For those who know Texas resident Andy Forbes and his fiancé Wendee, it comes as little surprise that their first act as newlyweds will be watching a “Star Wars” movie.
She’ll be donning Princess Leia’s signature buns; he’ll be wearing a Stormtrooper costume. The duo, both in their early 30s, is one of two couples getting married Thursday in the lobby of the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater in Austin, Texas on the opening night of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” (For the record, they would be dressed in full cosplay with or without a wedding.)
“Everyone remembers where they were when ‘Star Wars’ came out. We’re going to say we got married,” Forbes says. “It’s so cool. I mean, it’s the opposite of cool. But it’s awesome.”
The shotgun wedding of sorts came together after Alamo Drafthouse put out a call on Twitter, seeking to find “Star Wars” enthusiasts willing to get married before watching the final chapter in the Skywalker story.
It’s become routine for theaters to pull out all the stops for hotly anticipated movies. The goal, in a bid to combat the comfort and appeal of staying home to stream, is creating event-like atmospheres that feel less like screenings and more like cultural happenings.
But Alamo Drafthouse had a sense that it needed more than specialty snacks and commemorative posters to honor the culmination of a four-decade-spanning saga. The theater chain will still be offering creative culinary nods to the film. Only this time around, patrons in its Austin location will be able to munch on Soba Fett Salad and sip on Rye-Sistance cocktails while watching some “Star Wars” super fans walk down the (theater) aisles.
It’s no gimmick that Forbes wants to say “I do” before settling down to see the Resistance fight the First Order for what might be the final time. The pair got engaged last year and is still planning a more traditional ceremony in February (“Something our grandparents can go to,” Forbes says.) But they consider both “Star Wars” and Alamo Drafthouse foundational in their relationship. When “The Last Jedi” premiered in 2017, Forbes got a heart-shaped Death Star tattoo. He jokes, “I’m afraid of what’s going to happen before the next ‘Star Wars’ movie.”
“Our family thinks it’s funny, but this is us,” Forbes says. “We live and breathe it.”
For those not quite ready to tie the knot, Alamo Drafthouse locations across the country will host everything from lightsaber battles to “Star Wars” lego installations to generate buzz among patrons young and old.
“We’re pretty giddy,” says Tim League, founder of Alamo Drafthouse. “‘Star Wars’ is the pinnacle of our fan’s excitement.”
It’s the rare franchise that’s equally revered among moviegoers as those in the business of selling tickets.
“I’m nervous. I want it to stick the landing. But I’m a neurotic human being, so I’m always nervous,” admits League. “This saga began for me when I was 7. My entire movie life is, in a way, culminating. I just hope [director] J.J. Abrams understands the pressure he’s under.”
League isn’t alone in trying to come to terms with his groundswell of emotions. Erik Davis, managing editor of ticketing service Fandango, will attend Disney’s world premiere in Los Angeles, a work perk of the highest order for a die-hard devotee like himself. But he’s a fan first and intends to take his family, clad in matching “Star Wars” shirts, to see it together this weekend. Their dog, Rey, has to stay home.
“It feels like the end of an era. It’s a little overwhelming,” Davis says. “I’m someone who grew up with ‘Star Wars.’ I had all the action figures from the original trilogy, the underwear, socks, posters. When my kids first started learning to talk, they knew who Luke Skywalker was.”
There’s little doubt that “Star Wars” will continue in some form even after the conclusion to the nine-episode series. It’s already enjoying renewed life on the small screen with “The Mandalorian” on Disney Plus. But “Rise of Skywalker” is the last planned cinematic installment that will encourage Jedis and Siths alike to share in a communal experience.
“I very much enjoy watching ‘The Mandalorian,’ but I’m watching by myself. I have nobody to cheer and laugh with,” Davis says. “Such an important part of ‘Star Wars’ is how you actually experience it. The best way is in that packed theater.”
“Star Wars” isn’t just significant for the fans. It’s a welcome arrival for exhibitors, who have struggled this year with lagging ticket sales but hope to end 2019 on a high note. Mark O’Meara owns University Mall Theaters in Fairfax County, Virginia, a smaller venue that houses mostly indie fare. He’s making an exception for Luke, Leia, Rey and Kylo Ren.
“We’re an arthouse theater, but we have to play this movie because it’s too big,” O’Meara says. “I have to pay the rent sometimes.”
It’s worth it for the little guys, even if it’s just for the ancillary perks. “I noticed when people see ‘Star Wars,’ they buy popcorn. For smaller art movies, they don’t,” he says.
But make no mistake: though O’Meara’s theater specializes in independent cinema, he’s equally enthusiastic about the upcoming “Star Wars.” He might even bring out his Wookie coat, an item gifted from his colleagues, on opening weekend.
“I refuse to watch any trailers. I just want to get lost in the story and be surprised,” O’Meara says. “I’m an old geezer, so I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
The close of this “Star Wars” saga will commence another for Austin residents Mallory Walker, 35, and Matt Anderegg, 37. They’ve been together since Anakin Skywalker’s big-screen days and have seen every movie in the sequel trilogy at the Alamo Drafthouse on opening night. After 14 years together — for 12 of which they’ve been engaged — they are finally getting hitched.
“Our parents, for a while, pressured us in getting married, but they’ve since given up,” Anderegg says. “It’s been so long that we weren’t going to elope. This came up as an exciting thing. We spend a lot of time at Drafthouse, and we’re both big ‘Star Wars’ fans. It all came together.”
“None of our friends are surprised,” adds Walker. “My family is sad they can’t come because it’s short notice, but they’re big ‘Star Wars’ fans too so it’s not unexpected we would do it this way.”
Coincidentally, both couples getting married at Alamo Drafthouse on Thursday already had plans early in the new year to visit Galaxy’s Edge, the “Star Wars”-themed area in Disneyland’s California park. It’s less of a honeymoon than a rite of passage, but one that would make Leia and Han proud.
Walker and Anderegg aren’t planning elaborate costumes and intentionally know very little about what’s in store for their ceremony. They’re going with the flow rather than getting caught up in the little details. To them, the excitement comes from being surrounded by people, even strangers, who share their appreciation for all things “Star Wars.”
“There’s something unique about being with people who have the same sense of excitement. I think the Drafthouse is tired of us saying, ‘We’ll do whatever you want, as long as we don’t miss the movie,'” Walker says. “We made it clear — the movie was first priority, the wedding was second.”