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May the force be with you!

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MOVIE fever is gripping the kingdom as frenzied Star Wars fans gear up for the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens on December 17 with a series of events aimed at celebrating the return of the beloved franchise.

Cinema bosses are also frantically racing around to set plans in motion for their screenings, as they expect unprecedented demand for tickets as excitement boils over.

Kicking off the festivities will be a gathering at St Christopher's School's Saar campus on Friday at 4.45pm, where signed memorabilia from the sci-fi series will be auctioned off during a screening of the original 1977 Star Wars (perhaps more familiar as Episode IV: A New Hope to the younger generation).

Organiser Lee Churchill, the school's Head of Year 2, believed that the latest film's impending release left him with no other choice of theme for the charity event, which will raise funds for Feed The Need Bahrain, an initiative which provides free food to those struggling to make ends meet.

He said: "As soon as we started planning it, we knew we had to coincide it with The Force Awakens. We've sold 400 tickets for the event which is practically the entire allocation, and it's mainly our own students, their parents and even grandparents!

"That's the great thing about Star Wars, there's something for all ages as it has spanned so many generations. We're encouraging people to dress up and daub themselves in Star Wars T-shirts and costumes for our photo booth, and we're expecting a lot of lightsabers."

The highlight of the night will be the auctioning of a host of mementoes from the series, the centrepiece of which is a signed autograph from Darth Vader's 'man in the suit' actor David Prowse and Boba Fett star Jeremy Bulloch.

Lee is a Star Wars fanatic himself, and in his spare time he indulges in a home decor side-project named Brickpics along with friend, Fraser Halliday. They use mini-figures from popular sci-fi movies to create scenes and then frame them for fans to display at home.

Cinemagoers aren't the only ones getting excited, as those on the other side of the projector are busy making preparations to meet the overwhelming demand for the movie set to break box-office records.

Mohammad Yasin, cinema manager of Novo Cinema at Seef Mall Muharraq, says that more than 600 tickets have already been sold in advance across the first two days, and he expects that number to increase as the release date nears.

He said: "We've already had people flooding to the box office and on our website and mobile app to book tickets. There's no other experience quite like IMAX, so people are coming from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf for the amazing experience it offers.

"We'll have a minimum three-week run in IMAX 3D, which is our largest screen with 350 seats, and it'll also be shown in our second-largest screen and in our 7-Star VIP venue, and at least three other screens ... perhaps more.

"Star Wars is something that just appeals to everyone, regardless of age.

"It's a real family movie and it's going to be huge, we're encouraging people to attend in their costumes and we have plans to welcome guests with face-painting and photo booths to really get into the spirit of things. This is a franchise that demands something special, and I think any movie fan is delighted that it's back."

Over at the Bahrain Cinema Company (Cineco), executives were this week busy finalising plans for the film's release.

"Things are so frantic regarding the release of Star Wars that I've had to schedule an emergency meeting to hash out how many screens we'll have dedicated to the film and when we will start taking advanced bookings," Cineco general supervisor Mahmood Jagbeer explained.

"I'm so excited that the fans in the kingdom can finally see this movie after it has been hyped for so long, and I am eager to see it myself ... although not as much as my nephews and nieces who run around the house and ask constantly 'when is it out, uncle?' every time I see them!"

Of all Star Wars fans in Bahrain, few can match the enthusiasm and dedication of TV and Radio Bahrain presenter Paul Fraser, who plans to attend the first showing in his replica Stormtrooper costume, acting as bodyguard for his eight-year-old son Gregor, who will be strutting around as Sith Lord Darth Vader.

He said: "I've been Star Wars-mad ever since I was eight-years-old myself, and saw the crescendo of music and the opening crawl for the first time in the cinema. It was one of those magical moments that struck me with wonderment, and it's never quite left me.

"Luckily, Gregor shares my enthusiasm -- although that might be due to me brainwashing him -- and his room is adorned in Star Wars models, including a large AT-AT Walker which took me three weeks to paint. He's always asking me to have lightsaber duels with him, he fancies himself as a real Jedi!

"I think it'll live up to the hype, it will appeal to the Star Wars purists with the nostalgia element of the original cast and the music, and the younger fans who have been enthralled by the newer movies."

Paul was originally sceptical about media giant Walt Disney taking over the franchise, but believes that the exemplary marketing campaign shows the series is heading in the right direction and that director JJ Abrams will be a success.

"Abrams did a great job with his recent Star Trek movies, at least in my opinion. I think it'll smash Avatar's box office record and be the biggest movie of all time without a shadow of a doubt.

"I've been harping on about it for a year or more on the radio, I just want it to finally be here after all the buildup!"

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:Dec 9, 2015
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