When the force awakens on Dec. 18, it will have to do so without lightsabers, blasters or Chewbacca’s crossbow.
The highly anticipated seventh installment of the “Star Wars” film series, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” will be released in theaters next week. However, national theater chains are taking precautionary steps to ensure safety during premieres nationwide.
More than 1,600 auditoriums are guaranteed to be filled with fans of the franchise for opening weekend, AMC Theatres said, with 3.5 million tickets expected to be sold beforehand. In October, more than 1,000 theaters sold their entire allotment of tickets to the premiere within 12 hours.
Fans of the “Star Wars” franchise have made a tradition of dressing up as their favorite characters from the films with every installment. However, the fake weaponry and character masks that were once a staple of fans’ costumes are no longer allowed at the screenings in light of recent attacks.
With several screenings occurring simultaneously at each theater across the country, these massive public gatherings become a logistical nightmare for security personnel. There are fears the fake weaponry could be used as a cover for real weaponry, so security has decided simply not to allow the accessories at all.
The Gainesville Police Department will increase its patrol units and presence during premiere weekend to accommodate the large anticipated turnout. GPD spokesman Ben Tobias said the department will not alter its tactics specifically for this event, but will shift resources or responses based on national events and will closely monitor any threats that arise during opening weekend.
In the Gainesville area, Regal Cinemas operates the two theaters that see the most traffic. Regal Entertainment Group is the largest theater chain in the country, with over 7,300 theaters nationwide. While the company has not released a statement specifically addressing safety concerns during the “Star Wars” premiere weekend, it does have policies in place which address costumes.
In August, Regal Cinemas adopted new security measures that subject all bags and backpacks to be searched before admission into the theater, the first such policy in the movie industry.
According to new admittance policies released by the company, changes were influenced by recent public tragedies, including the mass shooting at a Regal-operated theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012.
“Security issues have become a daily part of our lives in America,” the statement said. “We acknowledge that this procedure can cause some inconvenience and that it is not without flaws, but hope these are minor in comparison to increased safety.”
Cinemark, the third-largest theater chain in the country, has issued a ban on all facial coverings and simulated weapons as part of patron costumes for opening weekend. The theater chain put posters in front of theaters stating that while costumes are welcomed and even encouraged, there will be limitations and restrictions in order to ensure safety. This means that all lightsabers, fake weaponry, face paint and masks that hide a person’s identity will not be permitted at the screenings.
AMC issued a similar statement to guests, but is allowing patrons to bring lightsabers into theaters as long as they are turned off during the movie.
“In short, bring your lightsaber, turn it off during the movie, and leave the blaster and Darth Vader mask at home,” AMC said in a press release.
Megan duTreil, a UF business major and longtime “Star Wars” fan, said she looks at the ban from a business standpoint. She said the theaters that issue a strict ban on props might lose some money from it, but overall she said thinks it won’t turn many people away.
Regarding theater safety, duTreil agrees with the restrictions in light of the recent mass shootings, especially considering her plans of attending a screening of the movie.
“I’m a little wary, but the odds of there being a shooting are still low,” she said. “I’ll probably try to be more aware of my surroundings and alert if there is any trouble at such a massive event like the ‘Star Wars’ premiere.”
Tobias also issued tips to Gainesville residents planning on attending a screening of the film. The tips, he said, apply to any public event with a large number of people in one location.
“Always have an escape plan if something goes wrong,” Tobias said. “As the world changes around us, crime is everywhere. Nobody knows where the next mass shooting will happen.”