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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Camping out for the Clones
Star Wars fans' camp site outside a Hollywood cinema
Fans have made a home from home outside the Hollywood cinema
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By Peter Bowes
In Los Angeles
line

Star Wars excitement is reaching fever pitch outside the US cinema many die-hard fans consider "ground zero".

A group, camped outside the famous Chinese Theatre in Hollywood for several weeks, has already been rewarded with tickets for the first screening of Episode II - Attack of the Clones at one minute after midnight on 16 May.

They are also raising money for the children's charity, the Starlight Children's Foundation.

The more hours they clock up in the queue, the more money - through sponsorship - goes to the Foundation.

In return, the charity has helped smooth the way with the authorities to make the gruelling outdoor wait possible.

Star Wars fan Matt Wheeler
Matt Wheeler travelled from Cardiff

Even though the film is being released on the same day in the UK, one fan, Matt Wheeler from Cardiff, decided to make the journey to LA to soak up the hype.

"I came over here in 1999 for Episode I with a group of friends and had such a good time I wanted to come back and do it again," he says.

"It's a good laugh."

All the fans agree that they were compelled to make the pilgrimage to Hollywood through a life-long fascination with the Star Wars franchise.

"I was four when the first one came out in 1977 and it's something I've grown up with," explains Mr Wheeler.

"There is nothing else that compares to it. It is influenced just so much popular culture and I think it is the only thing that could generate an event like this."

'Wacky'

JR Barbee, a 30-year-old pastor from Dallas, Texas, now living in California, says the film has been a driving force throughout his life.

"For my generation, it is just part of who we are and what we are about - Gen-X," he explains. "

"I'm a pastor of a church, so people would think that's kind of wacky for a pastor - but this is something I have grown up on."

Mr Barbee dismisses the suggestion that putting his life on hold to queue for a movie is in any way extreme.

Star Wars fan JR ABrbee
JR Barbee: Does not consider his enthusiasm strange

"People can think weird things about us all they want - but my mom waited weeks for tickets for Elvis - for me that is kind of wacky. I would never wait in line even for concert tickets," he says.

Some of the fans admit to having a romantic attachment to the Star Wars characters and the enduring story.

"It just captured my heart as a young girl," says Alaina Pepito from Los Angeles.

"I had a major crush on Luke Skywalker and I wanted to be Princess Leia. It just stayed with me and I'm almost 32 and still loving Star Wars."

Steve Almes, 40, from San Francisco adds: "It really spans generations.

"I'm here with people who are 21 - people who weren't even alive when the first movie came out. That's what makes it neat."

Tough

While most of the fans are refusing to read press coverage of Episode II, for fear of spoiling their enjoyment of the film, they will be encouraged that early reviews have been very positive.

Star Wars ticket sign
Buying a ticket is just the first step to getting the best seat in the house

Now that they have their tickets, the aim is to secure the best seats in the house on opening night.

They are camping on Hollywood Boulevard, along the Walk of Fame, within feet of the Chinese Theatre.

The building was recently given a face-lift as part of multi-million dollar development designed to revitalise the area.

However, the street remains at the heart of a relatively rough part of town and the Star Wars vigil is not for the faint-hearted.

'Friends'

Josh Cottingham, from Ventura, California, is at the head of the queue having clocked up almost 600 hours in line.

He went through a similar experience in 1999 but admits to being disappointed by Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Star Wars fan Josh Cottingham
Josh Cottingham: Cynical about media interest

"The movie was a kind of let down - but a lot of us had become really good friends during that time and we decided we were going to come back for Episode II," he says.

Mr Cottingham, with his eyes focused intently on the screen of his laptop computer, was a somewhat reluctant interviewee.

It appears that through his many hours waiting, being gawked at by tourists and quizzed by journalists, he has developed a certain cynicism.

"A lot of the media don't respect us at all and they want us to jump through hoops for them and they set things up to make it look better on camera," he explains.

"It really, really irritates me."

However, he acknowledges, that sense of irritation soon evaporated when a US TV station arranged a mobile phone chat with George Lucas.

"Then, I love it," he says of the media attention.

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