LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The fans' anticipation is so thick you can cut it with a light saber.
Lines swelled outside movie theaters Wednesday for the first screenings of ``Star Wars: Episode II _ Attack of the Clones,'' to debut at midnight showings across the country early Thursday.
Outside Hollywood's historic Grauman's Chinese Theater, dozens joined a line that had started in early April.
``It's hot and I need to take a shower, but other than that it's so much fun,'' Autumn Robertson, 19, of Lake Forest, Calif., said from a pay phone along the Chinese Theater line.
Robertson said she had waited off-and-on in line for nearly 260 hours. She planned to change late Wednesday into her Jedi costume: a brown cloak, toy laser blaster and hand-crafted light-saber handle.
In New York, some fans have waited in shifts outside the historic Ziegfeld Theater since April 27. They're raising money for the Starlight Children's Foundation, which grants wishes for terminally ill children. When ``Episode I _ The Phantom Menace'' came out in 1999, the fans raised $15,000. This time, the goal is $45,000.
Snuggling in tents and bundled in sleeping bags and blankets, they watched the original ``Star Wars'' early Wedneday morning on a TV and VCR. They go online via a DSL connection through the theater, and have their own address _ 139 W. 54th St. _ for deliveries.
Why endure long days and cold nights on the sidewalk?
``That's a good question. I'm still asking myself that,'' said Victor Merced of the Bronx, who helped organize the group. He said he's seen each film in the original trilogy 98 times and ``The Phantom Menace'' 13 times.
``Do you count?'' Tom Minter chimed in. ``That's so geeky!''
But Minter, 21, may be an even bigger geek _ he flew in from Leeds, England, to see ``Episode II'' and plans to watch it 17 times over the next four days.
'``Star Wars' played a huge part in my life growing up. I watched the films every day from age 3 to about age 6,'' said Minter, dressed in a parka and a fisherman's hat with the movie logo on it. ``I cried the first time I saw the words 'Episode I _ The Phantom Menace.' It's completely fresh.''
Many early reviews have criticized the film _ the fifth feature in the ``Star Wars'' series _ for clunky dialogue and stilted acting. But some fans who attended screenings gave it rave reviews, saying they enjoyed it much more than ``The Phantom Menace.''
``I wish 'Episode II' was 'Episode I' and there were two more films coming,'' said Joshua Griffin, 27, a contributor to the TheForce.net ``Star Wars'' fan site. ``I really, really liked it and think it makes fantastic strides in the story.''
Griffin saw ``Episode II'' twice at advance screenings but bought tickets to see it a third time at a midnight showing near his home in Kalamazoo, Mich.
``Star Wars'' creator George Lucas described ``The Phantom Menace'' as being ``like the first act of a play,'' and said fans may have a more favorable reaction to ``Attack of the Clones.''
``In the second act, the plot thickens and it's always more interesting,'' he said.