If you drive down Hollywood boulevard and see a massive line stretching from the front of the historic Chinese Theater, you probably won't question what it is for. But you may be asking why. In this digital age of online ticketing and reserved seating, why does anyone feel compelled to wait outside a theater for days on end when it's not necessary? Well, those already in line for Star Wars: The Force Awakens are doing it for two reasons. For fun and for charity.

Yes, we are only 9 days away from the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and those so inclined to wait in line are doing so right now. The lines actually started forming earlier this week. But they are a mere echo of the lines that formed around the country when Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out in 1999. Right now, there are more than 100 people camped out in the courtyard of the Chinese theater on Hollywood Blvd., where they have to share their space with various celebrity impersonators and maybe even Darth Vader himself. It is a longstanding and time honored tradition that dates all the way back to the original May 1977 release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

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9 days may seem like a long time to stand around, waiting in line. But the line for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace started to form more than a month before that movie came out. Today, with everything just a button push away on the computer, 30+ days sounds like an eternity. Star Wars: The Force Awakens will premiere in IMAX at the TCL Chinese during Thursday night previews on December 17th. All of which have sold out by now. But fans wanting to see the movie, who are not so inclined to join in this torturous bit of fun, need not worry. Analysts predict that there will be more than enough open seats in Los Angeles, and all over the country, during opening weekend.

AMC, which is the second-largest multiplex chain in the U.S., just behind Regal Entertainment, reported that, while 1600 opening weekend screenings were sold out, there are still more than 3.5 million tickets still available. And some AMC theaters are screening Star Wars: The Force Awakens for 24hrs a day throughout opening weekend. Things have changed insurmountably since 1999. Movies are no longer shipped on reels, and the people waiting in line aren't queuing up at the box office. Instead, they have arrived with their tickets already in hand. And the digital screenings mean that a file can be shared on multiple screens. So more theaters can open up at one time. But as some of the campers are pointing out, the technological aspects of waiting in line miss the point completely. Fan Erik Murillo had this to say to NYTimes about the social experience of it all.

"At night you freeze and in the daytime you cook, but you come for the camaraderie and the chance to be a part of cinematic history. Besides, there are traditions to be upheld."

Way back in 2005, fan anticipation for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was so high, that audiences started lining up a full 6 weeks in advance. And there was a massive camp parked outside the Mann's Chinese Theater, where Fox had decided not to book the movie. This time, fans are not making the same mistake, with the iconic TCL theater booked and ready to go on the 17th.

Back in the day, theater patrons could participate in the fun by wearing all sorts of Star Wars themed costumes, which included brandishing weapons from the franchise. Recent mass shootings, especially in movie theaters, have caused some multiplexes to restrict and even ban certain masks, face paint and space weapons. And as you can suspect, security at these Star Wars: The Force Awakens screenings will be at an all-time high.

The Chinese Theater has implemented a series of rules. All tents must be erected by midnight and struck down by 6am. And there is a system in place that allows some folks to leave for short periods of time while keeping there place in line. There are even fans who manage the comings and goings of their brethren. The fans in attendance must wear name badges, and they have a charity sponsor in The Starlight Children's Foundation, which helps seriously ill children and teenagers. Tourists are encouraged to donate through text messages or giving cash directly on the spot. What do you think? Are you ready to go wait in line? Or did you smarten up and get reserved seats for next weekend?

B. Alan Orange at Movieweb
B. Alan Orange