Orca Theatre manager Jordan Gruber makes popcorn for the next rush of movie-goers on Monday, Dec. 25, 2017 at the Orca Theatre on Kalifornsky Beach Road near Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

Orca Theatre manager Jordan Gruber makes popcorn for the next rush of movie-goers on Monday, Dec. 25, 2017 at the Orca Theatre on Kalifornsky Beach Road near Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

Christmas at the Orca

While the muffled sounds of lightsabers buzzing and TIE fighters screaming came through one wall of the lobby and jungle drums through the other, the two managers of the Orca Theatre worked steadily on a checklist of tasks: rebuilding towers of paper soda cups and ranks of popcorn bags, refilling the ice bin under the soda machine, sweeping popcorn from the carpet, wiping countertops, and polishing display windows.

It’s Christmas day, shortly after the first showings: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” at 12:30 p.m, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” at 1 p.m.

The two managers — Jordan Gruber and Sarah Covault — are the theater’s staff this morning. Many of the other employees are high school-aged, Gruber said, and have the morning off to spend with their families. A few more will come in for the evening showings, he said, when the theatre is expecting some large crowds. The day’s first showings drew over 100. “Star Wars” is a factor, Gruber said — now in its second week of release, the movie has been consistently bringing crowds since opening day, he said.

“That’s probably going to be our highlight of the year,” Gruber said. “That and ‘Beauty and Beast.’” Disney’s live action remake of the 1991 animated classic opened in February, and sold out a long string of shows, Gruber said.

The Orca’s projectors, in an upstairs room wallpapered with old movie posters, mostly take care of themselves. An attached computer runs through an automated playlist of films, trailers, and advertisements, and controls the theatre lights as well. Downstairs, Gruber and Covault chat about what their siblings and children got for Christmas while sorting out a fresh stock of candy for the concession counter. A woman comes out of ‘Jumanji’ for a refill of popcorn.

“Thank you,” the woman said after taking her popcorn. “Thank you for being here today.”

“Thank you for your support,” Covault said.

A lot of customers tell them this over the holidays, the managers said. On Thanksgiving day, one movie-goer brought a pumpkin pie for the theatre staff, Gruber recalled.

“People appreciate it,” Covault said. “Especially if it’s their tradition to see a movie.”

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

Orca Theatre managers Jordan Gruber (left) and Sarah Covault sort candy into bunches of ten to stock the Orca’s concession stand on Monday, Dec. 25, 2017 at the Orca Theatre on Kalifornsky Beach Road near Kenai, Alaska. The two managers crewed the theatre on Christmas day, until other employees arrived for the bigger evening showings. (Photo by Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

Orca Theatre managers Jordan Gruber (left) and Sarah Covault sort candy into bunches of ten to stock the Orca’s concession stand on Monday, Dec. 25, 2017 at the Orca Theatre on Kalifornsky Beach Road near Kenai, Alaska. The two managers crewed the theatre on Christmas day, until other employees arrived for the bigger evening showings. (Photo by Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

Orca Theatre manager Sarah Covault sweeps a theatre after a showing of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” on Monday, Dec. 25, 2017 at the Orca Theatre on Kalifornsky Beach Road near Kenai, Alaska. Covault said it’s been a long time since she swept a theatre — as a manager, she usually delegates the job, but the employees (mostly high school-aged) had Christmas morning off. (Photo by Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

Orca Theatre manager Sarah Covault sweeps a theatre after a showing of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” on Monday, Dec. 25, 2017 at the Orca Theatre on Kalifornsky Beach Road near Kenai, Alaska. Covault said it’s been a long time since she swept a theatre — as a manager, she usually delegates the job, but the employees (mostly high school-aged) had Christmas morning off. (Photo by Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

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