The Dark Side of The Force Made Me Do It

Managers beware: The May 19th launch of the last installment of the “Star Wars” movie saga is likely to coincide with a rash of missing employees.

That’s the finding by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The company said it expects to see a significant spike in absenteeism between May 19 – 20 as throngs of “Star Wars” fans call in sick to catch their final glimpse of Yoda & crew in action.

Geeks rule tech. Geeks love Sci-Fi — especially the Star Wars movie epic. The pieces are in place for a potential slowdown next week. Blame the absenteeism on Darth Vader, if you will, the black-leather-clad master of the dark side of the Force.

Carl Cunningham, a consultant and corporate trainer for Canton, Ga.-based Clandestine Creations, is going to be one of the first to see the latest installment in the movie series Thursday and Friday.

He’s traveling to Los Angeles with two friends to catch what will most likely be the hottest movie of the summer, “Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith.” For fans, it’s the culmination of a sci-fi odyssey that first began in 1977 with the release of George Lucas’ “Star Wars.”

But Cunningham won’t be gone just Thursday and Friday. He’s going to be in L.A. the entire week.

“They know that I’m a fan and that this is the last movie,” he said.
“It’s the last one, [my friends and I] wanted to do something special here — not too extravagant or overboard — but something that would be cool and send out the thing in style, kind of close this chapter and move on and grow up and all that stuff.”

The Challenger, Gray & Christmas report said employers could lose as much as $627 million in productivity to the movie Thursday and Friday.

The estimate is based upon the 9.4 million fans who attended the prior movie, “Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones,” on the first two days of its release in 2002. Fifty one percent of those attendees were assumed to have a full-time job; the firm multiplied the average full-time daily earnings of $130.60 by the number attending.

John Challenger, CEO of the company that published the report, said the absenteeism will be worse this year. With an opening day falling on a Thursday, instead of the traditional Friday, the firm is estimating two days of Star Wars-induced absenteeism.

Philip Wise, Web master for, the second-largest Star Wars fan site after the official site, said he’s heard the same thing in past weeks. He’s also watched as fans get ready to make plans for making the movie and missing work.

“There’s certainly more excited anticipation for this movie than there was for the last one,” he said. “There are lots of people planning to see it at midnight on the 19th and many of them, we hear, are planning to call in sick or have already taken the day off, or will be arriving late at the very best,” he said. “There’s all kinds of things that will happen there.”

The only U.S.-based businesses likely to make a killing from the epidemic wave of absent employees are the movie theaters themselves, Challenger said. Any store lucky enough to fall within shouting distance of the movie lines is also expected to do well.

Cunningham said he laid out his plans in advance of the May premiere when he notified his bosses a couple months ago that he’d be making a week-long sojourn to L.A.

He agreed to certain conditions: bringing his laptop and checking e-mails in the event of an emergency and putting in overtime in order to make up for the lost time. He said he’s also visiting the area to check out the week-long E3 entertainment industry trade show and conduct research for a book on Star Wars shooting locations in the U.S., due out in 2007.

Geek Squads Gear Up

But fans hatching similar plans in secret, beware: your managers are probably on to you.

Still, if you’ve caught the peculiar bug — no, not the microscopic midi-chlorians that give Jedi masters the Force — the one that compels you to make last-minute Star Wars plans, a certain enterprising company is there to help.

The Geek Squad Web site contains a tongue-in-cheek form letter that can be sent to managers without having to actually call them and come up with an excuse for not showing up to work.

It reads:

“Please excuse [First Name] [Last Name] from work on Thursday, May 19. He/She is not feeling well. [First Name] is at home in bed for the entire day, nursing what appears to be a serious [stomach bug/flu/fever/dismemberment/loss of mitochondria/hamster attack].

[First Name]’s illness is in no way, shape or form related to the premiere of [a long awaited prequel/the final installment of the greatest story ever/the #$%%!! BEST THING EVER], which, coincidentally, premieres on the same date.

While I cannot confirm or deny that [First Name] has called my company, Geek Squad, asking to be set up with wireless access “in case of a [space opera-related sick day/massive multiplayer online gaming binge/day spent watching the final prequel over and over]” know that if you do receive an e-mail from your prized employee today, it is most likely because [he/she] was wise enough to plan ahead in the event of illness.

But as I mentioned before, [First Name] is at home, safely in bed, but reachable (in dire emergencies) by e-mail or cell.

One more thing. Beginning at [Insert Approximate May 19 Screening Time], [First Name] will be unreachable for about two hours, thirteen minutes and eleven seconds. [He/She] will be feeling really bad at this time.”

The GeekSquad crew is doing even more to cover IT’s bases.

The group planted a 40-foot-long charter bus/workstation outside Manhatten’s Ziegfeld Theater on May 10 to “ensure that fans keep up with their jobs and lives leading up to the [premiere.]” It will auction off Geek Squad agents on eBay to fill in as “emergency IT replacements” for small businesses on May 19.

Wise said even after the lights come back up in the theaters that week, he won’t know what all the fuss was about. “I don’t see how one day makes all that much difference.”

For the employees of the business world going to see Star Wars next week, one can only hope managers are saying the same thing.

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