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The Original Star Wars Created Chaos in DC

Photo by Carol M. Highsmith via Library of Congress.

On May 25, 1977, the original Star Wars was released in roughly 40 theaters nationwide. Five films and nearly four decades later, Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be shown at around 4,000 theaters across the country. After Thursday, though, only one DC location can claim it has hosted both premieres: the Uptown.

More movie houses quickly got on board after George Lucas’s space opera opened to rave reviews. But for a few weeks the only place to see the sci-fi hit in Washington was at the Cleveland Park theater, leading to chaos in its otherwise sleepy neighborhood. Karen De Witt chronicled the events in a June 1977 article for the Washington Post called “The Movie that Ate Cleveland Park.” She described lines stretching down the block, teenagers picnicking on residents’ lawns, and chatty moviegoers wandering through the residential streets late into the night. “If there is ever a sequel to that intergalactic spectacular Star Wars,” wrote De Witt, “some of the residents of Cleveland Park would like to call it ‘Earthly Fallout.'”

Luckily, there are many local venues showing the JJ Abrams-helmed The Force Awakens—including the IMAX theater at the Air and Space Museum—so Cleveland Park residents don’t have to fear a repeat of 1977. But at the Uptown, which still boasts one of the city’s largest screens, the new movie is getting plenty of hype. “Even stacked up against the Hunger Games and this last Bond movie, it’s kind of huge,” says manager Robert Connett.

The first screening of The Force Awakens on Thursday the 17th has been sold out for weeks. The 7:30 PM show on Friday the 18th (which Connett thinks many mistook for the opening day) sold out two weeks after the tickets went on sale. One man has already been camping out in front of the theater, with a chair and recliner. Connett says more will join him in line soon, just like in 1977. “By the opening it could be two or three hundred,” he says.

The Uptown Theater is showing Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens in 3D on Thursday at 7pm (sold out), 10:40pm and 2:15am.

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