Josh Shaffer

Shaffer: ‘Star Wars’ by starlight a stellar ordeal

Hundreds jam the Wells Fargo IMAX Theater in downtown Raleigh for the 4 a.m. screening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Hundreds jam the Wells Fargo IMAX Theater in downtown Raleigh for the 4 a.m. screening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” jshaffer@newsobserver.com

At roughly 3 a.m. Friday, I lurched half-asleep into Raleigh’s holding pen for “Star Wars” geeks, a roomful of grown children wearing Obi-Wan Kenobi robes and Han Solo vests, diehards who’d been waiting three hours inside the downtown IMAX theater, killing the pre-dawn hours by playing games of “Star Wars”-themed cornhole or building their own galactic empires out of Legos.

I’d arrived an hour early, which seemed extreme as I plodded down the dark streets wishing for coffee and bed. But by “Star Wars” standards, I ranked as only a moderately insane fan. Let me introduce you to some of the zealots I found lounging inside the cantina.

By the time I met Christian Donohue, 45, he’d already seen “The Force Awakens.” He caught a 7 p.m. show at White Oak Cinemas, took a quickie break, then rushed to the IMAX just before midnight – second in line for the 4 a.m. movie. By the time you read this, he’ll have watched the new “Star Wars” twice.

“I don’t live in my parents’ basement,” he explained. “Married. Got kids and everything. Greatest movie ever.”

Latricia Knight, 44, spent two hours wrapping her hair into a perfect pair of Princess Leia buns. You couldn’t miss her floating through the lobby, robed in white, jewels hanging down her forehead.

“I’m all decked out,” she said. “I have my cape ... I have my power cord ... I have my sparkly shoes that represent the sky ...”

All of these people, including Knight’s husband, Eric, and a gang of six more of their co-workers, were due at work Friday morning – “Star Wars” hangover notwithstanding.

“We had a briefing about it,” said Knight, “to plot out strategy. Actually, we had two.”

“We brought our swords, our lightsabers,” husband Eric joined in. “They said we couldn’t bring them in. No weapons.”

Before any of us could sit down, we had to check in and obtain a “Star Wars” boarding pass – assigned with both a color code and a number. Given No. 141, I joined the pink group, the equivalent of a low B boarding pass on Southwest Airlines. If you’ve ever waited to get on the last flight from Raleigh to Dallas, watching an endless parade of A passengers fill the plane, you’ve experienced the tension of a “Star Wars” screening on the first day.

Once we pinks finally got the call, I discovered again that I qualify as an inadequate nerd. Every fan but me, it seemed, brought their own pair of 3-D glasses. Still, I managed to score a seat in the upper rows, though off to the side, and I pitied the latecomers who occupied the lower rows and stared at Han Solo from the ankles up.

There’s absolutely nothing I can say at this point, given the secrets in this movie that I doubt will last a week. Suffice it to say that for we forty-somethings it feels like church when we hear the opening notes of the “Star Wars” score and see those yellow paragraphs of text scroll off into the galaxy.

And when certain characters appear onscreen – giving us the first glimpse since 1983, when we were in the seventh grade and played catcher on a little league team and technically hadn’t yet kissed a girl – it makes a groggy Friday so intensely worth it. And soon, with the force awake, I will not be.

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