Standing among a cast of “Star Wars” characters inside the lobby of the Carmike Royal Palm 20 movie theater Friday night was a life-size and nearly fully operational replica of R2-D2.
David Hagstrom started building the robot about four years ago and is nearly finished, all that’s left are a few cosmetic details and working out a few kinks to make him move.
Hagstrom has always wanted an R2 of his own, ever since he saw the first “Star Wars” movie when he was 9 years old. In his adult life, by then an engineer, he decided to start building one and was looking online for others building similar robots. He met one other person and started the East Tennessee R2-D2 Builder’s Group.
Though he has since moved to Sarasota from Tennessee, he is still working on finishing up the project he started years ago, and he loves to show off his work at events like Friday’s showing of “Rogue One” and charity events.
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The latest “Star Wars” film launched into theaters Thursday night and devout fans went out to see the story unfold on the screen.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” a prequel that sets up the “Star Wars” saga, brought avid fans to area theaters for the Thursday night premieres and to purchase advance tickets for Friday showings.
For the Carmike Royal Palm 20 movie theater, located at 2507 53rd Ave. East in Bradenton, the film started rolling Thursday evening.
The earliest showing of the film didn’t sell out, leaving more than 50 open seats in the first showing and more than 100 seats empty in the second. Theater operations manager Wayne Douchkoff said he doubts Friday would sell out either but for a different reason, and still expects to see very strong ticket sales.
Douchkoff said with a showing of “Rogue One” scheduled nearly every half hour across six screens, there isn’t much chance they will run out of seats for movie-goers.
“A lot of people know it’s not an official ‘Star Wars’ movie, so they’re not as excited, but they’re still coming because they’re a ‘Star Wars’ fan,” Douchkoff said.
Misha Nell, a member of Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club who was one of several people dressed in costume and posing for pictures with “Star Wars” fans Friday night, echoed those thoughts.
“I don’t know if people are as excited for it as Episode VII,” Nell said. “But most people are excited.”
Nell said people seem to really love the movie and could be heard leaving the theater shouting in the group’s direction, “It’s so good!”
The rest of the group comprised members other organizations including the Rebel Legion and the 501st Legion. Nell, who is a member of other groups represented Friday night, described them as fan clubs that have Lucas Film Limited screen-accurate and approved costumes. She joined the group after members of the 501st Legion showed up to her and her husband’s “Star Wars” themed vow-renewals, making the event extra special.
Nell noted that other members of the groups were dressed in costume at other theaters that night as well.
“It’s a fun environment to be in,” Nell said.
Royal Palm 20 is dedicating roughly 40 percent of its space, more than 2,000 seats, to the movie for its opening weekend, according to Douchkoff.
But as for preparation for the anticipated crowds, he said they’ve staffed accordingly and arranged for the groups to come in costume Friday night.
A limited edition Nissan Rogue was also parked outside the front of Royal Palm 20 all day Friday in honor of the film, Douchkoff said.
Regal Oakmont 8 and Lakewood Ranch Cinemas managers could not officially comment for the story.
Times for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” showings at the Carmike Royal Palm 20, Regal Oakmont 8 or Lakewood Ranch Cinemas can be found online or by calling the theaters.