'Star Wars' in their eyes

Friday, May 20, 2005
Michael Toeniskoetter, left, dressed as Darth Vader, and Matthew Toeniskoetter, dressed as a Wookiee, waited to sign up for a "Star Wars" costume contest held Thursday at Cape West 14 Cine.

Some people waited almost three decades for this Thursday to come around. It was the day when "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" finally opened, closing out George Lucas' magnum opus.

Those superfans were out in force at Cape West 14 Cine Thursday night, literally lining up by the hundreds to watch episode three on its first day of release.

One of them was Scott City resident Matthew Toeniskoetter, who saw the original "Star Wars" in the theaters as a kid.

"I didn't see it 60 times like some people, but I became a fan," Toeniskoetter said.

Enough of a fan that he worked tirelessly Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon putting together a Wookiee costume out of carpet and fabric, with some help in sewing from his wife.

"It's great," he said of the movie that closes the six-episode saga that has been incomplete since the first movie's debut in 1977. "I love the 'Star Wars' universe and it's great that they made another movie."

Toeniskoetter and about 15 other people were in a costume contest sponsored by local company Computer 21. The company bought out the 7:15 p.m. showing as a promotion, allowing anyone who got one of their tickets -- acquired through radio promotions or given away with computer work -- to enter the contest.

The guys from Computer 21 were in costume, wearing brown Jedi robes as they registered the contestants who started pouring into the theater lobby around 6 p.m.

Toeniskoetter's 16-year-old son, Michael, was dressed as the star of the night, Darth Vader. The latest episode reveals how Jedi savior Anakin Skywalker turns into the evil Vader.

"I always thought Darth Vader was the neatest character," said Michael. "He dressed the coolest and knew how to fight the best. I'm looking forward to seeing how he was made."

Michael was turned into a fan by his father. He remembers playing with "Star Wars" toys his dad kept around, like the AT-AT walkers and Ewoks in "Return of the Jedi."

"We would take the little Ewoks and have the AT-ATs stomp all over them," said Michael, expressing his love for the dark side of the force.

Another lover of the dark side was stormtrooper TD 0488 of the 501st legion, also known as Ral Wheeler. Wheeler, decked out in full, authentic-looking body armor, was in character along with his daughter, Alex, who wore a costume patterned after bounty hunter Boba Fett.

"If you only knew the power of the dark side," said Ral, speaking through a tiny microphone and speaker in his helmet.

Ral wasn't in the costume contest due to his unfair advantage. The two walked around, consulting with the Vaders in the crowd and keeping the fans in line.

But anywhere there's a Vader and a stormtrooper, there's bound to be Jedi. One of them was Trace Webster of Jackson, who was weaned on "Star Wars" by his father, Jeff.

"With the exception of Darth Vader, I like the light side," said Trace.

Trace carried an authentic prop light saber ordered from the same company that provided those props for the films, along with the official belt and clip.

Trace's 10-year-old brother, Logan, was dressed as Anakin Skywalker.

Trace is skeptical the third episode will redeem poor showings made by the previous two. But his dad has more hope.

"Everything I've read and heard has been really positive," he said. "This could be the perfect way to end it."

Theater owners and movie industry insiders already see "Revenge of the Sith" as perfect.

"There's a lot of good product coming out this summer," said Cape West 14 general manager Kevin Dillon. "This is just the start."

Dillon said fans were in line starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday to see the 12:01 a.m. Thursday showing, and three different shows were sold out by 6 p.m. Thursday night. The theater is showing the movie 19 times a day on four screens.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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