'Star Wars: Force Awakens': A Look at Theater Security in the U.S., Key Foreign Markets

Star Wars Costumes - H 2015

Fans of cosplay and toy blasters face security checks and even bans on certain items as the film opens around the globe.

The Force is awakening around the world, and Star Wars fans everywhere are ready to dress up and show up at their local cinema.

But after the Paris attacks last month and the San Bernardino attack, everyone is on high security notice. And cinema chains in the U.S. and key international markets have restated or issued guidelines on costumes and toy weapons. Also in the U.S., many theaters are hiring additional security personnel, considering the huge crowds that are expected, while police departments in some large cities are stepping up patrols around multiplexes.

Since a gunman who said he dressed as the Joker killed 12 people in 2012 during a The Dark Knight Rises screening in Colorado, restrictions on masks and toy weapons have been used in the U.S., and they were brought back into focus after three people, including the gunman, died this summer when a man opened fire at a Louisiana cinema during a screening of Trainwreck

Here is THR’s look at security guidelines in select markets for fans considering bringing costumes and toy weapons to Star Wars: The Force Awakens screenings.

Regal, the largest U.S. exhibitor, has said that costumes are okay to wear, at least to some degree. "Cosplay is welcome — just no mask wearing or weapon-like props in theatres though," it tweeted to a fan who asked about its policy.

Cinemark is prohibiting cinemagoers from wearing or carrying certain items. "Star Wars costumes are welcome," it said. "However, no face coverings, face paint or simulated weapons (including lightsabers/blasters) will be allowed in the building."

AMC has a more lenient policy. "AMC does not permit weapons or items that would make other guests feel uncomfortable or detract from the movie-going experience," it says in its costume policy posted online. "Guests are welcome to come dressed in costume, but we do not permit masks or face paint. In short, bring your lightsaber, turn it off during the movie, and leave the blaster and Darth Vader mask at home."

In Canada, Cineplex Entertainment is fine with patrons dressing up in Star Wars costumes, but says that "props and toys that could become tripping hazards or impair vision in a theatre are best left at home." So masks or toy weapons of any kind will be be barred from its cinemas.

Rival Landmark Cinemas says no masks, face paint or simulated weapons will be allowed in its theaters, but lightsabers are fine to bring. 

The Canadian ban on Star Wars costumes that cover faces signals the security concerns on the part of Canadian cinema operators.

Major Canadian cinema chains also posted security guards at doors to check theatergoers for Straight Outta Compton screenings in major urban centers earlier this year. But Canadian multiplexes have remained free of the metal detectors, pat-downs or hand-held wands common at nationwide airports in the wake of worldwide terrorist threats.

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people are still fresh in people’s minds, but there hasn’t been much talk about any special Star Wars costume policies.

Security is already high after all. There are bag searches and handheld metal detectors used in all cinemas in the capital nowadays. Cursory bag searches were put in place with the so-called Vigipirate high alert, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January. Since the Bataclan terror attacks last month, theaters and shops have added extra security guards who ask people to take off or open their coats, and scanning by hand-held metal detectors has become de rigueur. It has been illegal in France to have one's face covered in a public place since a law was put in place in 2010.

Staff at the UGC Normandie in Paris, where many big premieres are being held, said early Wednesday afternoon that so far only one kid had shown up in costume.

Meanwhile, Disneyland Paris hosted a special Star Wars evening, complete with intergalactic getups, bringing Darth Vader, Chewbacca and R2-D2 to the amusement park. While the happiest place on Earth has had a Christmas extravaganza parade each evening since November, it was replaced by the Imperial March Wednesday night as a parade of Storm Troopers marched through the theme park. Boba Fett was also be on hand, with actor Jeremy Bulloch, and The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi producer Robert Watts giving a special presentation.

British cinema operators have also issued guidelines for costumes and items brought to The Force Awakens screenings.

Odeon’s rules say:
1. Leave anything that looks like a gun or blade at home.
2. Lightsabers ARE welcome but must be switched off during the film.
3. Face masks must be removed when entering the screening.
4. Large costumes, such as Wookiee outfits, which may obscure the view of customers in the rows behind, are not permitted.

Cineworld, which operates a big cinema at the O2 entertainment complex in London, has said that replica firearms are prohibited, and people must remove any items that cover their face. Local papers have quoted its policy as saying: "Ahead of your visit, we wanted to let you know that due to security policies at The O2, customers arriving in costume will be required to remove anything that may cover your face for identification purposes. Additionally, replica firearms are discouraged and may be confiscated by security."

German police have said they will have increased security at cinemas for the Star Wars launch and have advised people not to bring toy weapons to screenings. While there isn't a formal ban, people with toy weapons or masks might be subject to more security checks.

Unprecedented in Germany, the approach has to do with concerns following last month's terrorist attacks in Paris.

Jorg Radek, a spokesman for the German police union, warned filmgoers to expect tighter security at multiplexes. He advised cosplay fans to leave at home anything that could look like a weapon, including lightsabers and toy blasters, to avoid being mistaken for a member of the dark side.

Etan Vlessing in Canada, Rhonda Richford in France and Scott Roxborough in Germany contributed to this report.