At 1 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17, the first of all seven Star Wars films to be screened at AMC Theatres’ “Star Wars Marathon Event” began in participating cinemas across the United States. Short 15-minute breaks separated each film in the prequel and original trilogies, and two 90-minute intermissions between the trilogies and The Force Awakens let attendees stretch their legs or find food somewhere besides concessions. In total, this meant anyone foolhardy enough to buy the $60 ticket and go would be required to spend about 20 hours in a movie theater subsisting on a diet of Star Wars, popcorn and American-sized fountain drinks.
When I purchased my ticket back in October, I assumed that everyone at these marathons would fall into one of three categories.
- Adults with jobs who had enough vacation time to just not show up for a day or two.
- College students.
- The unemployed.
If I had been playing Star Wars marathon bingo, I would have checked off all three before making it past the front door. It was blatantly obvious what kinds of people were attending such an event, and their unabashed love for all things Jedi (or Sith) was out in force. But a fourth group was also in attendance, and its members were almost as populous as the others. Partial and entire multi-generational families were present. Not just older children and their parents, but young, school-aged children. On a school night.
The sight of little girls and boys dressed as Rey, Chewbacca, stormtroopers and countless other characters didn’t surprise me that much. Yet I was still taken aback when a young boy in a custom Star Wars t-shirt flew past me to catch up with his parents. Sure, the holiday break was just over a week away, but weren’t these young Padawans supposed to be in school in a few hours’ time?
“The truth is, if our kids have the chance to see their father following a dream and spend one day supporting him and being a part of the cultural phenomenon he’s involved with, then why not?” said Lani Voivod, whose husband Allen runs the Star Wars 7×7 podcast.
The Voivods brought their two boys, Joey and Declan, to the marathon to see their dad in action, but also to share a once-in-a-lifetime experience as a family. After Thursday’s movie-watching extravaganza, they joined an elite club of families who can now say they’ve watched every Star Wars movie ever made, new and old, together in theaters. There aren’t many people who can claim such a distinction.
“You do know you have the coolest mom in the world, right?” I asked Ross, a high school student. He coyly nodded in agreement, embarrassed by the question, but not wanting to dispute the claim. His mother Alice, who chose not to give her full name, agreed with my sentiment and lovingly nudged her son. “You sure do, honey!”
This particular parent-child pair was sitting right next to me in the top row of theater 16 at the AMC Loews Boston Common 19. Ross wasn’t as young as the Voivod boys, but he was still old enough that he was supposed to be in bed on a school night instead of sitting in a movie theater at 3:15 in the morning. Like most parents and older family members I talked to in between screenings, however, this “coolest mom in the world” recognized just how special this all was.
“When else is he going to have the chance to do something like this?” she said. “I remember seeing the original films with my parents in theaters, and now he and I get to do the same thing with a brand new Star Wars. How cool is that?”
And while the high school student was still a tad embarrassed about being seen with his mother at the movies, their mutual love of Star Wars was just too strong an impulse to ignore. So, Ross called in from school, and Alice used two vacation days at work so they could play hooky.
“I’m sure they really know what’s going on,” said Ross in reference to his two absences. “But, whatever. I mean, it’s Star Wars.” Alice agreed without hesitation. “My husband thinks we’re nuts,” she laughed. “His loss! He’s at work, not really caring about Star Wars, Star Trek or any of this movie stuff, and we’re sitting here having a blast.”
Smaller pairs and trios of parents, uncles or aunts, and kids were the most common family groupings to be found. Most had missing parents or kids who weren’t able to make it for the same reasons — work or school commitments, and a general lack of interest in wanting to devout an entire day to Star Wars. Meanwhile, the Voivods were one of the only complete families in attendance at the marathon. Or at least they were mostly complete.
“We didn’t bring our dog,” Lani explained.
“I was in the drive-in with my parents in the back of a station wagon,” said Lani, recalling the first time she saw Star Wars as a kid. “It was just a movie for me, but it impacted his life much differently.” Her husband Allen nodded in agreement while watching their youngest son, Declan, do a balancing act on a theater chair. “According to my mom, I saw all of them from Star Wars on in theaters. The one I actually remember was Return of the Jedi, and I remember being taken out of school to see it on its second day in theaters.”
Before this marathon, Declan had never seen a Star Wars film on the big screen. His older brother, Joey, saw The Phantom Menace when it was converted to 3D and re-released by 20th Century Fox in 2012. Because Disney scrapped similar plans for the remaining five after purchasing Lucasfilm, however, he never had the chance to see the other movies in theaters — cancelled 3D conversions notwithstanding. So, seeing all six films and the seventh Force Awakens in this manner was a totally new experience for both boys.
Then again, watching every Star Wars movie back-to-back in a theater was also a new experience for Allen and Lani. On their own and with their sons, the couple had watched as many as two films back-to-back together at home. As for a marathon event of this magnitude, such has never before occurred in the Voivod household.
“There is a hotel in North Conway, New Hampshire called Adventure Suites, and they have these theater rooms. My plan was to rent it out so we could watch them all, but luckily AMC took care of that,” said Lani. Noting the ticket price, Allen said that “it was actually less expensive to have all four of us” at the theater.
Allen was raised by a single mom, with whom he bonded strongly over all things Star Wars — the films, the toys and the larger cultural phenomenon it sparked. Allen and his mother were especially interested in collecting original toys, though when asked about it, he joked he sold many of them to help pay for his wedding reception. He has since made up for the sales by acquiring new Star Wars merchandise.
“A few of them are actually here today,” he said, brandishing Boba Fett and Rey action figures. “I had one guest for every movie, so they’re all here. I brought Rey for The Force Awakens.”
For a brief moment, he described the accompanying toys as “ridiculous,” but Allen quickly brushed off the self-criticism when his older son Joey perked up talking about all the news toys they had collected so far. Thinking back on seeing the first films with his own mom as a kid, he concluded that attending the marathon with his family felt “like the same thing” as when he saw the first movies with his mother.
“Were you guys supposed to have school today?” I asked Joey and Declan. Without missing a beat, both confirmed my suspicions with a simultaneous “yup!”
The Voivods weren’t the only family I talked to about letting their school-aged children skip school for the marathon, but they gave one of the best answers as to why they did it. Obviously, they weren’t trying to encourage their sons to skip school to spend all day at the movies. But as Lani told me earlier, she and Allen wanted their boys to have the chance to be a part of something special. To witness firsthand a cultural event as massive as the release of a brand new Star Wars movie.
“The good thing about our school district is that, at least eighth grade and below, they’re comparatively lenient about these sorts of things. They’re a lot more serious about it with high school students, because they’re very conscious about earning the necessary credits to be ready for college,” Allen explained. “But eighth grade on down, they’re a lot more accepting. So, we sent a couple of emails explaining our entire family was leaving for Boston Wednesday and would be back in school Friday morning. That was it.”
“I mean, they’re a part of the podcast too,” added Lani.
She and Allen own and operate a business together, but he runs a popular podcast on the side called Star Wars 7×7 that he started in early 2014. Since then, Allen has recorded and produced a seven-minute podcast about Star Wars every day for 534 days-straight. His fandom for all things Star Wars has been more than enough to drive the endeavor, but he occasionally receives welcome help from Joey “Quiz Master Joe” with trivia questions, and Declan “The Scorekeeper” with keeping tabs on who’s winning and by how much.
Even so, the Voivods bringing these two to the Star Wars marathon wasn’t just a matter of helping out the podcast or exposing them to a significant pop cultural event. It was about a family spending time together and doing something they love. After all, Allen’s personal connection to these movies began with George Lucas’ A New Hope in 1977 and crystallized on Thursday, May 26, 1983 — the day after Return of the Jedi‘s theatrical release — when his mother let him skip school to see the third Star Wars together.
Who knows? 20 years from now, when the fourth or fifth new Star Wars trilogy is set to release its first entry, maybe Joey, Declan and the dozens of young children I saw will take their kids out of school and to the nearest theater. Perhaps they will attend a similar marathon. Or if that’s too much, then maybe seeing the latest movie will suffice. Whatever the case may be, the next generation of super fans was just created, and they have their parents to thank.