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My 18-Hour 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Movie Theater Marathon Experience

No spoilers.

Matthew Walthert

Stormtroopers walk the red carpet at the world premiere of The Force Awakens in Hollywood on December 14. Image: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

At 3:30 on Thursday morning, the theater was already abuzz with Jedi and stormtroopers, bounty hunters and droids, and plenty of ordinary humans. Rebels or Imperials? Corellians or Naboo? It was difficult to tell. But nerds? Definitely that last one.

We had to be, or we wouldn't have been there in the middle of the night, preparing for an 18-hour Star Wars movie theater marathon. It started with the original and prequel trilogies, and finished with an opening night screening of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The whole thing cost $49.99, but would have been a bargain at twice the price.

Maybe you couldn't attend the marathon because you have a job, a family, or, you know, a life. But if you want to know what it feels like to be crammed into a theater in Kanata (about 20 kilometres west of downtown Ottawa) with about 300 hardcore Star Wars fans for nearly a full day, keep reading. And no spoilers—I promise.

The last new Star Wars movie was Revenge of the Sith in 2005, and there were lots of children at the marathon who looked too young to remember its release (getting an early start on the Christmas holiday, I guess). Of course, there were also plenty of middle-aged fans, who had been there since the beginning (1977, for those of you who don't have the release date of the first film memorized). The men-to-women ratio was probably about three-to-one.

Derek Govier, sitting three seats to my left, had driven about 500 kilometres when he couldn't get tickets for the marathon anywhere closer

Kurtis Montgomery, who arrived dressed as his favourite character, Obi-Wan Kenobi, fell between the two extremes. "I'm not quite old enough to pull off the Alec Guinness version," he laughed, but he provided a good likeness of Ewan McGregor's younger version of the character in the prequel trilogy, complete with requisite facial hair and flowing Jedi robes.

"There's a real connection to the past, seeing all the movies on the big screen," he continued, "the way people first experienced them."

Wild cheering accompanied the beginning and end of each film. People even clapped for The Phantom Menace—with its unrealistic dialogue, stiff acting and accusations of racism—which began promptly at 4 AM, as though they had just seen a good movie.

I actually expected more costumes, but perhaps that was unrealistic for such a long event. Pyjamas and sweatpants were more common than robes or armour. However, I did spot a Jango Fett helmet tossed behind someone's seat—a victim of the theater's ban on masks and helmets.

Karim Mohanna did arrive in costume, another Kenobi. His first Star Wars experience was seeing Return of the Jedi in theater with his father and brother in 1983. When he heard about the marathon, he wasn't sure he would attend—given the sleep deprivation required—but come he did. "I won't say it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he beamed, "but we're lucky to be part of it."

Around 9 AM, just before the start of Revenge of the Sith (yes, we had already watched two full movies before nine o'clock), I was in the lobby refilling my drink next to another fan. Suddenly, we heard cheering, signalling the beginning of the film.

"Oh, shit," he muttered under his breath, grabbing his drink and rushing back into the theater as though he hadn't already seen the movie 20 times.

Except for the first five rows, which were only partially filled, the theater was packed. Derek Govier, sitting three seats to my left, had driven about 500 kilometres from New Dundee, outside Kitchener, Ontario, when he couldn't get tickets for the marathon anywhere closer. He had left home at eight o'clock on Wednesday night and arrived at the theater in Ottawa at 1 AM.

Forget costumes—that is Star Wars dedication.

"I tried to sleep a bit, but I was too excited," he laughed. Of the first six movies, Govier had only seen one, Attack of the Clones, in theaters before Thursday. "I want to be able to tell my kids I was there for the biggest thing in movie history in my lifetime," he said.

Best of all, there is no Jar Jar Binks, no mention of midi-chlorians and no awkward attempts at acting by Hayden Christensen

Aside from the cheering at the beginning and end of each movie, three moments in the first six films got a boisterous reception. The reaction to Han Solo's first appearance in the Mos Eisley Cantina in A New Hope was reminiscent of an episode of Seinfeld—specifically, the applause when Kramer bursts in through Jerry's apartment door. Emperor Palpatine's death at the hands of Darth Vader and the destruction of the second Death Star also provoked a loud response.

In The Force Awakens—no spoilers!—anything relating to the original movies, from characters to ships and droids, was greeted with whoops and cheers.

If you're wondering about the logistics of the whole event, a 15-minute intermission followed each film—presumably to prevent anyone from developing deep vein thrombosis—and the theater offered a different concession item at a special price during each break. By the evening, with several other showings of The Force Awakens simultaneously planned, concession line-ups snaked almost back to the front door.

As promised, you won't find any spoilers here, but the new film is very well done. Fast-paced, but with plenty of interesting characters (both new and old) and lots of touching moments to go along with the fun parts that seem like a throwback to the original trilogy.

Best of all, there is no Jar Jar Binks, no mention of midi-chlorians and no awkward attempts at acting by Hayden Christensen.

And now, time for some sleep. May the Force be with you!