Monday, August 16, 2010

Star Wars Day

(Back in 2005, I got to attend the Star Wars Marathon, which consisted of all five movies (at the time), in release order, and the premiere of Episode 3. We started with A New Hope at 7.30am and staggered out of the cinema after Revenge of the Sith at around 11.30pm. It was, quite simply, the second best day of my life so far. And if it hadn't been for my wife, I wouldn't have been there.)

The anticipation leaped up a notch as the cinema darkened. The familiar fan-fare filled the auditorium, the shivers running up and down my spine as they had since the first time I'd felt them, back in 1980. The 20th Century Fox intro gave way to the smoky-green Lucasfilm logo, before the screen faded to black. Thirteen hundred Star Wars fans held their breath.

"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...."

This was it. The movie we'd been waiting for since 1984. The reason why we suffered Episode One: A New Whiney Brat (also known as Oh, So Now We Know Where Luke Gets It From) and Episode Two: The Whiney Brat Strikes Back, which at least had Yoda going medieval on Count Dooku's ass to make it bearable, even if it was so full of loveydovey-ness that it ought to have been set on a sinking, Edwardian ocean liner.

"Episode III: Revenge of the Sith." The crawl began its march into infinity, bold yellow letters on the twinkling star-scape.

But we all know how that story ends. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, closely followed by limbs, boy becomes more machine than man, twisted and evil, girl has twins, who won't know they're twins when they meet again, so they have that kiss that we don't like to watch now, girl dies. You know, all the usual cliches. This is not about that story. This is about how I got to be sitting there, watching the final piece of the story unfold.

A late April shower was sending raindrops racing down my window. I sat at the computer, my finger hovering over the mouse key, waiting to hit the cinema website and buy my ticket for the Star Wars Marathon. The clock ticked over. 9 AM. My finger tapped once and I watched the colour ooze into the progress bar, creeping along the bottom of the browser until it reached half-way.

And stopped. Time ticked on. I held my breath, heart pounding somewhere up in my throat. A page flickered into view.

"Please select your cinema."

I found the option and clicked.

"Please select your film."

"Star Wars Marathon."

I held my breath as the site crawled, the page dribbling down to my computer as if it were 1996.

"Choose your seat."

Oh. My. God. This was happening. I was going to see all five Star Wars movies, in release order, and the premiere of Episode 3. I clicked on a half-way decent seat and pressed the button.

The hourglass span on.

"Please enter your payment details."

Ohmigod, ohmigod. I was bouncing in my chair, which made typing in my card number really, really difficult. I hit the submit button and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The hourglass stopped. I held my breath.

"Request timed out."

With a frustrated, strangled gasp, I hit F5. The hourglass began spinning again. I could almost feel the bytes bleeding down the Cat 5 cable into the computer.

The page appeared. "Please select your cinema."

Well. Fuck.

I grabbed the telephone and tapped the number in a single fluid move that wouldn't have been out of place in the Matrix. At that moment, I was the goddamned One. Receiver shoved against my ear, I listened to the ringing, patience wearing thin. I had my seat number. I'd paid; the website had said so. I just had to confirm it with someone real.

"Click. Brrrrrrr."

In a single fluid move, the handset slipped from my hand and fell to the floor, bouncing on the cheap carpet tile. They'd cut me off. I deflated, sagging in my chair.

I called again. This time the call was answered after just a couple of rings.

"Thank you for your interest in the Star Wars Marathon. Unfortunately this event is now sold out. Next time, why not try booking online?"

I glanced at the clock. 9.04 AM.

Well. Fuck.

When I finally got through to someone, they confirmed the bad news. If I didn't see a confirmation page on the website, the booking had failed. I went through the five stages of grief in short order.

"I'll get an email in a moment, saying I've booked."

"No email. Bastard cinema, never going to them ever again."

"Perhaps I can find a ticket on eBay? There's bound to be someone who's realised they can't actually go."

"Starting bid of £1,000? Arse."

"Well, I guess I'll be doing the ironing on May 16th, rather than watching Star Wars movies all day."

"Why don't you complain?" my wife asked, when I'd finished telling her the whole sorry story that evening. I still had enough residual anger from when I'd been browsing eBay earlier, where I'd found more than a few people who were selling all their allocated tickets. I'd lost out to a bunch of money-grubbing, opportunistic ticket touts who were only interested in making money out of true fans?

Well. Fuck.

I wrote a letter and sent it to the cinema, 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm. It was, in a word, cathartic. As a rule, the English don't complain. We tut. Or glance. We're even known to do both at once, which means things are seriously screwed up. Anyway, I bucked the trend and I felt a helluva lot better for it. I got on with grown-up things and put the Star Wars Marathon behind me. It would just be another one of those things that other people, the cool kids, got to do.

A few days later, I got a reply from cinema. "Due to unforeseen demand...". Let me get this straight. The most popular film franchise in Hollywood history. A movie series which has taken around $4.3 billion in box office revenue over 28 years. A franchise with more than a few dedicated, die-hard fans. A once-in-forever opportunity to see the movies on the big screen, in the order they were released. The premiere of the last fucking Star Wars movie. Ever. How the hell was the demand "unforeseen"?!? Did they really think all the fans would be sat at home going, "oh no, I don't need to go the Star Wars Marathon, *I've* got my Special Edition video cassettes. I mean, who cares if George Fucking Lucas is going to be in the building?"

And that was that, until the Saturday before the Marathon. I was somewhere under a duvet cover, failing to fold it single-handed, when the telephone rang. I heard footsteps as my wife headed downstairs to answer it. There was some muttering, followed by quick footsteps pounding on the stairs.

"I'll get him for you. David!" The phone appeared inside the duvet.

"Who is it?" I pinched the handset between thumb and fingers, not wanting to have to deal with another sales call.

"Uhh." She lifted the corner of the duvet. She was smiling. "It's someone from Twentieth Century Fox."

Well. Fuck.

The very apologetic lady from Fox was very sorry for my experience with the cinema's website and eBay. She'd heard what had happened, as someone at Lucasfilm had forwarded my letter to her. Less than five minutes later, I had an appointment to meet her outside the cinema at 6.45am, to collect my complimentary ticket for the Star Wars Marathon. Needless to say, this was followed by a "squee" heard around the world. Or at least my house.

So I say to you, for goodness sake, complain! Tell the world when you're hard done by, when the haters and the nay-sayers and the money-grubbers spoil things for you. Shout it from the rooftops, to all the corners of the world. State your case and stand your ground.

You never know. You might just get to spend a day doing something once-in-a-lifetime.

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