Prerelease tension 

It’s time to shut our eyes and use the force. For the next month, we’ll be crossing a highly charged territory filled with popular culture land mines, and the goal is to arrive at our destination unscathed.

"What the hell are you going on about?" asks the Lizard of Fun, dusting off its old Boba Fett mask and trying it on. "Do you think I should wear this or the Princess Leia outfit to opening night? Or should I go as someone from the new movie, maybe — "

"Stop it!" I yell. It’s become a reflex, like duck-and-cover. "Don’t say it, don’t say a word, don’t even hum the theme song."

"Okay, okay," says the Lizard, brandishing its toy light saber. "What’s got you so touchy? I thought you were a Star Wars fan. At least until you found out Harrison Ford wasn’t going to play Han Solo in Episode One."

"Stop!"

Clearly, there are two kinds of people in the world: The kind who can’t wait to see Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, and will do anything in their power to find out what’s going to happen in it — and the kind who avoid the first kind at all costs. They can’t wait to see the movie either, but they’re holding out for the destination: That fateful, historic first screening on May 19, just a month away.

The trouble is, it’s a month filled with prerelease hype, trailers, toys, Web sites ... I’m not sure I can make it.

"There are also people who just don’t care," says the Lizard. "But obviously, they’re just boring and pathetic individuals who have never felt the thrill of flying into hyperspace with a posse of storm troopers on their tail. Which reminds me of that bit in the first Phantom Menace trailer, where they start to — "

"Shut up! I don’t want to know!"

The idea is to keep completely innocent. To enter the theater without any preconceived ideas about how the film will be. To feel the same spine-tingle as I felt in May 1977, when I dangled my feet from my seat in a sticky moviehouse and felt those mysteriously disappearing words pull me into an adventure greater than I’d ever known.

"Get a grip," says the Lizard with a sneer. "You were 8 years old. No kidding. Besides, it’s all about the special effects. And did you know that this one has more special effects than — "

"I said stop!"

The difficulty with becoming again the innocent spectator is that it’s just about impossible to avoid some sort of accidental encounter with the Phantom Menace.

If the Star Wars buzz was global when that movie came out, the buzz for this film is galaxy wide. And if it took more than a year for popular culture to get thoroughly saturated by Star Wars-influenced kitsch (remember the disco version of the John Williams theme song?), the hype machine is now traveling faster than the Millennium Falcon. We’re inundated with Phantom Menace toys (as of May 3), promotional materials and other junk, and the movie hasn’t even opened yet. It’s an example of how information that used to travel slowly, by word of mouth, telephone and television, now travels at hyperspeed. We’re already fans, and we haven’t even seen the movie yet.

"Yeah," says the Lizard. "Maybe it’ll suck."

Which is why I’ve steadfastly avoided seeing the trailers ("I thought you just couldn’t find anyone to take to the crappy movies they ran them with," says the Lizard). I’ve avoided surfing the Star Wars Web sites or having anything to do with anyone who plays role-playing video games. Because I’m afraid that the impossible could be possible: that the movie, through some cosmic slip-up, won’t live up to its hype. And after waiting 15 years since the last Star Wars movie, I’m not prepared for the psychic implosion if it doesn’t.

"Jeez, talk about putting a lot of pressure on George Lucas," says the Lizard.

"Aren’t your expectations higher than a mere movie can fulfill? Shouldn’t you let some steam out of your little brain beforehand, so you don’t go postal if it doesn’t exceed your wildest dreams?"

The Lizard shuffles off into the other room, where it whoops and hollers in front of the computer screen. "Whooo! Play it again! Hey, freak girl, don’t come in here unless you want to see something contraband!"

That’s the trouble. Despite all my best intentions, I secretly really want to know. The hype is like the force — it surrounds us and binds us together. And dammit, I want to be part of it! I want to indulge in the gossip, the rumors and secrets. I want to know the ins and outs of the plot, even if they’re just lies planted by other crazed Star Wars fans.

I run over to where the Lizard is playing a Quicktime video of the first trailer. Two and a half minutes of indulgence couldn’t hurt, could it?

I trip over the computer’s power cord. The screen goes dark.

"Look on the bright side," says the Lizard. "At least you haven’t spoiled it for yourself. Yet."

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