Hype Building for New 'Star Wars' Installment

Like Yoda, we talk. Waiting are we. For Star Wars.

The hype machine is pumping at full strength for the next installment of Star Wars, and with last weekend's $114 million, record-setting opening of Spider-Man, the bar has been set even higher.

The first lucky fans were treated to a special screening of Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones on Tuesday night in New York and other cities around the country. The early reviews ranged from "amazing" and "Oh my God, it's just as good as Spider-Man" to "a good alternate title for this movie would have been Star Wars: Episode II — Anakin Skywalker Is a Big, Whiny Pain in the Butt."

The Force will be with the rest of us next Thursday, when the film opens nationally. Overcoming the Phantom Bummer

The last Star Wars flick, The Phantom Menace, may have brought home the box-office bacon, but critics — and many fans, surely — felt that it fell short of the first three films.

George Lucas seems to have taken some lessons from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and even Gladiator in making this installment. Certainly, fans at the New York screening were cheering at the last half-hour of thrills, though the sappy love scenes drew some heavy sniggers.

More good news: the much-derided Jar Jar Binks gets hardly any screen time, and there's plenty of husband-and-wife android bickering between R2-D2 and C-3P0.

"I thought it was amazing," said one man in New York, who said he grew up watching the original trilogy. "It was so much better than the first one. All the light-saber fights were impressive. Yoda gets in on the action at the end and it was pretty much worth it because of that."

The New, Brooding Anakin

Much of the success of the film will hinge on how audiences accept Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, the young Jedi destined to be tempted by the dark side of The Force and become übervillain Darth Vader.

Anakin's education as a Jedi is nearly complete as the film opens. His fighting skills are renowned, and we'll see him jump out of a ship miles above a city in pursuit of a bounty hunter. But his cocky attitude troubles Yoda and Mace Windu, a Jedi played by Samuel L. Jackson.

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), is constantly reminding young Skywalker of the Jedi code, but from the very start, you know trouble is brewing. The sparks begin to fly when he's ordered to guard Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman), who we knew in the last episode as Queen Amidala.

Waiting in Line: ‘Do You Ever Shower?’

Throughout the country, lines are already forming. Diehard fans are camping out in cities like Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles, among other places.

"I hear the jokes," said Jason "Grimlock" Thomas, 27, of Los Angeles, speaking on the public phone outside Mann's Chinese Restaurant. "I hear people say 'Do you ever shower?' "

But Thomas and the other Star Wars fans languishing outside the theater say the wait is part of the fun. "We're like a community," he said. "We have jobs and families. We wait in line because it's fun."

Members of Chicago Force, one of the largest Midwestern Star Wars fan organizations, have begun to line up outside a local theater, braving the city's notoriously rugged weather.

"I thought about going on a diet while I was on line," said Chicago Force member Matt Springer. "But I thought I'll go nuts seating here for 10 days with nothing to do [but] think about how hungry I was."

As they wait, Chicago Force members have been selling T-shirts to raise money for the Jane Addams Hull House, a charity that helps the poor. They raised $15,000 during their time in line for the last Star Wars film three years ago.

‘Hey Boss, I’m Sick’

When the movie finally opens next Thursday, company managers should expect lots of sick employees. A Chicago-based outplacement firm projects as many as 2.6 million American workers will call in sick or leave their jobs before the usual time in order to catch early showings of the movie.

John Challenger, chief executive of the firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, says that could mean more than $319 million in lost wages for businesses. He says technology firms will take a larger hit than other companies because of the high number of geeks on their payrolls.

Challenger based his estimate on the 5.7 million people who showed up to see The Phantom Menace on its first day in 1999. He assumes Attack of the Clones will do equally well and draw a random cross-section of the population, with 46 percent in full-time jobs. He calculated an average daily wage of $122.80 and deduced the Clones will suck 319 million bucks out of the economy.

No More Skywalker Inflatable Chairs

Attack of the Clones also means Attack of the Toys. Star Wars revolutionized the film-marketing industry. The merchandise line — including video games, toys and clothing — has earned an estimated $2 billion worldwide.

The new $6 action figures are already in stores. Popular figures include bounty hunter Jango Fett and his horn-shaped spacecraft Slave One. There are Jedi warriors Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, and this new generation of action figures have magnets in their hands so they can use The Force to draw weapons.

For about $100, you can buy an 18-inch R2-D2 'droid that responds to voice commands.

But the Lucasfilm licensing division says it's scaled back efforts, after past complaints that it went a little too far. You won't see Queen Amidala's face on your Pepsi can this time around, nor will you be able to relax in an Anakin Skywalker inflatable chair.

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