" she bellows in a theatrical voice. "You must return to The Line!" And suddenly, the Butlers are gone, without so much as a goodbye, leaving me standing alone, a man clutching a tape recorder, surrounded by Wookiees. Safely back in line, Daniel and Katie have resumed their light-saber duel, and I hear Susanna telling an Ewok, "You may call me the Princess Naboo."
New Times: Okay. So you all put your lives on hold for a week to stand in line for a movie.
George Butler: Well, I left to go to work every day. And Daniel left one night to go on a Boy Scout campout. The kids are home-schooled, so they went to school here.
NT: How odd.
Daniel Butler: Not really. It's like a job. You clock in, you put in a certain number of hours, and you clock out. [Harkins management] won't let you go more than 48 hours without a shower break.
NT: Well, this is Scottsdale. Now, forgive me for asking, but why are you doing this?
Lisa Butler: Well, why do people buy Cardinals season tickets? They go out, they have their funny hats with the bird heads on them, and they're out there at the games having fun. We're doing the same thing, only more economically. Instead of [going to a game] every week, we're crushing it all into one week.
George: Some people are into skydiving; this is what we're into. [My family] is technologically advanced. I work in the computer industry, and I saw the original movie 26 times when I was my son's age, and the family belonged to a science fiction fan club in Orange County, where we moved here from.
Daniel: And have you seen the Episode III trailer? How can you not want to see the movie after seeing that?
NT: Actually, I've never seen a Star Wars movie.
Katie Butler: Not even the first one?
George: If we had an extra ticket, we'd drag you into the theater with us.
Lisa: We encourage you to go see one. In fact, you should see them all, in order. Really, make sure you watch them in order. It's really important to watch the first trilogy first --
Daniel: Because if you don't, you might miss some little things like character progressions and plots within plots.
George: Or you could read some of the books. There are about 125 Star Wars books that advance the story of George Lucas' universe.
NT: I'll look for those in my Book-of-the-Month Club circular. Now, what happens if, after waiting all this time to see this movie, you get in there and it turns out to be crap?
George: If it turns out to be a bad movie, then we've had a fun week, we met a lot of nice people, and we've had our tailgate party for the year.
Lisa: I know! I'd love to go camping every week where Outback Steakhouse feeds me free steak and salmon.
NT: You got free food just for standing in line for a movie?
Daniel: Yeah! And free barbecue salad! And 15 percent off of Buffalo wings from the Elephant Bar, just for showing our little green ticket.
NT: Say, that is neat. But what are you going to do now that there won't be any more new Star Wars films?
Daniel: Stay involved in the Star Wars society, hoping and praying that the rumors that Lucas will be doing a Star Wars cartoon series are true.
George: Everything has to end. But we'll still have Star Wars books and comic books. And George Lucas has said before that he won't do any more Star Wars movies, so maybe he'll change his mind.
NT: Which is cooler: being among the first in line to see this movie or sitting at home watching a bootleg DVD of it two weeks before its release?
Lisa: (Groaning.) No bootlegs. Seeing it in the theater, there's a rush. It's the cheer when Yoda pulls out his lightsaber. It's electric, everyone screaming, "Yeah!"
Katie: You can do that in a theater, but it's not the same at home.
(Suddenly, Lisa and the kids turn and run, called away by Princess Leia.)
NT: (Calling after departing Butlers.) Uh, wait. I wasn't finished. Is that all I get?
George: You can ask me a quick question, but we have to go now or we'll lose our place in line.
NT: Okay. Tell me this: What do you say to people who think you're just a bunch of geeks?
George: You say "geek" like it's a bad thing. Everyone's into something, and this is one of the things we're into. We've met a lot of nice people here this week.
NT: Yeah. A lot of nice people dressed like cyborgs. And aren't you worried about your kids being trampled by fake extraterrestrials once they open the doors tonight?
George: Well, it's not a Who concert. They'll probably let us in a few at a time.
NT: How many times do you suppose you'll see the movie?
George: Five or six times, I guess.
NT: Well, that doesn't seem excessive. I figured you'd say 40 or 50 times.
George: No. We're not that rich.
NT: Do you wish that you and your family lived in another time, another galaxy?
George: No. We're fine here. Arizona's been good to us. And I really have to go get in line now.
NT: Okay, George. Thanks. Bye!
Strange woman dressed as a gnome: Hello. I can tell you the true nature of Madame Jocasta Nu and the Jedi Library.
NT: Get the hell away from me, you damn weirdo.
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