If all goes according to plan, and I have no reason to believe it won’t, by the end of the week Augusta will celebrate a significant cinematic moment – and it’s not the one you’re thinking of. Well, not exactly.
Yes, the much-anticipated Star Wars sequel will open, filling seats at an unprecedented rate and thrilling generations of faithful fans. But that’s nothing unique. It will, in fact, be happening everywhere.
No, the event I’m talking about is the anticipated Dec. 17 grand opening of the Riverwatch Cinema, the first new movie theater in the Augusta area in 15 years.
Over the past few weeks, the new theater at 832 Cabela Drive off Riverwatch Parkway has been a hive of activity. Wiring has been wired, pavement paved and hundreds of luxurious kick-back-and-enjoy recliners installed in front of the theater’s 12 screens.
It’s been a rush, a rush to have a state-of-the-art cinema open for a state-of-the-art cinematic experience.
(The latest Facebook update says the theater plans on showing special shows of Star Wars: The Force Awakens this Thursday starting at 7 p.m. The theater is still awaiting a certificate of occupancy, which is expected Wednesday, before it can put tickets on sale.)
For the Georgia Theatre Co., opening Riverwatch with the new Star Wars has always been the goal, and it is no wonder. Star Wars is already the goose that lays golden eggs, with ticket pre-sales crushing records and basically breaking the Internet.
Screening Star Wars: The Force Awakens is as close as a theater can come to guaranteeing several days of sellouts and, in the process, selling an awful lot of popcorn.
It’s interesting, on a slightly deeper level, that the opening of the Riverwatch Cinema and Star Wars are so closely entwined. You see, they both have similar goals and similar metrics – outside of the obvious dollars and cents – for measuring success.
They both feel like the best way to affect the future of going to the movies is by looking to the past for inspiration.
For Star Wars, those inspirations are obvious. Not only does the new movie serve as a direct sequel to the much-beloved original trilogy, but it also brings back beloved characters that made those first forays into a galaxy far, far away so enthralling.
The Riverwatch retro approach is a little different. In fact, there’s very little in the theater that seems at all old-fashioned. From the automated reserved seating to the state-of-the-art projection and sound systems, Riverwatch has clearly made significant strides toward changing the way audiences experience going to the movies. But in doing that, they aren’t just looking toward the future, they are looking toward the past.
You see, it wasn’t all that long ago that going to the movies meant more than an evening’s entertainment. It was an experience. It was a significant and memorable escape. People went to movie palaces. They dressed for an evening matinee. They understood and appreciated that going to a movie could do more than entertain, it could transport.
That seems to be the goal at Riverwatch. Advance ticketing and assigned seating makes the movies an event that can be planned for. In fact, it rewards anticipation. Upscale concessions and the odd adult beverage – not to mention those sweet seats – should make the movie-going experience feel less like crowd-control and more like the customer-focused experience going to the movies used to be.
I, for one, can’t wait. Those seats look awesome.
EN-FORCED RULES. While on the subject of Star Wars, it should be noted that many theaters have developed a list of banned items.
While showing up in costume is not being discouraged, wearing masks, face paint and carrying simulated weapons – including the iconic light sabers – is strictly verboten.
And while losing the helmet and blaster might take a lot of the air out of fans’ Stormtrooping plans, it’s probably for the best.
After all, a lot of people – myself included – have waited a long time for this film. Let’s not ruin the moment by bearing witness to a guy in a Han Solo costume getting hauled off for drawing his blaster on the kid who bopped him on the nog with Darth Vader’s signature red blade.
It could happen.