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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE WORD OUT THERE: 'Wookie Hooky' Mad

HOLLYWOOD -- The sky didn't fall. Computers didn't fail. Time did not grind to a halt. But millions of people put their lives on hold to see "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace" on Wednesday, giving the film the projected largest one-day box office total in history.

Motivated in part by enough pre-release publicity to swamp a Death Star, workers and students across North America played "Wookie Hooky,'' as some are calling it (even though there are no wookies in the movie). Although reviews for "Phantom Menace" ranged from lukewarm to vicious, it seems poised to make a run at "Titanic" as the highest grossing movie of all time.

For some fans, that was precisely the point. "We want first place back,'' said a determined Matt Hanchey of Camarillo. Like many fans across the United States, the 26-year-old engineer arrived at the movie made up as a "Star Wars" character. He had painted his face in red and black, like "Phantom's" evil Darth Maul, to stand in line in the San Fernando Valley for the 12:01 a.m. debut.

In its first two days, exhibitor sources say the George Lucas movie could take in $50 million, and by the end of the weekend, about $140 million. That still leaves a long way to go to beat "Titanic," which took in more than $600 million in domestic box office - but it's a start.

And what do the fans, the only critics who count, say about it? Their views are as mixed as the professionals. But even many of those who say it's only so-so plan to see it more than once.

"The plot wasn't as good as episodes 4, 5 and 6," said Chadi Maatouk, 20, after the midnight show at the Mann Chinese cinema in Hollywood. "It wasn't worth waiting in line for a month. I'll probably see it again though."

There were plenty, though, who said they loved the movie - almost as much as the experience of dressing up, staying up late and partying on the sidewalk while waiting to get in, a scene repeated outside theaters across the country as the "Phantom Menace" fever hit full force.

"It ruled," exulted Matt Gaffney, 19, as he came out of the Chinese. "Everyone said it that it's not gonna be able to come close to what everybody expected but with all the digital animation they had in the movie, it overwhelms you. ... I'll see it at least a half dozen more times."

The midnight opening became the excuse for a national party. Outside the Chinese, an exuberant crowd of about 1,500 gathered, a majority of them young males, some outfitted in full "Star Wars" regalia.

"It's the most visually amazing film I've ever seen," said Lincoln Gasking, 22, of Melbourne, Australia, founder of the CountingDown website that has held a charity stand-a-thon outside the Chinese for the last six weeks - and who became a worldwide celebrity while waiting.

Much derision, however, was directed at a new character, a floppy-eared amphibian named Jar Jar Binks.

"We hate Jar Jar," said Gabriel Roxas, 25, who saw the movie at midnight at the Village Theater in Westwood. "We're hoping for a death scene with Jar Jar."

By Eric Harrison

and Kathleen Craughwell

Los Angeles Times