Trekking to 'Star Wars II'
Thursday, May 22, 1980
He took the midnight bus in from Norfolk Tuesday night in the rain and the darkness. He got here about 5:30 a.m., an overnight bag in hand, and by 6:45 a.m., he was in line. Actually, he was the line.
This line of one was at the K-B Cinema on upper Wisconsin Avenue, waiting for -- it could only be -- "The Empire Strikes Back," the "Star Wars" sequel.
Petty Officer 1st Class Mike Goalen can tell you the movie won't open until June 20 in Norfolk, and he can tell you why he came all the way to Washington where it opened at the K-B and Springfield Mall Cinema.
By the time June 20 rolls around, Mike Goalen will be out on the Indian Ocean for a duty tour of 12 months, maybe even 18 months. And he's not sure whether the movie will be booked into a military theater. "I didn't want to run the chance of not seeing it," said Goalen.
There were about 750 other people nearly as anxious as Goalen. They stood in line for an hour or two yesterday morning to catch the 11 a.m. show.
They did not want to risk missing the chance to be among the first to see this successor to "Star Wars," the largest money-making film ever, which created and fed a legion of science-fiction addicts.
Yesterday they all came back for more: computer programmers and economists and housewives and students out of school for the summer. A woman brought her 4-month-old baby and two others wrote notes to get their kids excused from school early so they could go to the movie.
Even Amy Carter, in designer jeans skirt and shirt, showed up with a group of classmates -- it was her second time. She had already seen the movie at the special premiere at the Kennedy Center last Saturday.
"The kids are just excuses to come," said Ladusca Adriance, who showed up with her boss, a graphic designer named Deirdre Jepsen. "We shut the office for the day," added Jepsen, wearing a "Star Wars" T-shirt and sipping a cup of coffee as she waited an hour and a quarter for the 4 p.m. show.
Some, like one D.C. policeman, took the day off to see the movie. Others said they were taking "an extended lunch break."
Some, like Forrest Pafenberg, an economist with the Labor Department, was already at work at 8:15 yesterday morning when he decided to simply bag part of the day. "It was rainy, it was dreary, so I called my wife and told her I'd pick her up at 9:30 for the movie." He and his wife Virginia Farris, are enthusiasts -- they own thousands of science fiction books.
Pafenberg -- in the interest of productivity -- did in fact "drop" some jobs into the computer before he left. "They'll be ready when I get back in four hours," he said. "I would have had to wait anyway."
Better to wait in line with everyone else. There was no frenzy, just quiet waiting for the 11 a.m. show. There was a little more running around as the lines for the 4 p.m. show blossomed at 2 p.m. with restless children.
"It's impatience," said 30-year-old Terrie LaBarbera, a computer systems analyst who came prepared for the wait for the 11 a.m. show with a copy of "Fodor's People's Republic of China." (She is going to Taiwan to study tai chi for three weeks.) "I didn't want to wait. I went to see 'Star Wars' the first day too."
For some, first-day movie-going is an honorable tradition. "We've been going to first-day shows for all the science-fiction movies," said 26-year-old John Vengrouski, a custom framer, seated with friends at the Booeymonger. "We've seen 'Close Encounters,' 'Alien,' 'Star Wars,' 'Black Hole' -- ugh, I think that set science fiction back 40 years." Over lunch he and his friends discussed the twists and turns of the movie and suggested plots for the next sequel.
"The print's usually better if you go early," said his friend Tom Finn, referring to the quality of the film. "If you go later, it's been run four or five times a day already for several days. It's picking up scratches."
"I thought no one would be here," said Rev. Diane Nagorka, a minister at the Spiritual Science Center, buying tickets at 11. The theater did not sell all of its 826 seats for the 11 o'clock show, but by early afternoon, the K-B had sold out for the shows from 4:30 p.m. on, with the exception of the 12:30 show. And thanks to Ticketron -- where you can buy tickets in advance for this attraction -- they had already sold out evening shows for today and some on Friday.
Behind the ticket window, 84-year-old Olive Lang yelled "Sold Out!" repeatedly in her raspy voice as the day dragged on. She loved it. She had been selling most of the morning and refused to take a break.
In fact, most of the theater management loved it. For these shows they say they've culled 'the cream of the K-B crop," pulling in the best from all their theaters in the area -- the best ushers, the best managers and assistant managers and concessionaires -- "the ones with personality, the ones who can sell you a $2.75 box of popcorn when all you wanted was a 30-cent drink," said one manager. And that's after adults and children have paid $5 and $3 to get in.
The entire theater has undergone a face lift for this movie -- there is new carpet, patched plaster and state-of-the art sound and projection equipment.
"The technicians from the 20th Century-Fox and Dolby told us we have surpassed the Ziegfeld Theater in New York," said K-B Theatres general manager Paul Kershner, who started in the business 28 years ago as a 15-year-old matinee usher in Staunton, Va. "We can do anything we want to now."
David Seltzer, manager of the K-B Cerberus, was on hand yesterday to watch the 4 o'clock crowds come in. He mugged with the kids who stood at the door waiting to get in. "Last night" when they rolled the credits (at a midnight showing) everyone started to applaude for each name," Seltzer said. "When Darth Vader's name first came up on the screen, just at the bottom, a hiss started in the front of the theater and then it went through the whole place. Marvin Goldman, the owner, was standing in the back hissing. The hair on my arms just went electric, I was so turned on."
While the managers at the K-B Cinema huddled in the middle of the afternoon to tabulate figures on which shows sold out when, up the street at the Jenifer movie theaters an assistant manager said his business for "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "Where the Buffalo Roam" was a little slower.
"It should pick up when we get "Blues Brothers," he said, adding a bit wistfully, "I was hoping we could get 'The Empire Strikes Back.'"