NEW YORK – The sea of fanatics with light sabers, Storm Trooper suits, black capes and space helmets that has flowed steadily for months outside cinemas and conventions worldwide will ebb at the stroke of midnight Thursday, as the much-awaited — and last — "Star Wars" (search) installment finally opens.
George Lucas’ "Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith" (search) — the final movie to be made in the six-film sci-fi series but the third one in the epic’s chronology — is not only coming to a theater near you, it’s coming to most theaters near you in many countries around the world.
For weeks, fans who want the force to be with them have waited outside box offices to snag the coveted tickets — many decked out like “Star Wars” characters and some camping out for days to get a seat.
“Revenge of the Sith,” which documents the villain Darth Vader’s journey from heroic good guy Anakin Skywalker to the “dark side,” opens to general audiences at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
Outside the famed Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City, a steady parade of costumed "Star Wars" buffs have crowded the sidewalk for days, though a limit of only 30 fans at a time has been enforced there.
"This is what everyone's been waiting to see," said Ithaca College student Dan Dunbar, 21, dressed like a bounty hunter Wednesday outside the theater. "We get to see him turn to the dark side."
After sleeping in a tent on the sidewalk overnight Monday, Dunbar said he snagged himself a ticket for the midnight Ziegfeld show. The masked man in full head-to-toe gear — complete with toy machine gun — posed for photographs with children and other fans.
"I don't know how I'll feel" when it's over, he said. "I'm going to keep loving it."
Among the most die-hard fanatics are those who paid up to $500 a ticket at a few of the premieres and early screenings around the world in recent weeks. Luckily, most of the movies' followers gearing up for the Thursday midnight shows didn't have to fork over that kind of dough.
"It's interesting that people walk by and call us crazy," Maine student Michael Thayen, 20, told The New York Post for Wednesday’s edition. "They're on their way to work [while] we're here having fun."
Germany native Florian Reichart traveled to New York from Washington, D.C., where he's spending the summer doing volunteer work, to get "Sith" tickets.
He took two days off, didn't sleep Tuesday night because he camped out for seats and probably won't get much shut-eye Wednesday night, either, since he'll be at the midnight screening at the Ziegfeld.
"I go to work next on Friday," said Reichart, 25, dressed in a brown Obi-Wan Kenobi cape and wielding a blue plastic light saber. "I told my boss why. She understands. ... I consider myself a major 'Star Wars' fan."
“Sith” has gotten out-of-this-world reviews for its storyline, acting, special effects and cinematography — and some have called it the best of the six-movie set, which began in 1977 with the original “Star Wars.”
But those in the film business are also looking to “Sith” to save the slumping box office, or at least provide a temporary boost as summer approaches.
Moviefone (search), an AOL-owned online and telecharge film ticket company, reported that more than 65 percent of its total sales in the past week have been for the new “Star Wars,” according to the Post, and many general audience screenings in Los Angeles and New York are sold out.
"'Star Wars' is going to turn everything around in a big way," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations (search), predicted Monday. “Because it’s the final installment, it’s going to go beyond the typical sci-fi audience. It’s a cultural phenomenon. Virtually everyone has a vested interest in this movie.”
"Vested interest" is an understatement for some fans. "Star Wars" zealot and tattoo artist Eric Negron has movie-related tattoos all over his body, wants a "Star Wars"-themed wedding and hopes to name his firstborn Anakin.
"It [the obsession] started when I was 6 years old, right after I saw the [first] 'Star Wars' movie," Negron, 33, explained on FOX News Wednesday.
He even broke up with his girlfriend of 10 years when "Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones" (search) came out in 2002 and she pushed him to choose between his movie mania and her. His answer?
"I said, 'Star Wars,'" he told FOX. "No regrets."
Negron, whose beds are draped in "Star Wars" sheets and rooms in his house cluttered with collectibles from the series, has a new woman in his life now — who is pregnant with his first child.
But as the fatherhood chapter of his life begins, the release of Lucas' last "Star Wars" concoction is the end of an almost 30-year era for Negron.
"It was awesome," he told FOX when asked what he thought of "Revenge of the Sith," "[but] it felt like my girlfriend left me or my dog died."
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