Manoah Crane of Fresno and Josh Banda of Visalia were not going to let anything stop them from being the first in line locally to see “Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.” The friends, who are members of the Central Valley Squad of the international “Star Wars” fan club, the 501st Legion, arrived at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday for the 7 p.m. Thursday screening at Sierra Vista Cinemas 16.
The pair have had their tickets for weeks. They arrived early for bragging rights.
“I talk to people who saw the original ‘Star Wars’ when it opened, and I am envious of them. Fifty years from now, I can tell my grandchildren that I was first in line to see it,” Crane said.
Two hours before the first screenings, the film was scheduled to show on more than 40 screens at the five Fresno-area theater complexes showing “The Force Awakens.” The theaters had the capabilities to add screenings if needed.
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In Clovis, the Sierra Vista lobby was filled with “Star Wars” items, and there will be an appearance by local members of the 501st Legion fan club Thursday night and Saturday. Actor Stephen Costantino, who played the Gamorrean guard in “Return of the Jedi,” will be in attendance.
Fifty years from now I can tell my grandchildren that I was first in line to see it.
Fans started lining up at all of the local theaters hours before the first local screenings were slated to start. They were part of the biggest pre-sale of movie tickets in Fandango history. The online ticket service reports there have been more tickets sold for “The Force Awakens,” before it had opened than for the entire theatrical run of any other movie.
It is expected to easily eclipse the record set with the June release of “Jurassic World” that took in more than $208 million its opening weekend. That film went on to take in more than $652 million in American theaters.
The fans who turned out to stand in line for hours were a mix of those on their own, couples, families and groups.
Mark Lopez didn’t have to audition for the role of First Fan In Line for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at Edwards Fresno Stadium 22. But he certainly dressed the part.
Decked out in a “Phantom Menace”-era Jedi knight costume, the Fresno resident smiled early Thursday morning as he talked about staking the prime spot for the night’s first screening for the long-awaited movie.
“We were here (Wednesday), and we had to vacate the premises so we sojourned to our vehicles,” Lopez said. “After five or six hours, about 5:30, we got ready, jumped up and started getting in line.”
River Park shopping center security allowed people back on its property about 6 a.m. (The parking lot apparently didn’t count.)
Lopez and others weren’t in line to buy tickets, mind you. They had long ago bought passes to the latest entry in the “Star Wars” saga. The point was to get a good seat and, well, just to be there.
“I was here at 11 a.m. (Wednesday) and I was second in line,” said Fresno’s Elijah Beukers, who was joined by his younger brother, Noah. When he learned that security wouldn’t allow them to spend the night in front of the theater, there was only one option.
“We slept in the car, woke up about 5:50 and came here so we can have our spot in line,” Elijah said from their hard-earned spot a few feet from an Edwards door.
Austin Stephens, 24, and his younger brother, Brody, 11, arrived six hours later. Austin introduced “Star Wars” to his brother and was introduced to the franchise by his parents, Tanya and James Stephens.
“I remember seeing the first ‘Star Wars’ movie at a drive-in in Texas. I was wearing my footie pajamas,” Tanya said after delivering food to her sons.
I wanted to make sure I got a great seat for the 3D.
Nadya Pirogova, explaining her early arrival at Maya Cinemas Fresno 16
At Maya Cinemas Fresno 16, the new theater near Fresno State, Nadya Pirogova, 24, said she came to the United States from Russia with her family when she was 9. Her only exposure to the “Star Wars” franchise was through a bootleg copy of “The Phantom Menace” her father obtained.
She has caught up quickly, mostly through a high school teacher who loved the movie. That is why she showed up at Maya at noon Thursday.
Her early arrival was partially because of her newfound love of the franchise. But there also was a practical reason.
“I wanted to make sure I got a great seat for the 3-D.”
Lines started forming at 7 a.m. at the Regal Manchester Stadium 16. Fresno’s Thomas Romero, 42, first in line at the theater complex, requested a vacation day from his job as soon as he purchased his ticket. He wanted to make sure he got the perfect spot to see the film.
It was the first time Romero had stood in line for a movie since the release of “Iron Man 2” in 2010.
Despite the large number of tickets sold already, there are still plenty of opportunities to see the film directed by J.J. Abrams.
“We are obviously very encouraged by the record-breaking presales for ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ ” said Dave Hollis, executive vice president, theatrical distribution at Walt Disney Pictures, “but there are literally millions of tickets available for this weekend, and exhibitors have a lot of flexibility in terms of capacity and increasing the number of shows based on demand.”