My objective for opening night of “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” was pretty simple, find Star Wars fans waiting for the movie to begin and take some photographs of them (preferably in costume). I arrived at the Rivercenter Mall to carry out my journalistic duties, and found an adult man dressed in stormtrooper pajamas.
Shopping center employees were laughing at him. At first I thought their laughter was misguided, were they making nerd jokes? I soon realized, however, that this man knew these people. This man was in fact their boss, the mall’s General Manager Chris Oviatt.
Chris Oviatt has been the general manager the shops since 1996, three years before “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was released and 13 years after the release of “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.”
“Since I was manager on duty tonight I figured I would just stay through and see the movie,” Oviatt said.
His shift was over late in the evening and he had a ticket to the midnight screening of the highly-anticipated movie, which put him at the mall until 3 a.m.
“You know it’s like the best kept secret in town. Every seat in this theatre (AMC Rivercenter 11) is a red leather electric recliner and you can book online by seat number,” he said to Sunglass Hut employee Analia Ibarra who had never visited the theatre even though she works in the mall.
“Nobody ever told me you were a fan of Stars Wars pajamas or even a fan of Star Wars or pajamas,” she said.
“Growing old is inevitable growing up is optional.” Oviatt replied.
“Was it Steve?” she said, unsure of his first name.
“Chris,” he replied.
“I’m sorry about that.”
Chris hands Anali his business card. “Here, here’s the proof that you actually talked to the mall manager card.”
“I’ve never seen Star Wars actually,” she said, eyeing his pajamas.
“You should be on a no fly list. That’s positively un-American,” he laughs.
“Bro, I’m not American,” said Anali, who was born in Mexico.
The conversation was light hearted and wrapped up with some business talk. Oviatt has been scoping out some sunglasses for the past few weeks.
“I’m going to make a quick cruise through the food court, some more of my peeps are down there.”
After a quick walk through an almost empty food court we ended up at the security office to check up on the guards during the night shift.
“Where’s your lightsaber, sir?” a security guard asked Oviatt.
Another guard asks the material of his pants. “What is this, fleece?” he said.
“This is my sleepy wear because it’s like 3 o’clock in the morning when I get out.” Oviatt replied.
After visiting with the guards we eventually made our way upstairs to the third floor, where the AMC Rivercenter theater is. It also happens to have a bar.
“So since I am off the clock and they have a bar….”
With more than two hours to kill before the movie starts, Oviatt hops up on the stool.
“Do you need to see my ID or do you trust me that I’m 21?”
“The force is strong with this bar,” the bartender said.
“I love that.” replied Chris.
“I’ve been using that line all day today man, everyone loves it,” the bartender laughs.
“Do they love it as much as my stormtrooper pajammies?” Oviatt replied.
“I don’t know do they love it as much as this?” The bartender rips open his uniform to uncover a “Juan Solo” T-shirt underneath.
Throughout our conversation at the bar Chris is facing towards the escalators that lead up to the theater level. It became a normal part of the conversation, we would talk for five minutes and then Chris would see someone playing on the escalators and lose focus almost immediately.
“I gotta go be mall manager for a second,” he said.
Chris quickly removed himself from his bar seat and prepared to yell across the mall for them to stop.
“Used properly they are the safest things on the planet. Walking up a down escalator is not proper use of an escalator,” he said, shifting into manager mode. “If I see you doing something unsafe it just doesn’t matter. You’re either going to be safety conscience or not safety conscience, you can’t decide to be safety conscience only when it’s convenient. Almost always it’s inconvenient, so there’s that.”
I asked Oviatt what time he’ll get into work on Friday.
“Kind of the nice thing about being the boss is I get up when I feel like it. Normally I would be here at 8:30 a.m. – that ain’t happening. I’m thinking more like 10:30 maybe 11,” he said.
After our conversation Chris still had about an hour and a half to go before his movie started. I imagine Chris finished his drink and I imagine he plopped himself on that big comfortable red recliner. It’s a safe bet that Chris enjoyed the heck out of Star Wars, and I’m almost positive he will let everyone know tomorrow, around lunch time in the food court.
*Top Image: Shops at Rivercenter General Manager Chris Oviatt speaks with his employees about safety. Photo by Scott Ball.