LOS ANGELES – Marilyn Monroe and Freddy Krueger were trying not to look annoyed. But their mood was obvious on Monday afternoon as tourists paid little heed to the celebrity impersonators on Hollywood Boulevard, instead focusing their curiosity on more than 100 people camped out in the courtyard of the historic Chinese Theater.
No. It couldn’t be. Seriously?
“We’re lining up for the new ‘Star Wars’ movie,” an Australian woman at the front of the queue, Caroline Ritter, told an incredulous-looking couple visiting from Ohio who stopped to inquire and take photos. “Yes, we still have a very long time to wait,” Ms. Ritter added. “No, we’re not crazy.”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will arrive at the TCL Chinese Theater Imax, as the site is now officially called, on the evening of Dec. 17 — meaning that Ms. Ritter and her fellow die-hards will have waited for 12 unwashed days before the first light sabers flicker to life. (They began to assemble here on Saturday afternoon.) The question, especially in the age of reserved movie theater seating, is why.
Even with hundreds of opening-weekend show times for “The Force Awakens” already sold out, analysts predict there will be more than enough seating capacity on opening weekend. For instance, AMC Theaters, the second-largest multiplex chain in North America (behind Regal Entertainment), last week said that 1,600 opening-weekend screenings were sold out, but that 3.5 million tickets remained available. At least 36 AMC theaters will run “The Force Awakens” around the clock.
It’s just not like the old days, when movies were shipped on reels and people could buy tickets only at box office windows. Most theaters now sell tickets online — many offering reserved seating — and rely on digital projectors, which means the number of screenings can be more easily adjusted to meet demand.
But that’s missing the point, the “Star Wars” campers said Monday.
“At night you freeze and in the daytime you cook, but you come for the camaraderie and the chance to be a part of cinematic history,” said Erik Murillo, who was sitting in a lawn chair near two large plastic crates packed with supplies (clothes, food, a tent). “Besides, there are traditions to be upheld.”
The Chinese Theater holds a special place in the “Star Wars” pop culture galaxy. The first “Star Wars” movie was only booked into about 30 theaters in May 1977 because executives at 20th Century Fox were skeptical of the film’s box office potential. Instead, swarms of people turned out; the throngs were especially large outside the Chinese, which has long been a symbol of Hollywood, helping to generate global news coverage.
Ever since then, particularly in 1999, with the arrival of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” camping out here became just another part of the pageantry that accompanies each “Star Wars” release. In 2005, in anticipation of “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” fans started lining up at the Chinese six weeks in advance. (As it turned out, however, Fox had not booked “Revenge of the Sith” into the Chinese, so they were waiting in line for nothing; whoops.)
“We made sure not to make that mistake again,” said Stefanie Vance, who was in line here Monday with her daughter, Amanda.
Theaters everywhere have been preparing for similar lines, advising fans in advance that costumes are fine, but masks, face paint and space weapons are not. Extra security will be in place at some theaters to manage crowds.
Here at the Chinese, the line experience is all very civilized, insisted Ms. Vance, who was dozing near a sign that read, “The line awakens!” There are rules — tents must be erected by midnight and dismantled by 6 a.m. — and there is a system that allows people to leave for short periods while keeping their place in line; fans take turns managing a clipboard system for checking in and checking out.
Everyone wears a name badge, and some fans created a line-related website. They even have a charity partner, Starlight Children’s Foundation, which is focused on helping seriously ill children and teenagers. (Those gawking tourists are encouraged to contribute to the foundation by sending text messages; some give cash on the spot.)
There is rarely a dull moment, however, on Hollywood Boulevard, land of roaming costumed characters, colorful panhandlers and the occasional person trapped in an alternate mental dimension. “The other night, somebody dropped off two live rabbits and disappeared,” Mr. Murillo said. “What are we supposed to do with two live rabbits?” (City employees were called to deal with them.)
Despite their intense fandom, the people lined up outside the Chinese do seem to have their limits. When a reporter mentioned that a Texas-centered theater chain was holding an endurance contest involving a marathon screening of the previous six “Star Wars” movies (no sleeping allowed), Ms. Vance made a skeptical face.
“That sounds unpleasant,” she said.