Originally created 05/08/99

The Force is strong for local couple



It wasn't enough that he named his 2-year-old son "Anakin," after Luke Skywalker's father. Nor that he spent the night in a ticket line in Arizona when the Star Wars special edition film was released.

Now Johnny Shipman will live outside Augusta's Regal Cinemas ticket booth until 3 p.m. Wednesday when tickets for the newest Star Wars movie go on sale. He will sleep on an air mattress and a pillow with a covering that reads: "Don't underestimate the power of the force."

There is no turning back when you're a diehard fan, Mr. Shipman said, and going only part of the way is unacceptable.

Since Mr. Shipman and his wife Christina set up camp Wednesday in front of the theater, other movie-goers have pointed at them, laughing and calling the Shipmans idiots and fanatics, he said. But he seems to take the chides in stride.

"Why is it so crazy? Their interest may be in NASCAR or getting the autograph from their favorite novelist. I'm this way about this movie," he said.

Mr. and Mrs. Shipman take 10- and 14-hour shifts to man their place at the head of the line to buy Star Wars prequel tickets. While he's at his welding job, Mrs. Shipman takes the 3 p.m. to midnight shift and Mr. Shipman's father has volunteered to babysit their two children until the tickets are purchased to see Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace, the first of three upcoming prequels to the original Star Wars trilogy.

For the movie's first showing on May 19 -- which is Mr. Shipman's birthday -- he will buy 12 tickets, the most he is allowed to purchase.

Mr. Shipman, 25, was only 4 years old when he saw the first Star Wars movie. And he remembers an obsession taking root then.

"My parents had to drag me away from the theater, because they wouldn't stand in line with me to shake Darth Vaders hand,"he said.

The couple's homemade waiting station is complete with drinks, reading materials, and a cellular phone to keep them in touch with the real world, he said.

"Ten years from now, I'll be able to say, `I was there. I did that."'

As of Friday, the couple were the first -- and only -- people in line, but now that they've secured the spot at the front, Mr. Shipman said he hopes others will join him and his wife soon.

Movie management hopes so, too.

"It's great. I hope that he'll bring more people. We put him off to the side and that is where we'll start selling tickets," said Rick Dickerson, manager at the theater located off Augusta West Parkway.

"People are in line in L.A.," Mr. Shipman said."Augusta's slow, but I hope its not that slow," Mr. Shipman said.