NEW YORK (CNNfn) - By now, you've undoubtedly heard the buzz: interminably long lines taking shape over weeks, scalped-ticket prices at multiples of their face value, and the mania over scads of "Star Wars" paraphernalia.
And you've likely heard the predictions: It could nab the top spot of all time, outgrossing "Titanic," which collected $600 million in the United States and $2 billion overseas; and it will top the highly coveted $100 million mark in its first weekend of release, wags insist.
But in a galaxy not so far away, the world of Hollywood soon may be rumbling about how the blockbuster release of "Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace" just might rewrite the rules of Tinseltown's parochial domain.
"If it's not good, there is going to be a big backlash" among moviegoers, said Robert Bucksbaum, president of ReelSource, which tracks box office results.
Hollywood has long counted on the Memorial Day weekend as a key release date. But in recent years, it has proven to be generally flat. "Phantom Menace" is expected to pull Hollywood out of those doldrums.
One dark side, analysts say, for "Phantom Menace" is the bevy of competing films set to appear in the cinematic universe.
'Star Wars' a world unto itself
The movie's trip to celluloid celebrity will be fueled by pent-up demand of the Generation X crowd -- one powerful enough to kick the Millennium Falcon into hyperdrive.
In that regard, the film is a bit of an exception, a sort of inevitable cinematic cyclone that Hollywood must weather.
Ever obsessive about how the image of his brainchild is cast, "Star Wars" creator George Lucas has been strict about how the film is released. That could hurt its box office run.
Those strictures includes limits on the number of theaters for its release, or the requirement that only the most high-tech cinemas play host to the movie.
The film will appear only in 2,200 to 2,500 theaters nationwide, and each of those must offer digital sound.
"Lucas is so special and unusual -- and so rarely around -- that it is a different kind of phenomenon, more of a brand concept," said Dave Davis, an analyst at Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin. "He insists on a certain kind of success."
Twentieth-Century Fox is requiring theaters hold the film at least eight to 12 weeks. That will run it up against the science fiction-cum-western flick "Wild Wild West" on July 2, and the posthumous release of the Stanley Kubrick crypto-film "Eyes Wide Shut."
Memorial Day an afterthought?
"Phantom Menace" may go a long way in debunking the belief that Memorial Day is -- and should be -- the official kickoff to the summer film season. It hits screens 12 days before that holiday this year.
In recent years, Memorial Day has been characterized by an unwelcome phenomenon for studios: films such as "Mission Impossible," "The Lost World" and "Godzilla" soared to the No. 1 spot in that weekend, only to fall off sharply in following weeks.
"Phantom Menace," Bucksbaum said, may put an end to the lore that the weekend is magical and "disprove the theory that a Memorial Day release is the save-all of the industry."
The summer season stretches every year," Bucksbaum added. "It used to be Memorial Day. Now [studios] want to avoid that heavy competition in June."
Big enough to sink 'Titanic'?
The prospect of competition ahead in the movie theaters -- and given its limited release -- could prevent "Phantom Menace" from the most glorious of superlatives: the biggest box-office draw.
"Titanic" had two assets "Phantom Menace" may not muster: a broad-based demographic draw from kids to octogenarians, and smooth sailing through cinemas, with competition next to none. For a stunning 13 straight weekends, "Titanic" was the top-grossing film.
Keeping "Titanic" afloat were Oscar nominations, which came weeks after its Christmas release and caused a second flood of viewers to appear.
Still, the predictive abilities of Hollywood insiders are questionable. Few would have expected the re-issue of the first "Star Wars" trilogy two years ago to fare as well as it did -- totaling more than $300 million.
Perhaps conservatively, Bucksbaum said he estimates "Phantom Menace" will rack up some $475 million in U.S. box office and $1.5 billion overseas. Others say it's a shoo-in to top the box-office numbers of "Titanic."
A heap of rivals are waiting for their piece.
Poised to hit the big screen in the following weeks will be Sony Pictures Entertainment's "Big Daddy," Disney's "Tarzan" and the latest Austin Powers satire, "The Spy Who Shagged Me," set for a June 11 release.
Dreamworks, in what analysts said is a good counter-programming move, Friday releases "Love Letter" -- a romantic comedy that stars Kate Capshaw and Tom Selleck.
-- by staff writer Jamey Keaten