Star Wars fans: Your 32-year wait to learn what happens to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, R2D2, C3PO, and the rest of the galaxy ends next Thursday.
The first showings of “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” will begin at 7 p.m. across the nation.
Two of the region’s tiniest venues are preparing to handle giant crowds. Amherst Cinema and Oberlin’s Apollo Theatre will both carry the new Star Wars film and are hoping it lives up to the predicted box office draw.
Amherst Cinema owner Mark Costilow said he’s already made history, signing an unprecedented four-week contract with Disney to run “The Force Awakens.” Never before has he agreed in writing to exclusively run a single film.
The decision was hyped by new cinema manager Bill Mitchell. Costilow said Mitchell isn’t a Star Wars fan but believes it will push ticket sales through the roof.
“I think it’s going to be big, at least the first week for us,” he said. “It’s harder on the guys with the one screen like me, because it could slow down after two or three weeks.”
The Apollo signed the same deal — Disney required it across the board — but has two screens and will also show “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.”
But Dave Huffman, director of marketing for Cleveland Cinemas, which owns the Oberlin theater, said he doesn’t think Alvin, Simon, and Theodore have a chance of standing up to the Star Wars juggernuat in its opening weeks.
About three-quarters of tickets for the Apollo’s first showing were sold weeks in advance with limited opening seating in the following days, he said.
Huffman predicts the Apollo’s 400 seats will be packed for quite some time.
“I don’t think every show will be sold out, but it’s going to huge for us,” he said.
Based on record-shattering ticket presales and buzz, box office experts expect “The Force Awakens” to weigh in as one of the top three highest-grossing movies of all time.
That will be no small feat.
The 2009 James Cameron epic “Avatar” holds the record with a worldwide box office take of $2.78 billion, followed by Cameron’s other unsinkable hit, “Titanic,” with $2.2 billion.
This summer, “Jurassic World” stomped into the number three spot with $1.67 billion.
To make that pantheon, the new Star Wars flick will have to surpass top 10 heavyweights “The Avengers” and its 2015 sequel “The Age of Ultron,” “Furious 7,” the Harry Potter finale, “Frozen,” “Iron Man 3,” and “Minions.”
But Costilow said the new Star Wars film’s rating could dampen local sales.
His business caters mostly to children with G and PG movies. The PG-13 rating on “The Force Awakens” could cut into that clientele.
Still, the Amherst Cinema did very well with the PG-13 Avengers films, which boasted the same science-fiction violence and darker themes expected in the new Star Wars title.
Also, due to the flick’s 135-minute running time, the theater will only be able to show “The Force Awakens” four times a day instead of the usual five, which will also curb sales.
Huffman said theaters, especially small ones, will be relying on die-hard fans to make repeat viewings.
And while there’s a lot of excitement out there, some longtime Star Wars fans were burned by the low quality of George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, “The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones,” and “Revenge of the Sith.”
Kids loved those films but those who grew up playing with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader toys in the 1970s and 1980s generally hated them — including Huffman. “I’m hoping this will rekindle my love after the damage done in the last trilogy,” he said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.