There's a fine art to standing in line for a phenomenon.Never mind the pitying glances, the slightly condescending smiles from passersby, the hoots from a schoolbus, the handful of gravel thrown from a car. We know it is worth it all for "The Empire Strikes Back."

We are veterans -- pros. So far, I've seen it at the Cinema twice in 48 hours and bought tickets for 40 friends, two of them proud repeaters. A cleric-friend exclaims, "I wouldn't wait in like like that to get into heaven!" But to us it makes perfect sense.

Here are suggestions for comfortable and effective line-standing for "Empire," culled from the experts: SEND AN ADVANCE GUARD, sometimes known as a "squatter," to hold down your place in line. A friend who is unemployed is best suited to a stake-out: he or she has flexible hours and probably too much free time. You see a lot of free-lance weavers, for example, arriving with a certain quiet dedication early on, grasping a fistful of tickets and the help-wanted ads. START THE STAKE-OUT "at least two hours ahead of showtime," say the most experienced "squatters," some of them veterans of the first two weeks outside of "Jaws" and "Close Encounters". The lines tend to swell as well as lengthen, so if you seem to have only 25 people in front of you in the early stages, that number may triple before the line starts to move. A "squatter" may arrive at 5:30 for a 7:30 show, to be joined by her entire office at 6:30. The kid in the designer jeans over there may welcome a station wagon that emits 10 pairs of Calvin Kleins and Gloria Vanderbilts. EAVESDROP DISCREETLY: You might hear a scatter-shot of good political discussions, Agronsky & Company style or you might get a broad sampling of humor: ("How do I spell relief? M-E-N'S R-O-O-M.") You might catch sit-com type household details ("Your mother called, the cat had surgery, the cleaners lost the pants to your suit, how was your day?"), witness reunions ("Isn't that your old friend Euphoria from group therapy?") or retrospective movie criticism of an especially high quality, in addition to many sentences beginning "Remember when we stood in line for Jaws . . . the Exorcist . . . Goldfinger . . . A Hard Day's Night . . . Gone With The Wind . . ." depending on the age of the speaker. BRING DIVERSIONS: Meet a friend, bring a book, take an amusement you don't mind pursuing in public. People have been observed playing Hearts and Go Fish, moving Othello pieces and Backgammon chips, and there's a rumor about a Ouija board. Online reading runs from Plato and Hegel to Agatha Christie and Stephen King, Cosmopolitan to the The New York Review of Books. Several Flying magazines have been sighted. Crossword puzzles abound. Some radios have materialized, but this crowd is so considerate it wears earphones. BRING SOMETHING TO SIT ON. Especially at the Cinema, people arrive equipped with lawn chairs, fold-up canvas art stools; they sit on towels and Saran Wrap and Playboy, and yes, this newspaper. Advantage to Springfield Mall: cooler, slightly cleaner sitting space. Advantage to the Cinema: possibility of suntanning. REMAIN STATIONARY till the theater signals "IN." People on these lines are genial, easy, and it's a good way to wait for anything, be it enemy fire or inter-galactic warfare. "Don't push forward if the line temporarily seems to get loose-knit," warns another pro. "It's probably just people going to get something to munch on; they'll be back." People coming directly from work tend to hit the line, ask where the "squatter's" car is, and go ditch briefcases, jackets, even pantyhose and shirts. If you see someone changing clothes in a car trunk near either theater, relax. It's probably just a ticketholder getting comfortable. DON'T QUIZ THE OUTCOMERS: When the show before you get's out, don't ask the last audience how the movie ended, at least not above a whisper. People who wait in line two hours minimum want to see for themselves. Most seem to avoid searching the faces of those who have gone before, keeping their eyes on the straight flush in their hands, or continuing to read How To Flatten Your Stomach, or jog in place to release any mounting tension. BRING DINNER TO AN EVENING SHOW. Online eating is becoming increasingly popular, making the scene resemble Wolftrap's lawn. There are various categories of dining: The Grabbed-It-En-Route Type brings Big Macs or Kentucky Fried Chicken. The Fresh-From-Home Type brings Shake-N-Bake and wonderful cookies.(Try to get next to these particular linesitters; the smell of newly baked brownies is sustaining.) The Nibblers divide into two distinct species: the Seeds-and-Raisins Kind, often wearing Adidas T-shirts, and the Ice-Cream-Candy Freaks, who wear anything that fits.

Snacking only: it's nice to have a frosty soft-drink can to hold against your temples in the heat, and if you come armed with, say, a Hershey bar, you may need to hold it against the can to keep it from melting. Popcorn is for inside. 20 MINUTES BEFORE SHOWTIME, get ready to move: It's this time that people start frisking themselves all over, stricken with a sudden fear they've lost their tickets. They start getting them out, the refuse gets dumped in trash cans, books and games are stashed. There is an atmosphere of breaking camp. The bivouac ends in a sort of nostalgic way; it's time to move 'em on out, but it was part of the movie to camp on the lines, tribe-like for a while, before the crowd scatters back into individual seats and views and visions.