Countdown To Star Wars Blast Off

Russ Rolle and his friends have been taking turns since May 8 saving a spot along a busy street so they could get choice seats for the opening of "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith."

"This is a big event for all of us," the 23-year-old student said Wednesday outside one of the largest theaters in Southern California.

Rolle's wristband identified him as No. 7 in line for one of the 1,200 seats in the theater for the sold-out 12:01 a.m. Thursday show. He was among two-dozen people holding places for friends and relatives.

Similar scenes played out around the country.

"Revenge of the Sith" completes George Lucas' prequel trilogy about the roots of Anakin Skywalker — and how he turned into the villainous Darth Vader.

CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports that Darth Vader succumbing to the dark side is expected to jumpstart Hollywood's flagging economy and drag it down everywhere else — when millions of workers, like Mark Rodriguez, skip work to see the final episode the first day.

"It's the last time," Rodriquez explained his work delinquency to Whitaker. "I have to do it. Have to. No question."

And such faithful fans might be in for a treat: People magazine's senior editor Jess Cagle, who's seen the movie, told CBS'Early Show Wednesday, "You can arguably say this is the best of the six.

"I think you could safely say that. I think the purists who love the first one, might argue that there was something more pure about those."

In Boston, the entire 16-person staff of a Web development intended to see the film in an outing paid for by the company — popcorn and soda included.

Seth Miller, the president and chief executive of Miller Systems Inc., said the tradition began with "Phantom Menace" in 1999. The tradition even comes up during job interviews, he said.

Many fans who couldn't bear the thought of a bad seat began camping out well in advance. At the Newport Beach theater, a second line formed Tuesday for the slightly less obsessed.

"You want to prove that you're a serious fan by being the first to watch it," said Luis Linares, a 34-year-old government worker.

Like others, Linares and Rolle passed the time watching portable DVDs, reading and chatting with friends and fellow fans, some of whom dressed in "Star Wars" costumes. Several said they've seen the movies more times than they can count.

"There's a real sense of community attached to it," Rolle said. "It's a time to be around people who are just like you."

The film is the first in the series to have a PG-13 rating. Cagle said it deserves it.

"I don't want to give a lot away, but people with kids should know there is a character that is burned very badly," he said. "That's graphic violence."

Even George Lucas, the creative force, urges caution, Whitaker reports.

"I think it's a good thing for parents to be warned, to think about this before sending your kids off," Lucas said.

Dede Vignali, the mother of three young Star Wars fans — even her 5-year-old, Bella, can't wait to see it — said the warning won't stop her from taking her children to the theater.

"I've heard there's violence in the movie, but you have to pick your battles, what you're going to bring your kids to see and I don't feel it's that bad," Vignali said.

Star Wars is one cultural phenomenon that, regardless of PG warnings, makes everyone feel young at heart. Don Trim, an accountant, got into the spirit by dressing in the khaki-colored tunic, leather boots and belt of a Jedi master.

"I'm not as excited as a little kid but I'm still pretty excited," said Trim, 53, who recalled waiting in line for the first "Star Wars" in 1977. "It's a way of staying young, having fun."

Even though advance tickets have been available online for a few weeks, Ryan Henry, 22, lined up at about noon for the midnight showing at the city's Paramount Theatre.

"We're really just waiting in line to get good seats," he admitted, as he joined a handful of other fans.

After spending two days in line to see Episode I and one day for Episode II, the computer science student has learned how to pass the time.

"You come prepared," laughed Henry, who whiled away the time on his laptop. "Half the fun of Star Wars is the lineup."

That sentiment was echoed by Stephanie Allport, who came from nearby Oakville, Ont., to share in the Episode III hoopla.

"It's part of the experience just being here with everyone who loves Star Wars," said Allport, one of only two girls in line.

"It's worth it. I could see it next week, but it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't be with the same people, it wouldn't have the same hype around it."

That hype reached fever pitch in New York, where hundreds of fans from around the world lined up in shifts for 19 days outside the Ziegfeld Theatre to get a first look at the film.

The dedicated group used the wait to raise money for the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation, a charity that helps severely ill children and their families.

Last week, hundreds of "Star Wars" fanatics, from San Francisco to New York, turned out in 10 cities, paying up to $500 apiece to attend a special screening.

A red carpet lined the side of the Sony Metreon theater in San Francisco and volunteers dressed like storm troopers, X-wing pilots and bounty hunter Boba Fett.