The upcoming release of ''The Phantom Menace'' has theaters preparing for an onslaught

By Troy Patterson
Updated April 09, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Imagine Woodstock, but replace all the tie-dye with Wookiee suits. That’s the scene likely to be spotted outside theaters around the country May 19, 1999 when The Phantom Menace opens. On March 24, 1999 Fox announced that there will be no advance ticket sales for the first two weeks of the Star Wars prequel’s run, meaning moviegoers will be forced to wait — horrors! — in an actual line. ”We can’t do advance seats,” says Phantom producer Rick McCallum.”[Scalping] would get way out of hand really quickly.”

Yes, scalping. Phantom frenzy is so high that advance sales could easily lead to such unprecedented tactics. ”We’ve gotten dozens of calls from people wanting to [buy] out whole theaters,” says Phil Zacheretti, senior VP of marketing for Regal Cinemas, the country’s largest movie chain. The ban on preselling (except for same-day tickets) means that services such as MovieFone, which usually sell tix up to a week in advance for a fee, will miss out on most of the action. (MovieFone execs were unreachable for comment.) It also guarantees that whole shantytowns of fans will end up on line. Of course, exhibitors don’t seem to mind. ”It’ll be good publicity,” Zacheretti says. ”Maybe we’ll bring [them] coffee.”

Not that any of this makes a difference to hardcore fans. Even before last week’s news, a network of groupies had been planning on descending upon theaters weeks before the premiere. Robert Cartagena, the ”New York City line coordinator” for fan site, says he’s talked to exhibitors about beginning a vigil April 24, 1999. His group’s needs? ”Bathroom facilities, power access, telephone lines, security. You know, basic cooperation,” he says. A spokeswoman for one L.A. theater says it’s willing to accommodate the devoted as long as they don’t disrupt usual business. ”It’s a bit excessive,” she notes. ”But everything about this movie is a bit excessive.”

Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace

  • Movie
  • PG
  • 134 minutes
  • George Lucas