It is not lost on Kentucky Theatre manager Fred Mills that showing a major blockbuster like Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens is a bit of a change of pace for the downtown theater that is usually exhibiting Oscar bait, this time of year.
Mills said that the booking was in part the result of a weak fall where few people were turning out for the Kentucky’s usual fare, a problem that is far from exclusive to the Kentucky. The theater’s best two films of the season were Bridge of Spies and The Martian, widely released major studio movies that the Kentucky acquired after they opened at area multiplexes.
“When we started looking at December, we said, ‘Well, what will get people to come to the theater?’” Mills said of himself and film booker Larry Thomas.
Star Wars was the obvious answer, and in the crowd at the theater for Thursday night’s first showing, there were plenty of fans who appreciated having it there.
“They still had seats, and we didn’t have to mess with reserved seating,” said Cam Farley, a 25-year-old mechanical engineering major at the University of Kentucky, who was one of the first people in line. He and his friends got down to the Kentucky right after they finished exams.
“We’re doing it old school,” Farley said.
“It’s the Kentucky, it’s classic,” said Transylvania University biology professor James Wagner, 54. His friend. Lexington Fire Department major Robert King, 42, added, “and you can buy a beer here.”
You could also wear a Stormtrooper helmet.
While many theaters banned costumes that concealed faces in the aftermath of recent movie theater shootings, masks and helmets were welcome at the Kentucky, which made it the place to go for Sean Donovan, whose wife Tina bought him the Stormtrooper helmet he was sporting specifically to wear to the opening of The Force Awakens.
For some, the Kentucky was simply the perfect place to experience the latest entry in an historic film franchise.
“The Kentucky is the shrine of movie theaters in Lexington,” said filmmaker Thomas Southerland, who heads up the annual Filmslang Film Festival. “This is the place I wanted to see it.” He also said he hoped Star Wars would get some people who had never been to the theater to check it out.
Mills said to get the movie, the theater had to agree to a four-week booking. But never-fear, art house fans, the Kentucky has two screens, and the other will continue bringing in fare such as critically acclaimed Brooklyn, now playing, while Star Wars holds forth on the other screen.
At 800 seats, the Kentucky is the largest auditorium in Lexington showing The Force Awakens. Mills compared the sell-out house for the 7:20 showing Thursday to crowds for the theater’s Summer Classics series. The way some fans were talking after the movie, it sounds like this Star Wars may be an instant classic.