Leave it to Chewbacca to be a Force for multitasking.
Martin Miller of Wernersville was working the remote controls of his R2-D2 unit while entertaining the crowd dressed as the furry humanoid co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon.
“It’s a great way to tie in a hugely popular franchise with something that is worthwhile,” the Berks County man said Thursday during a charitable event at the Carlisle Commons Theater.
Miller was one of about 400 fans who occupied seven of the eight auditoriums of the multiplex for a special prescreening of the latest Star Wars movie, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
It was the third time in as many years Hartzell Eye Specialists of Carlisle had rented out parts of the theater to offer seats in exchange for donations to two local charities that benefit the homeless.
“We are getting people out to support their community,” said David Hartzell, an ophthalmologist and sole owner of the practice. “People are very proud of Carlisle, and they want to do good things.”
A Star Wars fan, Hartzell first organized a charitable premier two years ago with the release of “The Force Awakens,” the first in the latest trilogy of films in the franchise. The effort continued in 2016 with the release of the side story “Rogue One.”
Thursday’s prescreening raised $15,000 to be split evenly between Carlisle CARES and Safe Harbour.
“Star Wars is about good winning over evil,” Hartzell said. “It is about people who turned the wrong way finding redemption. It’s a great message that ties in with the homeless.
“Through no fault of their own, these people are out in the streets by themselves cold and lost,” he said. “With Carlisle CARES and Safe Harbour, they are able to go somewhere. They have an address.”
Money from the prescreening will be used to provide the homeless with showers and laundry service as well as case management and transportation to the church shelters, said Shari Bellish, executive director of Carlisle CARES.
“Star Wars is a huge film,” she said. “It has always been. We just love the fact Dr. Hartzell is such a huge fan and that we can get huge support of what we do in the community.”
As for Safe Harbour, money from Thursday’s event will be put toward programming including life skills training and support groups for men and women, said Scott Shewell, president and chief executive officer.
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“It’s a fantastic way to capitalize on an event that everybody enjoys,” Shewell said. “The message of Star Wars is that good always triumphs over evil and that if you follow the path of goodness, good things come to you.
“Hopefully the people here understand the good work we do in the community,” he said. “They are doing good by supporting this franchise, by supporting this event and by supporting us.”
The event Thursday featured a photo opportunity with costumed volunteers who are members of the Rebel Legion and Garrison Carida of the 501st Legion. Both are nonprofit fan groups that participate in charitable causes.
While Miller was representing the Rebel Legion through his portrayal of Chewbacca Thursday, Donna Berry of New Cumberland was dressed as a Tusken Raider for the 501st Legion.
“We are bad guys doing good things,” said Berry, a Newville native and Star Wars fan since birth. “Star Wars has become a culture in and of itself … a culture of giving.”
“We get so much enjoyment from the movies,” Berry said. “We like to pass that enjoyment on to others.”
The event Thursday passes on the enjoyment by gathering fans to watch the movie and donate money to a worthy cause, Berry said.
“It’s a great way to give back to the community,” Miller said.
This year, four Star Wars fans donated over $1,000 each to buy up blocks of four or five seats, Hartzell said. The largest donor for a single seat was $200.
“It brings to life that people need help,” said Ken Losh of East Berlin, Adams County. “People have a good time while they are helping other people.”
Friends Angelic Alajlouni of West Pennsboro Township and Michele Whitten of North Middleton Township were in one theater waiting for the movie to start. They were so excited by the prescreening that neither of them got a lot of sleep Wednesday night.
“This is a great idea,” Whitten said of the charitable premier. “It’s taking something that he loves and making it into a great event.”
“You could not ask for a better way to help the community,” Alajlouni said. “We have been watching Star Wars movies since we were kids.”