Issues with Aspen opening night of new Star Wars film at Isis Theater

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
Star Wars fans and other filmgoers at the Isis Theater were interrupted Thursday during the opening screenings of Rogue One.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

There was a disturbance in the force — and film — Thursday at the Isis Theater during its opening night of the new Star Wars movie “Rogue One.”

What was expected to be a “quick, 30-minute” final inspection of the movie theater’s renovations turned into a four-hour ordeal that involved interrupting or delaying screenings and evacuating patrons from the Isis’ bottom floor, said city of Aspen Building Department official Stephen Kanipe.

The source of the disruption?

Inaccessible emergency exits, according to Kanipe, who was inspecting the building Thursday alongside city Field Inspection Manager Mike Metheny.

The culmination of boxes, old carpeting and chairs that had been replaced and other construction or cleaning materials barricaded the emergency exit on the lower level of the theater Thursday, Kanipe said.

“That whole emergency exit was blocked,” he explained. “They had stored all of the chairs and some of the carpet and the scraps that they took out of the theaters into the emergency exit.”

Metropolitan Theatres Corp., the Isis’ parent company, announced in late September renovation plans that included “upgraded luxury reserved seating, new flooring, digital menu displays and an expanded menu.”

Phase two of the Isis renovation — installation of the “plush rockers and spacious recliners,” along with new carpeting and tile — was expected to be complete by mid-December, according to a statement from Metropolitan Theatres.

Kanipe described the obstructions to the emergency exit as an “unacceptable fire and life safety hazard.”

Consequently, viewers seated inside the theaters located on the bottom level were asked to evacuate and wait in the upper level lobby while building department officials and Isis Theater employees cleared the emergency exits.

Despite the setback, Kanipe said that Isis filmgoers remained in good spirits for the most part.

“There were understandably some people that were very disappointed. And there weren’t many that were angry; most were understanding knowing that we had their best interest in mind,” he said. “It’s the city’s responsibility to make our places and entertainment safe for everybody to enjoy. It would not have been responsible of Mike and I to have allowed that hazard to exist while people were in there thinking they were going to be OK.”

Isis Theater deferred its comment to Metropolitan Theatres, which could not be reached by The Aspen Times’ deadline.