In honor of the rerelease of "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace," we look back at this documentary about the days leading up to its release made by Kurt Volk, who eventually went onto work as a graphic designer for Robert Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios. Originally published in The Daily Texan on September 4th, 2001.
“I was there for six weeks and over the course of six weeks, I didn’t figure out what the hell was going on,” said Kurt Volk, of his experience standing in line in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater awaiting the opening of “Star Wars: Episode I.” “It was very disorienting and very surreal, and we didn’t sleep, and we didn’t eat, and you’d wake up, and Gary Coleman would be sitting next to you. It was very surreal, and very, very strange.”
Volk shared a tent and a camera with Chris Hrasky, a former UT radio-television-film grad student, to make "The Last Hope: The Six-Week Wait for 'Star Wars,'" which documents the battle for predominance in the line worthy of Gungan proportions.
“No one got along,” Volk continued. “Basically, it was a complete disaster. It was quarreling and threats and animosity and embezzlement. It was a colossal disaster of relationships.”
Thankfully, Volk and Hrasky's relationship was above the fray, though if anything could test their friendship, it was being confined to the 100 sqaure-foot area that the "Star Wars" fans were confined to on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Growing up together in Illinois, Volk and Hrasky made horror films together as children, including a trilogy of "Terror in the Woods" films and one inspired by the Oujia board, but it wasn't until Hrasky read a magazine article about a line started by the Web site CountingDown.com in anticipation of “Star Wars” that they decided to embark on a full-fledged feature. What they wound up capturing was even beyond their wildest expectations.
“Comparisons of Woodstock were flying everywhere when we were out there,” Volk said. “Melrose Larry Green came out from ‘The Howard Stern Show’ and interviewed everyone and saying how proud he was of everyone. But everyone had their own initiative and some people saw it as a way of getting media exposure, some people had never even seen ‘Star Wars,’ some people were die-hard fans who were completely antisocial. So I think depending on who you asked in line, you’d get a very different interpretation of what the experience was and what it meant.”
Out of the 120 hours Volk and Hrasky shot, “The Last Hope” resulted in a lean 91-minute documentary that chronicles the David-versus-Goliath-like struggle between neo-Bohemian fans and the corporate interests of CountingDown.com, as well as the lighter side story of Larry Lawrence, a Mann’s Theater employee and wannabe actor who Volk describes as being “5-foot 5-inches, 100 pounds of dynamite” and can be seen lighting up the film as a contestant on “The Price is Right,” constantly videotaping himself and eventually landing a gig as one of the surfers in a 1-800 Collect ad starring Alyssa Milano.
“You can’t believe this guy,” Volk said. “He’s absolutely, without a doubt the funniest person I’ve met in my entire life.”
Volk wasn't as charmed by the professional comedian Adam Carolla, the host of “The Man Show.” Although it wasn’t included in the film, Volk locked horns with Carolla and his Comedy Central show’s camera crew, and he's heard that the footage wound up in one of the five other documentaries made on the same subject of the ‘Star Wars’ line as well as the "Man Show" itself, though his face is blurred. Still, Volk was upbeat about the experience since he was pleased with the final product and while no future plans have been made for a sequel to “The Last Hope,” there's an obvious one in the waiting to document the line for “Attack of the Clones.” But was Volk one of the many who were disappointed by "The Phantom Menace"?
“There are just images in those films that like it or not are going to be with me for the rest of my life,” Volk said of the “Star Wars” trilogy. “They have been burned into my memory. So, in a way, this film is an homage to those memories and for me, a return to childhood in a way.”