Fans awaken The Force at Winchester Alamo

Amanda Scott, 26, left, and Matt Manuel, 24, both of Stephens City, hold out their lightsabers inside the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema as they wait for the premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" on Thursday night. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – Paying tribute to their favorite Jedi or Sith lords and decked out in T-shirts and full-out costumes with glowing lightsabers, moviegoers flocked to Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in droves to catch the anticipated premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Matt Manuel said he and his friends decided to take off work to wait in line at the wee hours of the morning with their costumes and lightsabers in tow. They got to the line at 2:30 a.m., thinking they would be late for the 2 a.m. lineup – but ended up being the first in line to be let into the 7 p.m. 2D showing.

“I was at a theater for opening night of ‘Revenge of the Sith’ but … I got off the school bus and walked down to the movie theater and was late,” Manuel said. “For that, people were camping out for a good couple of days.”

Chris Ellis said that unlike the rest of his friends, he didn’t mind seeing spoilers for the film and had read the entire plot online.

“It made me more excited to see it,” he said. “It made me feel confident that I was going into a great movie.”

Kim and Ike Keith, of Winchester, stand in line at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Winchester Thursday night in costume as a jawa and a storm trooper, respectively, for the premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Rich Cooley/Daily

Next in line, Becky Johnson didn’t make it to the line until 4:45 a.m., having driven up from Louisa to catch the film with her brother and family in Winchester. She said waiting in those lines is a time-honored tradition in their family.

“We saw all the prequels and we were always first or second in line,” she said. “Our parents used to pull us out of elementary school or high school to go and watch these midnight shows.”

Johnson was dressed in a new Princess Leia costume she had bought earlier for the premiere – but only because her other “Star Wars” costumes had worn out or were damaged. Accordingly, her husband Chad was dressed as Han Solo and her parents and other family members completed their ensemble.

Her brother Bryan Keith said there was a lot of appeal in seeing old characters and new characters on screen simultaneously with 2015 special effects.

“I wouldn’t overthink it: It’s ‘Star Wars,'” he said. “This is a big, big deal.”

Kim and Ike Keith, of Winchester, stand in line at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Winchester Thursday night in costume as a jawa and a storm trooper, respectively. Rich Cooley/Daily

While other viewers like Ellis say they’ve read the entire premise of the film, Keith and Johnson wanted it to be a complete surprise.

“I didn’t read any articles … I just watched the trailers and that is literally it,” Keith said. “Didn’t click on any links, didn’t do any research, nothing.”

“We want the full experience the first time we watch it,” Johnson added.

Alamo Creative Manager Andy Gyurisin said that as of Thursday afternoon, the theater had sold more than 5,700 tickets to any showing of the film. Pre-order tickets to all six of the Thursday night showings sold out, as had many of the Friday and Saturday showings.

Moviegoers could get photos with groups of costumed characters from both the older films and the new film or photos with a “Star Wars” backdrop superimposed behind them. Press Start Video Games provided some of the classic characters like Darth Vader and a set up of “Star Wars Battlefront,” a multi-platform “Star Wars” video game that came out in November. Another costume group from Richmond brought out some of the new characters like Finn and Rey.

Gyurisin said the video games and characters would be set up in the lobby again today. He said Sprint and Out of Nowhere Fencing Club would be contributing to the “Star Wars” scene later in their own unique ways.

While other franchise films have created a lot of hype at the theater, he said there’s nothing quite like “Star Wars.”

“There’s been that sort of excitement; … but the ‘Star Wars’ brand is just so big that this is the biggest we’ve ever seen,” he said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com