‘Star Wars’ fans of Berkeley party at film’s opening

SfBy Matt Artz, Special to the Daily Planet
Friday May 17, 2002

Berkeley loves to emphasize its diversity, but all too often ignored among the hodgepodge of ethnicities, religions, nationalities, and linguistic groups is a proud community of dedicated science fiction fans. 

On Wednesday night, this unsung subculture celebrated its Cinco de Mayo, Saint Patrick’s Day and Christmas Eve all wrapped into one – the premiere of “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.” 

But an evening that three years ago would have been welcomed with colorful costumes and festive excitement, now seemed relatively sedate. Mixed with anticipation for the latest installment, was a sense of trepidation about what they were to soon see, and the lingering question, "Could this possibly be as bad as the last one?" 

Like a country whose ballyhooed national team lost in disgrace, many Star Wars super-fans were still reeling from the series’ last release – "The Phantom Menace." 


Fan headquarters 

Perhaps the best place to gauge the sentiment of the die-hard fans on opening night was at Games of Berkeley. 

There, tucked away in a basement room, reclining around a Dungeons and Dragons game sat Nick Tulach, Brian Mosely, Fred Golightly, and "Big Man" – four hardcore fans so disenchanted with "The Phantom Menace" they only saw it about three or four times. 

Of the four, only Golightly planned to attend the midnight premiere. The others knew they would see it this weekend, and again after that, but acknowledged that the failure of the last episode had chilled their ardor. 

"There was no emotion," said Golightly. "In Dagobah [a planetary system from "The Empire Strikes Back"] Yoda showed a lot of emotion with Luke, then in the prequel, everyone is an unemotional drone." 

"What is the important transformation," wondered Mosely. "A whiny kid to a whiny teenager?" 

Tulach agreed, "We’re all looking for characters that we can love and latch on to. We really want it to be good, but we’re bludgeoned with toys and marketing. We can see though that now. We want deeper meaning." 

"Big Man" had other ideas. "I’ll rate it on a scale of one to 100, starting at 100 and subtracting the percentage of clothes Natalie Portman is wearing," he joked. 

For the sell-out crowd lined up outside Berkeley’s UA 7 Theater shortly before 11 p.m., the failure of the last movie had clearly taken its toll as well. Except for one loyalist in a Yoda costume, everyone seemed to be dragged to the theater by someone else. 

"My brother brought me here," said Marcelo Acevedo who then admitted that he was a big fan of the series. 

Erik Kieckhafer just happened to be in town on business and his hosts thought it sounded like a fun idea. 

But when the revealing lights of the lobby gave way to the anonymous darkness of the theater, the party finally started. 


Party starts 

The predominantly college student crowd expected first-rate action to cheer and sixth-grade romance heckle, and George Lucas delivered both in abundance. 

The audience ate up the love story between Anakin Skywalker and Senator Amidala, which Nickelodeon couldn’t have scripted any better. 

In one scene after the budding romance was teased, the crowd cooed wickedly, as Anakin was shown topless, covered only from the waste down, sweating and writhing in his bed. Turned out he was just dreaming about mother. 

Part adolescent whiner, part rebellious heartthrob, Anakin seems more plausibly the love child of Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo than the product of divine conception. 

Yet, somehow Lucas seemed to put his movie-making force into balance. The special effects were spellbinding and the goofy dialogue produced more laughs than sneers. 

As the movie sprinted toward its climax, Lucas finally delivered the emotion fans had clamored for. 

After a movie and a half of portraying the seemingly lobotomized Jedi Master Mace Windu, Samuel L. Jackson was finally permitted to be Samuel L. Jackson. The audience roared with approval, when he icily told the evil Count Dooku, "This party’s over." 

Several minutes later, when Yoda reached for his light saber, a deafening cheer filled the theater lasting throughout the battle scene. Shortly thereafter the movie ended, and the previously skeptical fans seemed relieved to give it a well-deserved ovation.