Movie theaters prepare for big crowds ahead of Star Wars release

The seventh Star Wars film debuts nationwide Thursday. | Wikimedia Commons user TerraS12

The seventh Star Wars film debuts nationwide Dec. 17. | Wikimedia Commons user TerraS12

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” already is poised to break all types of box office records when it opens nationwide Thursday, and locally movie theaters are preparing to meet the needs of all the Stormtroopers and Jedis who will flood the theaters to see it.

Bryan Senteney, manager at Baxter Avenue Filmworks in Mid City Mall, isn’t sweating about the Star Wars premiere. He’s got it all planned out.

A crew of 13 or 14 employees are scheduled to work Thursday night taking tickets, selling concessions and cleaning the theaters in between showings, among other jobs. That’s more than four times the amount of people who work a typical Thursday, he said.

Senteney also scheduled an hour-long intermission between showings in each theater, giving people ample time to get to their seats and hit the concession stand without overwhelming employees.

“That relieves stress and strain on the staff,” he said. “They are going to be working as hard as they can.”

Technological advances also help reduce premiere-day stress since the theater already knows roughly how many people will be entering and exiting its doors.

“Unlike 1983 where you had people camping out, pre-sales actually help you handle the crowd because they’ve already got their tickets,” Senteney said.

Senteney personally is predicting that Star Wars will top $300 million during its opening week given the percentage on the dollar he must pay for the right to show the film. He declined to disclose the terms of the agreement, which he said is confidential.

“It’s going to be huge,” Senteney said.

Tickets for Star Wars opening weekend are nearly sold out at the brand new Xscape Theatres at Blankenbaker Station Business Park, according manager Robert Hawks.

The movie theater opened back in mid-September and is owned by Chance Ragains, founder of New Albany investment firm Patoka Capital, which also has an ownership stake in the restaurant company Wild Eggs.

To prepare for release, Hawks said the theater has doubled their typical concession orders. It also will beef up the number of off-duty police officers working at the theater on Thursday and throughout the weekend to help ensure the premiere weekend is incident free.

Like many of the national chains, Xscape Theatres is prohibiting any weapons, real or fake, on its premises.

Regal Entertainment Group, a national chain that includes two theaters in Southern Indiana, said it will stop anyone wearing masks, face-obscuring hoods or face paint from entering its theaters. Weapons and props, including lightsabers, are prohibited, according to Regal Entertainment Group.

Heightened security and bans are not uncommon at theaters during major movies events, particularly since the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and another in Lafayette, La.

Baxter Avenue Filmworks won’t limit its customers’ costume play, Senteney said, noting that lightsabers are allowed and that members of the 501st Legion Midsouth Garrison will likely show up in full Stormtrooper regalia. The Garrison is a group of Star Wars enthusiasts “serving the Empire in Tennessee and Kentucky.”

Still, Baxter Avenue is taking precautions. Senteney has asked the police officers who patrol the area to pass by more often during the weekend and pop in on occasion. Workers also will check bags as usual, and any real weapons — or anything that isn’t 100 percent fake — won’t be allowed in.

“If it looks like anything else, it won’t go in,” Senteney said.