Refusing to screen The Last Jedi? Why a handful of theater owners are

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With hype for Star Wars: The Last Jedi predictably nearing a fervid zenith now that we’re a mere six weeks from its release, some small theater operators in the United States are considering the unthinkable: declining to screen the film at all.

A slumping summer box office; the hope of financial redemption in the form of a sure-fire smash: you know the stakes have to be terribly high for any theater owner to spurn what, for many operators, is the Walt Disney Company’s latest Christmas gift.

For at least a few small-town owners, they are. Iowa theater owner Lee Akin, who runs a single-screen movie house in the town of Elkader, told The Wall Street Journal it makes little financial sense for him to acquiesce to the unprecedented conditions Disney has placed on theater rights to The Last Jedi.

“When [studios] get much bigger than the other guys, that’s when all these wacky rules come into place,” he told WSJ.

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What kind of rules?

Disney has girded The Last Jedi’s release to theaters with a slew of what are being described as unusual “top-secret” provisos — “terms that numerous theater owners say are the most onerous they’ve ever seen” — and violating those provisos carries a financial penalty, according to the WSJ report.

In addition to claiming a record-high take of close to 65 percent for ticket revenues, Disney wants each theater to commit its largest screening room to the film for a guaranteed minimum of four weeks.

Nearly all theater owners will go along, of course: Disney’s ownership not only of Star Wars, but of major revenue generators like the Marvel franchise family, give the company disproportionate leverage to negotiate screenings on its own terms.

Yet, as the report notes, most theater owners rely on concession sales — not ticket sales — to generate the lion’s share of their own revenue. And for most, The Last Jedi — even as a break-even ticketing proposition — guarantees bodies in the seats, as well as a share of a moviegoing market that’s sure to go somewhere to see a film of this magnitude.

The Last Jedi opens December 15. Here’s hoping we’re all living in the overwhelming majority of movie markets where seeing the film will entail nothing more than a quick trip to the local theater.

Attempts by SYFY WIRE to reach Disney for comment were not immediately returned.