Star Wars fans online in line...

Star Wars fans in Los Angeles aren't just in line, they're online.

In an effort to get a jump on tickets to the upcoming Star Wars prequel, "The Phantom Menace," and still keep in touch with the online fan community, followers of the sci-fi epic say they've successfully installed Internet access to the line in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.

That line, which formed this week, is for a movie that doesn't open until May 19. It will be manned by a regular rotation of Phantom-philes, many of whom are coordinating their schedules through their Web site.

Of course, somebody has to keep running the Web site while the line is in progress. Thus the ADSL line which Countingdown.com staffers say has been installed in front of the theatre, allowing the site's Webmasters to post updates, digital photos and the like from ground zero. "Everyone who is lining up at the Chinese Theatre, feel free to come down and join me," wrote Ayaz Asif, the technician for Countingdown.com's Star Wars section, in his first update from the line Friday afternoon. "[We are] counting down 1000 hours in line for Star Wars now!" Asif posted a number of articles and digital photos from the theatre Friday.

Of course, one cannot live on Internet access alone, so the group (numbering six people as of Thursday) has also commandeered a couple of pay-phones to make and receive calls. The ADSL line being used by Countingdown.com is supplied by sponsor Hollywood Souvenirs, located near the Chinese Theatre, which is also giving electrical power to the tents of the Star Wars encampment. And those aren't the only amenities. Plenty of exposure is being focused on the Star Wars line, and as a result, there's no shortage of willing sponsors.

Dell Computer Corp. supplied laptop computers; DVD Express supplies the movies the bored homesteaders watch all day; local restaurants feed the campers, gratis. And what with scores of Star Wars fans showing up after work just to hang out, a kind of festival atmosphere has taken hold. "I'm more set-up here than I am in my own home," said Lincoln Gasking, Webmaster of Countingdown.com, in a phone interview. "People don't want to leave, it's too cool." Gasking said he is even able to run his Internet-based day-job business from the location.

Lines are being planned across the country and internationally, partly to ensure those in the line will get tickets (none will be sold in advance), and partly as a show of devotion and solidarity in the Star Wars fan culture.

Indeed, thousands of devotees from the U.K. are expected to descend on the U.S. for the premiere, rather than wait a month for the movie to arrive in their own country. Fans could even get T-shirts with a Star Wars logo and the words "The line began here" or "Titanic wrecking crew." (The shirts quickly sold out.)

Readers who don't mind missing out on Star Wars' special effects can skip the line and get in on the movie two weeks early, when bookstores get copies of the adaptation of "Phantom Menace" written by fantasy writer Terry Brooks.