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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
Firms fear Star Wars 'virus'
Star Wars: Episode II
Star Wars: Episode II could break box office records
Almost three million Star Wars fans in the US could skip work when the new film comes out because they want to get to the first screenings, a survey suggests.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones will hit cinemas in many countries with a huge fanfare in the morning of Thursday, 16 May.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Episode I was seen by many as a disappointment

Hundreds of fans are already queuing outside cinemas across the US, with the first line forming in January.

The film - the fifth in the Star Wars series - is expected to be the most successful release of the year, with a captive audience of millions of dedicated fans.

The last Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace, made more than $920m (£628m) at global box offices, with 5.7 million US fans watching it on its first day.

"This is a big event. For a whole event, it's seen as kind of foundational to their lives," said John Challenger, the chief executive of employment firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

Star Wars
The Original Star Wars was released in 1977
The first-day absenteeism could cost US businesses $319m (£218m), he said with 2.6 million employees taking a day off sick.

"It's probably not a coincidence that the cities having the most box office success throughout the release of the last film were those with large concentrations of workers in high-tech industries," he said.

They included New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"Theatres in these cities are likely to do brisk business again, but possibly at the expense of workplace productivity."

Mr Challenger said he had not decided whether to take the day off work himself.

Star Wars queue
Some fans will have been queuing for four months
Workers could invent fictional illnesses like "Darth Virus", but it was probably better to tell your boss the truth, he said.

"Say, 'Look, I'm going to Star Wars and I'm going to be inspired for the rest of the year'."

Fans are hoping that The Attack of the Clones will be more inspiring than The Phantom Menace, which was widely regarded as a disappointment.

But it did not deter fans in Seattle from starting to queue for The Attack of the Clones outside a cinema in Seattle in early January.

Lines have also formed in Los Angeles and Orem, Utah, where fans do not even know whether the cinema they are queuing outside will be showing it.

Humour

Actor Ewan McGregor, who plays the young Obi Wan Kenobi, said The Attack of the Clones was "much better" than its predecessor.

"I think there's much more humour and there's much more colour - it's more reminiscent of the original three Star Wars films than Episode I was," he said.

Producers Lucasfilm have said the new film will have a "darker feel, closer to the original saga" and "no silly characters or kids".

The first review of the new film was written by Harry Knowles, who runs influential film fan site Ain't It Cool News.

He told fans that the film would not disappoint, describing it as "the real deal" and "relentlessly entertaining and thrilling".

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 ON THIS STORY
John Challenger, Challenger Gray and Christmas
"It really could be a major productivity outage"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Star Wars
Will you queue to see the clones?
See also:

22 Mar 02 | New Media
Star Wars fans flock online
20 Jul 99 | Entertainment
Star Wars sets UK record
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