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The line awakens: Fans queue for film and charity

A still image from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
Source: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
A still image from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

While the newest "Star Wars" film won't hit theaters for another week, fans of the franchise are already out in full force.

Twelve days before the first showing of "The Force Awakens" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, the queue began as part of an event hosted by LiningUp.net, an organization of "Star Wars" fans. The group calls the event a "hallmark of the Star Wars experience."

"We could reserve our seats online, and show up five minutes before midnight," LiningUp.net states on its website. "For the vast majority of moviegoers, that will be their experience: sterile, passionless and without any human interaction. But that is not what the 'Star Wars' experience is all about."

The tradition of lining up started in 1977 with the first "Star Wars" film, "A New Hope." At that time, there wasn't any way to reserve movie tickets ahead of time. But in this Internet age, lining up for opening night has merely evolved but not gone away.

LiningUp.net's event benefits the Starlight Children's Foundation, a charity that provides entertainment, education and family activities for seriously ill children.

"So far, we only have raised hundreds of dollars, and that's a far cry from our previous totals that we're used to, like for our last line, which was just over $30,000," Peter Genovese, an organizer with LiningUp.net, told CNBC. "So that's why we are probably going to go back to mandatory donations next line."

In the past, donations to Starlight Children's Foundation were mandatory for members who wanted to participate in the line. However, because the film's release date was so close to Christmas, the organization decided to make the donation optional.

"We are basically taking donations from anyone who can donate and hoping for the best," Genovese said.

The organization has posted signage around the event for passerbys and participants to donate to Starlight by texting, going online or giving cash donations.

"In talking with Starlight reps yesterday, they are far less concerned about the amount of money raised because that's not what they do. They are much more excited by the amount of promotion they are getting from us," Genovese said. "Having their logo and website on the marquee of Chinese Theatre is indispensable to them."

Genovese, who has been organizing Star Wars lines since 1999 when "The Phantom Menace" debuted, noted that previous events lasted six weeks instead of 12 days. However, once again, the December release date caused the organization to shift gears.

Ticket sales hit light speed

Although fans of the "Star Wars" franchise are lining up to see the film, AMC Theatres said there are still plenty of tickets. In fact, 3.5 million were available for opening weekend nationwide, as of last week.

However, if you are trying to see the film on opening weekend, you may want to buy online.

"If there is ever a movie to purchase your tickets in advance for, this is the one." -Joel Cohen, CEO of MovieTickets.com

"Technically, you can get tickets at the theater," Erik Davis, managing editor at Fandango, told CNBC. "Here's why I would not recommend it with this movie: Because there is an insane demand for this film and for the people who are showing up just a half-hour, 20 minutes before the movie, a) a lot of those screenings are going to be sold out and b) the lines for those screenings are going to be gigantic."

"The Force Awakens" garnered more than $50 million in advance ticket sales in October and November, outdrawing the first "Hunger Games," according to Variety.

"If there is ever a movie to purchase your tickets in advance for, this is the one," Joel Cohen, CEO of MovieTickets.com, told CNBC.

Disney's "The Force Awakens" is expected to surpass Universal Studios' "Jurassic World's" mammoth $208.8 million debut last June, despite a notoriously competitive holiday season.

"Every indication shows that this could be the largest opening of all time," Cohen said.

According Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak, no film in North America has surpassed $100 million during an opening weekend in December.

"It's very likely that it's going to break that number," Davis said. "Based on the excitement for it, the presales, the fact that a lot of show times are already selling out this far in advance. All signs are pointing to records being broken. Records have already been broken. This film sold more tickets before its release than any other film in the history of Fandango."

"Every indication shows that this could be the largest opening of all time." -Joel Cohen, CEO of MovieTickets.com

The film, directed by "Star Trek's" J.J. Abrams, is estimated to make $1 billion domestically and $2.5 billion at international box offices, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"A lot of the future of 'Star Wars' depends on how people receive this film," Davis said. "There is a lot of love for this franchise ... if it is great, it will do bonkers business for the 'Star Wars' movies that come after it."

Disclosure: Universal Pictures is a division of Comcast, the owner of CNBC and Fandango.