|HE SPENT 1/12TH OF HIS LIFE WAITING FOR STAR WARS AND ALL HE GOT WAS THIS STUPID STORY.|
Recently, Jeff Tweiten did the math.
"I ran the numbers, and I'd estimate that I've spent one-twelfth of my adult life waiting in line for Star Wars movies," the 27-year-old Seattle resident said. "I looked at it, and it kind of bummed me out. One-twelfth of my adult life.
"I had been hoping for one-tenth."
The morning of January 1, 2005, dawned clear and crisp in Seattle --
the lack of precipitation a rarity in this neck of the woods. That was when Tweiten, a local artist, plunked down his periwinkle blue fold-out futon on the sidewalk in front of the downtown Cinerama, settled into the cushions and began to wait. The initial portion of his master plan was complete -- to be first in line for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
That was 127 days ago, and Tweiten is still there. Well, actually he's relocated to another theater -- the Boeing IMAX, 14 blocks away. He was forced to move due to a dispute with Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, who had Tweiten evicted from the sidewalk outside the Cinerama after 26 days, citing city loitering codes.
Unbowed, Tweiten set up camp outside the IMAX, located within the Seattle Center (also home to the Space Needle), which is
This is Jeff Tweiten.
And this is some of the stuff he did while waiting for Star Wars...
privately owned and therefore out of the city's purvey.
Take that, Nickels. Thhhhhbbbffffttttttt!
When the latest and final installment of the Star Wars double trilogy opens on May 19, Tweiten will have been in line for 139 days, just beating his record -- 136 days for Episode II in 2002.
"The irony is that the movie may not even open here," Tweiten said of the IMAX. "I may have to go back to the Cinerama to see it."
Friday, April 15, 2005.
Tickets went on sale yesterday at the Cinerama. I got the call from Ken around 3:50. I took off running down to the Cinerama. I was about halfway there when two men moving a sofa into an apartment where taking up the entire sidewalk. I didn't have time to go around,
and these are Star Wars tickets, and seconds matter. Over the sofa
I went, like the old days of high school track, no stutter step, three
perfect strides. Seconds later I was at the Ticket Booth, out of breath;
the only words I could say was can i still get tickets for 12:01. Moments
later I had pure gold in my hands tickets for star wars.
Jeff Tweiten grew up on Bainbridge Island, a scenic, 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. He attended Bainbridge High, where he ran track, played football and was interested in art. His friends, who knew him by his nickname, Tweiten Freak, always considered him a little different.
"One day one of my old high school friends was out jogging, and ran by and saw me here in
line," Tweiten said. "I hadn't seen him in 10 years. After some small talk, he said, 'This fits you. You look you're exactly where you should be.' He was right. I'm more comfortable here than in any apartment I've ever dwelled in. This feels like home."
Having been in 10 movie-line campouts -- total time: a little more than a year -- Tweiten has seen much of the world run by. He doesn't have an apartment. Nor a car. His largest possession is the blue futon he purchased for $5 at a yard sale. An artist who studied at Olympic College before dropping out a few credits shy of a degree, he makes his living making raku masks, illustrating children's books and playing poker. He continues to work while in line, using his laptop computer and cell phone, sending book illustrations to his publisher.
"I've always been a creature of habit," he said. "Go to work in the studio, go to the coffee shop, stop at the bar. I never interacted with people a lot. Now, I meet a lot of people. I just sit here, and they all come by. I grew up on a secluded island. I never would have guessed that I'd end up here, talking to Japanese tourists about Star Wars."
Tweiten is not one of those fans who can tell you the exact number of lights on an X-Wing control panel. But that doesn't mean he isn't obsessed. By his own estimation, Tweiten has seen the five Star Wars movies more than 500 times. The original film opened in May 1977, a few days after he was born. So in a way, he has grown up with the Star Wars mythology, and by the time he was 20, he was completely taken over by The Force. That's when the special edition trilogy -- special effects-enhanced re-releases of the original three films -- hit theaters, in 1997.
"A friend dragged me out of my apartment to go get in line to see the first one," Tweiten recalled. "We got in line, and there were about 20 people ahead of us. It seemed like all the fun guys were in the front of the line. They were getting all the attention. I tried to go up there to talk with them, but they sent me back. 'No, you're in the back of the line. We're in the front. The water doesn't flow that way. '
"I told myself that next time, I would be in the front of the line."
For the next re-release, The Empire Strikes Back, Tweiten was second in line. That was merely an overnight campout. But a deal
had been struck with whatever force in the universe guides these things, and for Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1999, Tweiten camped out for 26 days. For Episode II: Attack of the Clones, the stakes were raised, as Tweiten and friend John Guth camped outside of the Cinerama for 136 days (raising more than $10,000 for needy children through the Seattle Star Wars Society).
They became minor celebrities in the process, interviewed by dozens of newspapers and local and national television outlets. The ABC Morning Show came calling. Howard Stern did a segment. The dust on Tatooine had barely settled before Tweiten began planning his next adventure.
This time around, the momentum took less time to build. Tweiten gets daily requests for interviews.
He's been on CNN, ESPN and MSNBC. He's appeared in Maxim and People magazines. He was on a segment of "Jimmy Kimmel Live." Tweiten's campsite has also become the unlikely destination of bachelor parties and sorority pledge events -- he averages one a week. During the latest bachelor party, a man in an ape suit served as master of ceremonies as guests were required to answer a series of riddles. One local radio morning show involved Tweiten in a promotion that involved an elaborate game of sidewalk Twister with a woman dressed as Princess Leia.
"There's been all of this crazy, surreal stuff," Tweiten said. "Every day it's something different. I've become some kind of magnet for weirdness."
Indeed, Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Susan Paynter recently dubbed Tweiten "a character of random silliness," raising him to the plain of great Seattle nonconformists such as Darrell Bob Houston, Ivar Hagland and John Doyle Bishop.
The guy who grew up on an island, who had trouble "interacting with people." whose life was going, well, not much of anywhere, was suddenly on the fast track. All because he just sat still.
"The other day, Japanese tourists came by, looked at me, and said 'Ah, the Star Wars guy. We read about you last week,' " Tweiten said. "This is a great, inspiring thing. I'm having the time of my life, and I hardly ever leave the couch."
Maybe the saddest part of this whole thing is how many of these "Star Wars" sheep are young people in their early 20s. Isn't that the most
exciting time in life? When everything is possible?
Instead, their lives are so empty that they spend days in front of computers, E-mailing strangers about a movie.
The critics were right. We should scoop up these pathetic people,
send them home to Mommy and Daddy, tell them to start over, giving them
a life. Repeat after me: Darth Vader is not real. R2D2 is battery-operated.
And the only thing The Force is interested in is your eight bucks.
"Most people love the fact that I'm here," Tweiten said. "They say that they wish they could do this, to have the freedom I seem to have. There are other people, though, who just don't get it. I've been harassed quite a bit. More than once people have yelled
at me, things like 'Get a life!'
"Yeah, well, who needs to get a life? I'm doing something; you're an onlooker. The naysayers usually end up realizing that their ideas are misconstrued."
One delicious moment occurred last month, when Tweiten was still on the sidewalk at the Cinerama. Two college-aged men began heckling him from across the street. That was the moment that the Seattle SuperSonics cheerleaders showed up to give Tweiten a private dance performance.
"You should have seen those frat boys, their jaws just dropped," Tweiten said. "It was perfect timing. The cheerleaders were dancing, sitting next to me and feeding me grapes. I felt like Julius Caesar."
But the fact is, not everyone is a supporter. The word "loser" gets bandied about quite a lot when people hear of Tweiten's campout. He has had to take down the feedback portion of his Web log due to rampant flaming. Someone even poisoned his food.
"People used to come by and give me food," Tweiten said. "Pizza, sandwiches. But someone gave me a cup of coffee, and right away I knew something wasn't right. I was sick all day, half-crazed, sweating. It took me 12 hours to get over it. Now I don't accept anything."
He also has detractors in high places, it would seem. It was an anonymous complaint that compelled the mayor's office to evict Tweiten from his previous spot next to the Cinerama.
"The mayor has been the only one who has challenged me and said 'No, you can't do it,' " Tweiten said. "The police department has been
great. All this time I've been outdoors and I've never once been physically harassed. That's a testament to the police department.
"When I camped out on the sidewalk three years ago it was never an issue. But the city has changed so much in just that short time. What have we become? We're losing that free spirit of the northwest, we're making Seattle like LA or New York. Don't we have the right to do what we want to do, as long as we're not hurting anybody? That's what fundamentally defines America."
During his previous marathon campout for the second prequel, in 2002, Tweiten was allowed to set up a tent in a small parking lot next to the theater. That area became a hangout for Jedis and Ewoks and friends of all shapes and sizes -- a daily carnival of the
"When I was over there to buy my tickets, I looked at it again,"
Tweiten said. "Now, it's just a parking lot."
Saturday, April 16, 2005
Well, someone has to say it, so let it be us. What if, um, the movie stinks?
"A movie is like a football game," Tweiten said. "I've heard of people camping out to be the first in line to buy tickets to a Seahawks game. Then you go to the game, and your team gets trounced. But you still had a great time. It's not about the game, it's about the experience, about being a part of all that."
How about watching that game, though, with Jar Jar Binks sitting in the next seat, annoying you the entire time?
"I recently re-watched the first prequel, and I enjoyed it a little more than I did the first time," Tweiten said of Phantom Menace. "It was good, but a little choppy. Then the second one, I adored that one. Thought it was great. A nice chase scene, great battles, great villains.
"Now this one, the third one ... Vader, baby. Vader. The trailer just blew my mind."
Soon, though, the day of reckoning will arrive, as Tweiten must decide when to abandon the safety of his Seattle Center roost. Word has just come down that Revenge of the Sith indeed will open first at the Cinerama, not at the Boeing IMAX.
"I'll go back to the Cinerama at some point," Tweiten said.
"They won't allow the futon, and I can't sit. If I have to, I'll
stand. I'll stand there the entire time. It would be a travesty if I were
to quit. I can't quit now; I'd look like a schmuck. So I'll go to the
Cinerama and stand there, and if they want to end this, the only way they'll
be able to do it is to take me away in handcuffs."
"I see a lot of people I haven't seen since the last campout, three
years ago," Tweiten said. "One friend came by with his daughter.
She was just a little kid the last time I saw her. She's 13 now. She has
changed so much."
Or has he stumbled upon a great secret? For the first time, Jeff Tweiten may really be living. All because he just sat still.
Rick Chandler is a freelance journalist living in the San Francisco Bay Area.