Near, the end draws. Cry or cry not, there is no more.
Forgive us the Yoda-speak, but come today the final installment of Star Wars does. Filmmaker George Lucas is ending his epic six-part tale of good vs. evil, the story of how a young Jedi Knight named Anakin Skywalker became the heavy-breathing poster boy for the Dark Side.
For many fans, it's also the story of their lives. They packed the multiplexes over and over in the summer of 1977, bought the pajamas and the action figures and headed down a path that led them to this moment - 40 years old and camping out on a sidewalk to get prime seats to a science fiction movie.
"Star Wars is done," said Keith Gatchalian, in line yesterday at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore. For Gatchalian and others, the excitement and anticipation is tempered by the bittersweet knowledge that this won't happen again - at least not for them, maybe not for anyone.
"There really are no movie franchises out there that people are looking forward to - except Harry Potter, and it's for kids," said the 35-year-old video game specialist from Glen Arm. "Now they're all done, and it's sad."
Perhaps for that reason, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith is expected to sell $120 million or more in tickets this weekend, which would smash the current opening weekend record of $114.8 million set by Spider-Man in 2002.
"This is a truly great cinematic experience," said Richard Horgan, a columnist for the online ticketing site Fandango. According to the site, tickets to Revenge of the Sith account for 98 percent of its sales this week, and the film is easily setting records for advance sales. "It's insane how excited people are," Horgan said.
Taking the day off
Here's what's insane: The country will lose $627 million in productivity from those taking off work to see the movie this week, according to the Chicago placement firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which bases its estimate on attendance of the last Star Wars film. And the Geek Squad, which provides technology support to homes and businesses nationwide, is auctioning off its employees for today - figuring that many fellow geeks will call in "sick."
A few of those skipping work will be from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. Twelve (of the 13) members of the Scientific Visualization Studio will be seeing the film this afternoon at the Muvico Egyptian at Arundel Mills in Hanover. Some credit Star Wars with altering the course of their lives.
"Viking landed on Mars in 1976. Star Wars came out in 1977 and Voyager also launched in 1977," said Greg Shirah, a 41-year-old computer animator at the center. "I think the combination of those three things really inspired a lot of us to work for the space program."
Colleagues in his office have Star Wars action figures perched on their desks and T-shirts with Darth Vader on the front and the message "Who's your daddy?" on the back. One guy even has an original Star Wars T-shirt from 1977, when Shirah says he saw the film "many, many, many times."
"It's sad. My whole adult life I've been able to look forward to these new movies coming out," he said. "Now it's going to be over."
It was unclear whether he was talking about the films, or his life.
But there is still more Star Wars to come, even if there will be no more original films. There are tentative plans to release all six films in digital 3-D. Another DVD of the Clone Wars animated series from the Cartoon Network is expected to be released, and Lucas is considering a live-action TV show.
There are plenty of financial reasons to continue the brand. So far, the five Star Wars movies have grossed about $3.4 billion in ticket sales and sold another $9 billion in related merchandise. All five films rank in the top 25 highest-grossing movies of all time. Such is the power of Star Wars that it has scared away most competitors: It's the only major-studio film opening this week.
Many theaters greeted the film's arrival with 12:01 a.m. showings today. The line for the early morning showing at the Senator formed Monday, and by yesterday a small tent city had sprung up on York Road, temporary living quarters for the hard-core faithful. Someone had brought a couch and a TV with a VCR, so they all could gather around and watch the previous Star Wars movies.
And last night, Darth Vader, Boba Fett and a phalanx of stormtroopers showed up in a limo. They were part of the 501st Legion of the Imperial Stormtroopers, a nationwide army of costumed Star Wars devotees. Under the Darth Vader mask was Jeff Ritzmann, founder of the Maryland division of the legion.
From fairy tales to Jedi
He said he planned to wear the Vader outfit while watching the film - no small feat. "I lose about five pounds every time I wear it," said Ritzmann, 38, a set-maker from Bel Air. No sacrifice, it seems, is too great for the true Star Wars fan.