'Star Wars' fans stew in queue

If a movie isn’t playing at a theater, will its fans still line up outside? For “Star Wars” fans, the answer is a befuddling yes.

Saturday, 46 days before “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” opens on May 19, the trilogy’s enthusiasts began their vigil outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

Problem is 20th Century Fox doesn’t plan to open the film at the Chinese, opting instead for the ArcLight a few blocks east.

“Star Wars” or no, the diehards are resolute about keeping their line on Hollywood Boulevard.

Underneath a make-shift awning yesterday afternoon, 11 people were in line doing what appeared to be homework, pecking at laptops and talking to members of the media.

“We’ve heard all this before,” said Sarah Sprague, one of the designated spokesmen for the group. In 1999 and 2002, there were plenty of rumors (ultimately false) that the previous two pics weren’t going to open at the Chinese.

This year the rumors seem to be true. Fox and the ArcLight haven’t finalized their “Star Wars” deal, but execs on both sides say they expect “Revenge of the Sith” to play the ArcLight and not the Chinese.

A media-savvy bunch, those waiting at the Chinese hope press interest in covering (and most likely mocking) them would persuade George Lucas and Fox to move the booking.

And Sprague was adamant the line isn’t moving to the ArcLight. “This is still the epicenter for ‘Star Wars’ fans. For the big iconic pictures of the 1970s, people lining up were here. They weren’t at the Cinerama Dome.”

Their other reason is that it’d be more difficult to raise money for their charity Starlight Starbright if they weren’t on Hollywood. However, cops won’t let fans collect donations from passersby; instead, they pass out pamphlets with a Web site address.

“Even if it’s not here, we’ll just go see it somewhere else. We’re not doing this just for the movie.” Besides, she added, “What’s the point of lining up at the ArcLight if someone is going to go online and get the best seat in the house?”

But wouldn’t that still make more sense than spending a month outside a theater that isn’t playing the movie?

“Lining up for anything, what part of that makes any sense?” she responded philosophically.

As theaters normally do, the ArcLight is likely to ask Fox that it be the only theater playing “Revenge of the Sith” in the immediate area. And even if it doesn’t, Paramount confirmed it will open “The Longest Yard” at the Chinese the week after “Revenge,” which means Fox won’t want to book the theater for just one week. (Paramount partly owns Mann Theaters.)

The kerfuffle has inspired some soul-searching among the fans, and they have discovered that standing in a “Star Wars” line is actually more important than seeing a “Star Wars” film.

“The telling thing is — for me, at least — if the film is not playing at the Chinese … I have zero desire to see it at all,” a fan who calls himself Obi Geewhyen posted on the message board at Liningup.net. “I’m in it for the lineup only and don’t give a darn about the conclusion of this lackluster, so-called ‘Star Wars’ series.”

Hope springs eternal, Sprague said. After the last two “Star Wars” films, “We’re all a little beaten down,” she said. “But this one could be it!”

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