AUSTIN, TEXAS — A long time ago, in far away Denton, Texas, Matt George had his first memory: Chewbacca.
And R2-D2. And the orange, Cloud City Twin-Pod Cloud Car - the toys his Aunt Earlyn bought him one morning "somewhere around the time I was three," says George. Sure, there's a birth certificate stating that Matt Terrell George was born April 25, 1977. But that's an article of faith; the day he got his first "Star Wars" toys is the first day he really knows he was alive.
All of which goes a long way toward explaining why George - and scores of other die-hard "Star Wars" fans - shelled-out $6.50 apiece Tuesday night at Austin's 17-screen Tinseltown South multiplex - to see no movie, only the barest hints of one. The theater was one of 75 in the US and Canada picked to debut the two-minute preview trailer for the next installment to George Lucas's science-fantasy saga. "Episode 1: The Phantom Menace," is a film that a generation of playground princesses and jungle-gym Jedis has pined for since the last "Star Wars" film was released 13 years ago.
But the "Star Wars" universe touches on something more fundamental than light sabers and laser blasters - or even twentysomething nostalgia. Its phenomenal success hints at an American idealism, a thirst for the epic and a belief that, in the end, good should always triumph.
"It's a story of good and evil that totally relates to religion and philosophy and mythology and it's just part of our collective psyches," says Doug Straus, owner of Austin's Comics and More and a philosophy graduate from the University of Texas.
Still, previewgoers came as doubting Thomases, craving proof that the struggle against the Empire will indeed continue as advertised in the summer of 1999 - and that it will be worthy of its predecessors.
"It looks really good," says George, palpably relieved, upon his fourth viewing of the preview. After all, none of the fans had come to see any of the actual movies showing - it was all mad dash from theater to theater, show-start to show-start, just in time for the warm-up act. Attendance at the theater was three times bigger than a usual Tuesday night.
Just for the record, the trailer consists of rapid-cuts of a high-speed hover-pod race, and a nasty army of long-nosed robots - and features a younger, spryer Yoda just this side of Ed Asner and a Liam Neeson trying not to come off like Oskar Schindler with a light saber.
And while some here may be returning to relive a piece of their childhood, others just want answers to all those questions like "How did Darth Vader go bad?" "It's just like 'Gone With the Wind,' " says Nora Irvin, who saw the preview three times. "You always wonder, will Rhett ever go back to Scarlett? And how did this little boy father Luke and grow up to be Darth Vader?"