More than 4,100 theaters in the U.S. will screen the highly anticipated “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” on Thursday night and at least 15 of the locations are in San Antonio. Highly anticipated would be an understatement. Popular ticket purchasing websites Fandango and others crashed due to high traffic when tickets first went on sale in October.
“This is the biggest cinematic event of the decade,” said Dennis Noll, chairman of Santikos Enterprises. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Shows starting at 7 p.m. are entirely sold out. Fans willing to wait for later showtimes can still find seats available at various theaters. Expect long lines at theaters as many will show up hours before the films play to secure optimal seats with friends. Some theaters have assigned seating, but you can expect lines to build for rapid-fire showtimes.
The private industry preview on Monday in Hollywood was bursting at the seams with actors, directors, and publicists.
“The clear consensus among attendees: ‘The Force Awakens,’ the seventh ‘Star Wars’ movie and the first made without the involvement of George Lucas, is dramatically better than the last three ‘prequels,’” according to The New York Times’ report from the screening.
The Walt Disney Company bought the production company Lucasfilm and with it the “Star Wars” franchise for $4 billion in 2012. Global ticket sale estimates for “The Force Awakens” range from $1.5-2.5 billion and merchandise is expected to generate about $5 billion for Disney in 2016.
David Holmes, “Star Wars” fan and Santikos Enterprises CEO, said Disney is restricting theaters from revealing their pre-sold tickets sales, but he did say “this is already a record-breaking movie release for us,” selling four times the amount of pre-sold tickets for other major releases.
“Star Wars is a movie franchise that, in my opinion, has really defined a generation,” Holmes said. “Three generations, really. Grandparents will be taking their grandkids to this one.”
Theaters across the nation are bracing for huge, costumed crowds.
“Some people have said they just want to go to see the craziness of it,” Holmes said, laughing. “I can’t decide if I want to go there or go as far away as I can.”
Santikos Palladium IMAX will show the movie more than 37 times, every five minutes, Thursday night. The last showing starts at 2:40 a.m. on Friday. There are show times across the city at practically any time of the day all weekend.
As the theater with the most screens at four different locations, Santikos will have shown the movie 100 times by the end of the weekend, Holmes said. “We’ll essentially be here, showing the movie round the clock, until Sunday.” Show times will continue after the weekend, of course, but at a more measured pace.
There are still thousands of tickets available for the weekend, he said.
Some theaters have banned costumes for security reasons, but most theaters in San Antonio are allowing them – at least to some extent.
Santikos will have heightened security at its theaters starting on Thursday morning. Lightsabers are welcome, as long as they’re turned off while in the actual auditorium, but costumed fans should leave other weapons, real or fake, at home. Theaters will not allow blasters – I’m looking at you, Boba Fett – or spears, little ewok. Fully-costumed customers will go through a security check and will be registered. Once cleared, a wristband is required to enter.
“We’re going to have a safe and highly regulated environment but it’s going to be one that allows you to have fun,” Holmes said.
About the same rules apply for AMC Theaters and Regal Theaters, but they won’t be requiring registration and they have banned masks.
Costumes are also welcome at Alamo Drafthouse locations, “however, cosplay cannot be at the expense of affecting the experience of fellow patrons,” according to a Drafthouse release. “Our regular antidistraction policies will be in effect, so all lights must be concealed and sounds muted before taking your seat. And please do note: guests are subject to search at the discretion of theater staff and management reserves the right to refuse entry.”
Die-hard fans with a day off work – or not – will be heading to Santikos Palladium in San Antonio for a Star Wars marathon. Starting at 4 a.m. they’ll screen all six prequels in the storyline’s chronological order, starting with “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” which came out 22 years after “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” was first released in 1977. Yeah, it’s confusing. Marathon tickets, only $40, have sold out. Attendees have 15 minutes between each film, which culminates with a screening of Episode VII.
“Within moments of (marathon tickets) going up for sale, they sold out and immediately started appearing on Craigslist and Ebay for ridiculous prices,” Holmes said, noting that Santikos donated some tickets to charities. One of the advantages the local theater chain has is that customers purchase assigned seats, so there are no concerns about losing your spot.
More than 130 theaters in North America are hosting a marathon event.
A nerd battle is underway between largely younger and older generations of Star Wars fans within circles of friends and on social media about on what the “true order” of the films should be. Philosophically, I’m in the “release order” camp because the surprise that, SPOILER ALERT (for young readers), Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father is ruined when viewing them by “episode order.”
Beyond plot lines, the story of Star Wars is also a story about cinematic technology and the craft of filmmaking. That is, if you can find an original version. Most copies available for purchase these days have been digitally remastered, enhanced, and edited. I can remember watching “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi” as a child in the early ’90s and being amazed at the level of realism Lucas and his teams were able to achieve in the ’70s and ’80s. I imagine that the first “Star Wars” trilogy may seem amateurish and cliché to a young person today on their first watch, but watching them both trilogies, and now the seventh, in “release order” is a rare window into the redefinition and evolution of special effects and visual techniques throughout the years.
But mostly it’s the whole “Luke, I’m your father” thing.
I must admit, however, that – while I’ve done some basic storyline research and I’ve seen several clips and attempted to watch them – I have never actually seen the second trilogy (episodes I, II, or III). It’s not that I have anything particularly against them…I just haven’t been given a convincing reason by professional film critics or any of my friends to commit. Yet.
Who knows? Perhaps “The Force Awakens” will inspire me.
*Top image: “Star Wars” fans gather at The Tower of the Americas during the 2015 Wookiee Walk. Photo by Michael Cirlos.