Movie theaters are tightening security as Star Wars fans suit up and sit down for yet another glimpse of life in a galaxy far, far away.
Bans on masks and weapons inside theaters have been an industry standard for a while, but the 2012 shooting rampage during a Dark Knight Rises showing in Colorado and the July shooting at a Trainwreck showing in Louisiana have prompted theater operators across the country to take a closer look at safety.
Theaters planning to show Star Wars: The Force Awakens this week started posting rules for the fanfare on their websites months ago. Lucasfilm, the Force behind the Star Wars franchise, reached out to fan clubs and asked that people not carry props that look like guns -- such as a stormtrooper’s blaster -- to see the new film or at future events.
Similarly, many theaters in North Texas are encouraging people to dress as their favorite characters (the Moviehouse in Keller is holding a costume contest, by the way) but have instructed them not to wear masks or take weapons inside. The two largest chains in the area, AMC and Cinemark, will not allow face paint, masks or weapons.
“There are so many different things to worry about in the world that it’s hard to say what’s going to happen next,” said James Roman, a self-described Star Wars nut who is a member of the 501st Legion fan group.
“All we can do is keep our eyes open and trust that the place we’re going to will be secure.”
It’s a big week for the 501st Legion, which does volunteer work for charity and promotes Star Wars through costumed appearances and fan events.
Roman plans to dress as a stormtrooper for fan gatherings hosted by theaters this week, but he will leave the fake weapons at home.
“It’s a matter of being considerate to people’s feelings and what they might perceive as good or bad,” he said. “To err on the side of caution so we’re not a part of the problem.”
Mark Walters, who runs bigfanboy.com and organizes large local fan events including Dallas Comic Con, said he appreciates that theaters are being cautious, but he worries they might be causing paranoia that something bad might happen at a Star Wars showing.
“They should always have those rules. ... It shouldn't take something like Star Wars for that to happen,” Walters said.
Some theaters are embracing moviegoers’ excitement more openly. The Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson is encouraging fans to wear costumes and take props -- even fake weapons -- to screenings this weekend.
“We feel it’s not a Star Wars party without that element,” said James Wallace, the theater’s creative manager and programmer. Richardson police will be on hand to inspect the props, a measure familiar to cosplay fans at any comic con.
Theater guidelines for premiere weekend:
Alamo Drafthouse: "We are strongly encouraging people to come in costume with accompanying masks, props, prop weapons (blasters, Lightsabers, etc.) etc...we feel it's not a STAR WARS party without that element! And in fact will have appearances by professional costumed characters Thursday through Sunday! However, for good measure and safety, we are going by comic con rules. We will have two officers from the Richardson Police Department on hand for security as well as to supervise our weapons check. If you are bringing a blaster or prop weapon, your first stop should be at the table in the lobby by the door so that the officers can inspect it and tag it."
AMC: “AMC does not permit weapons or items that would make other guests feel uncomfortable or detract from the movie-going experience. Guests are welcome to come dressed in costume, but we do not permit masks or face paint. In short, bring your lightsaber, turn it off during the movie, and leave the blaster and Darth Vader mask at home.”
Cinemark: No masks, heavy face paint or weapons, including lightsabers and blasters.
Texas Theatre: “No functional weapons. No blasters or guns. No large bags or backpacks. When ordering at the bar, masks must be removed for ID’ing. No headgear or props allowed in the auditorium which would obscure other patrons’ view."
The Moviehouse: “Deactivate and sheath your lightsaber (and any other illuminated accessories) during the movie. Blasters and bow casters are not welcome in the theater. Please refrain from heavy face paint. Be prepared to remove your mask or helmet on request. As always, using the dark side of the force, lightsaber duels, and any other disruptive behavior will result in your immediate ejection from the theater.”