The force of 'Star Wars' Re-release: This time, it doesn't seem so long ago or far away. The 1977 film now attracts generations of families and continues to fill theaters and break box office records.

February 16, 1997|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Tanya Jones contributed to this article.

Pat Loera had seen "Star Wars" more than a hundred times, but at 1 p.m. yesterday she was first in line for the 4 p.m. show at the Senator Theatre.

Bob Middleton arrived at 8 a.m., waiting two hours in the cold so 18 children could celebrate his son's birthday at a morning screening.

Neil Cohen, a Towson doctor, queued up with his son Brandon, 7, to view the 1977 space classic whose marketing wings have enveloped two generations, including 2 1/2 -year-old Nathaniel, who watches "Star Wars" videos every morning and downloads "Star Wars" pictures from a Web site.

"Fanaticism" is how Senator owner Thomas A. Kiefaber explains the record-crashing popularity of the re-released, enhanced movie 20 years after its debut, when it pioneered the blockbuster era of special effects and mega-merchandising.

"More than one person said on opening day, 'Is this the "Star Wars" opening or a Grateful Dead concert?' It had that spirit," said Kiefaber, whose 890-seat theater, like many in the Baltimore area showing the movie, has been selling out hours before show time. More than 17,000 people attended Senator screenings in the first week.

"We didn't just break old attendance records, we blasted them -- and on a 20-year-old film, that's the ironic thing," Kiefaber said.

The "special edition" version, released Jan. 21, has attracted baby boomers reliving the film with their children, many of whom have experienced "Star Wars" with toys, books and videotapes, but never on the big screen.

"Star Wars," Part 1 of the George Lucas trilogy (really, Episode IV) starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford as freedom fighters foiling the evil Darth Vader, this week became the biggest moneymaker in U.S. box office history, breaking the $400 million mark and overtaking "E.T. The Extra-terrestrial," 20th Century Fox announced Friday.

Lucas has embellished the film with digital sound and new special effects and scenes.

"It's very nostalgic -- it's sweet," said Charles Jacobs, 38, of Owings Mills, waiting in the concession line with Bradley, 5, on his shoulders and Hilary, 6, at his side.

The scene is repeated in many theaters throughout the area; at Annapolis Mall, for example, customers already have bought tickets for a show tomorrow.

"It was one of those movies that changed your life because it was so different," said Tom Caris, 26, of Waldorf, who wanted his son Joshua, 3, to see it on the big screen.

Some of the children might not have been born the last time "Star Wars" appeared in theaters, but they revealed they're no strangers to the movie.

"When they say 'The Empire Strikes Back,' they're really talking about the marketing empire," said Andy Miller of Pikesville, a professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County who brought his two sons, 12 and 8, and two friends to the Senator.

"The books, toys, action figures -- you couldn't raise a kid their age and not be aware of it unless they never set foot in a toy store, bookstore or computer store."

Children gawked at the Senator's lobby displays of posters and figures such as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, the Millennium Falcon spaceship and Chewbacca, the Wookie.

"These young kids go by the display window, and it's amazing to see these 4- and 5-year-olds still responding to it as if we didn't have the intervening 20 years. They have no idea this is old," Kiefaber said.

Three generations of the Close family of Towson went to the Senator yesterday -- Louis G. Close III, 37, with his father, Louis Jr., 60, and son, Louis IV, 6.

The youngest Close, known as George, displayed his "Star Wars" wisdom even before seeing the movie. "Only Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker have the power. They can think of something and make it come true," he said.

Loera, 37, of Columbia knows all about "Star Wars," too. "I'm not a fanatic," she insisted, laughing as she led the line at the Senator to see the re-release for the third time. Her mother, Rachel McRae, 60, accompanied her -- she was seeing the film for the fifth time.

Loera saw the original 12 times as a teen-ager. Since then, mother and daughter have watched the trilogy on videotape more than 100 times. Loera also has all the spinoff books, magazines with poster-sized photographs of the characters, laser discs and audio tapes of the movie, which she listens to on long car trips.

The other films in the trilogy, "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi," are to be released Friday and March 7, respectively.

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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