Star Wars fans were out in full force for May 4.
Juneau celebrated Star Wars Day in properly distanced style Monday night at Gold Town Theaters’s pop-up drive-in theater at the Juneau Yacht Club with a screening of “Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope.”
“The whole idea was that this was a safe social distance thing people can do,” said Collette Costa, manager of the Gold Town Theater and architect behind the temporary drive-in theatre. “It was in my brain for years, honestly. It took a pandemic to allow me the time to do it.”
May 4 has become a day celebrated by fans of the Star Wars franchise in recent years, owing the date’s similarity to the franchise’s catchphrase “may the force be with you.”
“Episode IV: A New Hope” is the first film in the franchise, and it was released in 1977.
The road to 60 cars full of applauding fans in the parking lot of the Yacht Club watching a beloved franchise-beginning movie wasn’t a completely smooth one, Costa said.
Stay on target, stay on target
Asking forgiveness rather than permission is contraindicated in the time of pandemic, Costa said. So she approached the problem from the failure points first.
“My first order of business was to get in touch with people who could tell me, ‘No,’ and make sure they would say, ‘Yes,’” Costa said. “The City (and Borough of Juneau), Docks and Harbors, and the Yacht Club. The JPD, CCFR.”
They also consulted with Costa, who said she was greatly heartened by the response she received from those organizations.
“I didn’t want to get three-quarters of the way down the road and it get shut down. It was really satisfying to get across the board positive responses,” Costa said. “On one hand, it seems like this altruistic endeavor. On the other hand, if I don’t want my community members to eat one another, I had to put some positive vibes out there.”
A little short for a stormtrooper?
Costa said the site selection and assembling the screen was no trivial task in itself. There were many criteria in setting the drive-in at the Yacht Club.
“It needed to be dark. It needed to be off the road. Preferably not too near the road to create a distraction for drivers. Pretty convenient to get to. Plenty of space. Not too close to houses, in case there was ambient noise,” Costa said. “After driving around for two or three weeks, this is what we settled on.”
Once they had a site, they needed a screen. Jay Donig of AK Reuse was invaluable in this process, Costa said, as well as other helpers. The projector and screen came from spares from the Gold Town Theater, and the licensing issues raised by playing any Star Wars movie were somewhat streamlined by the current lack of activity in much of the cinema industry, if not any cheaper.
“Those guys were building and un-building and rebuilding for a couple days,” Costa said. “It’s a good solution for now. It’s not permanent, because our weather is way too fickle for a screen that can rip easily.”
Watching from the back row, the view of the screen was still fine.
Audio is played through car radios, and the limited size of the parking lot works to make sure that even cars on the edge of the parking lot had a good view. Strategic application of cardboard and duct tape helped to block out brake lights for cars whose operation doesn’t allow them to be off, Costa said.
Costa said this was especially an issue when they were testing the equipment, and rain compelled many cars to require the use of their windshield wipers.
“Running a drive-in 50 years ago must have been a piece of cake,” Costa said. “There’s no way to run my car without the lights on.”
Costa said that while this drive-in is temporary, she is considering having a similar run in September, when the daylight will allow for reasonable show times again. A pair of Conex boxes would make an ideal basis for the screen, as well as a storage space for the equipment when not in use, Costa said.
Hey, you guys
The drive-in will be hosting screenings of “The Goonies” on Wednesday and Thursday night at 9 p.m. to accommodate high demand for limited parking space, Costa said.
Reservations are free, and available on brownpapertickets.com.
“I don’t know how long the city’s going to let me leave that thing there,” Costa said. “Ideally, if I can get away with it, I want to leave it up for the next 8-10 days.”
Costa is making a decision about which movies to show toward the end of the week, she said. The best place to find information about screenings is on the Gold Town Nickelodeon Facebook.
“For families to be able to do something outside of their home where nobody can talk has been great,” Costa said. “I have yet to have somebody complain about the free drive in-theatre.”
While the showings are free, Costa said, the licenses to play the movies and other costs of running the theatre are not. Donation buckets are circulated at the showings to help support continued movies, and people can also donate via PayPal.
“I want to provide this for as many people as possible,” Costa said. “For now, I can’t put $5,000 into a projector that can shoot 40 feet wide.”
Best practices for going to the drive-in include going early so volunteers can site one’s car for best visibility.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.