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SeaWorld Entertainment announces key new CEO and CFO appointments

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SeaWorld Entertainment announces key new CEO and CFO appointments
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On May 6, 2021, SeaWorld Entertainment announced the appointment of Marc Swanson as Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) and Elizabeth Castro Gulacsy as Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”) and Treasurer. Swanson was named CEO following his 20-year tenure with the company and after previously serving as Interim CEO. Gulacsy was named CFO and Treasurer after working with the company for eight years. In addition to this previous assignment, Gulacsy will also draw on the experience she built in her term as interim CFO and Treasurer.

SeaWorld Entertainment is a leading theme park and entertainment company focused on “providing experiences that matter” and inspiring “guests to protect animals and the wild wonders of the world.” The company is one of the world’s foremost zoological organizations and a global leader in animal welfare, training, husbandry, and veterinary care. SeaWorld rescues and rehabilitates marine and terrestrial animals that are ill, injured, orphaned, or abandoned, with the goal of returning them to the wild. In collaboration with Busch Gardens, SeaWorld has cared for more than 38,000 animals in need over the last 50 years.

Today, SeaWorld owns 12 destination and regional theme parks, which are grouped in key markets across the United States. Additionally, the company owns or licenses a portfolio of iconic brands, including SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Aquatica, Sesame Place, and Sea Rescue.

The company’s ongoing dedication to its mission, and its implementation of an effective Executive team that collaborates with their Board, has provided a platform for SeaWorld Entertainment to thrive, even through periods of economic uncertainty.

The company recently released its Q1 2021 report, and then-Interim CEO Marc Swanson and Hill Path Capital Founder and Managing Partner and SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, Scott Ross, disclosed their perspective on what this report, as well as what the promotion of Swanson and Gulacsy, indicates for the future of the company.

Elizabeth Castro Gulacsy Promoted to CFO and Treasurer of SeaWorld Entertainment

Gulacsy recently accepted the title of CFO and Treasurer, which will follow her successful eight years serving the company in numerous leadership positions. She joined the SeaWorld Entertainment team in 2013, initially as Director of Financial Reporting, and was later promoted to Corporate Vice President of Financial Reporting in 2016. Since August 2017, Gulacsy had served as Chief Accounting Officer, except for a period between September 2019 and November 2019, during which, she also served as the Interim Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer in addition to her role as Chief Accounting Officer.

Before joining the company, Gulacsy worked with Cross Country Healthcare Inc., a leader in providing total talent management, including strategic workforce solutions, contingent staffing, permanent placement, and other consultative services for healthcare clients. She served as the company’s Accounting Officer and Corporate Controller from 2011 to 2013, Director of Corporate Accounting from 2006 to 2011, and Assistant Controller from 2002 to 2006. Prior to that time, Gulacsy was an Audit Manager for Ernst & Young LLP.  She holds both a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in Accounting from the University of Florida and is a Certified Public Accountant.

Today, Gulacsy serves as a Board member and Treasurer for the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and is a member of the Audit Committee for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), the global professional association for the theme park industry.

Upon accepting her most recent position, Gulacsy discussed the recent efforts the company has made to improve profitability and what she hopes for the future: “We have worked hard over the last few years, including prior to and during the pandemic, to position this company for a significant improvement in profitability.  Our financial position is strong, our strategies are working, our execution is improving, and I look forward to continuing working with our management team and board to fully capitalize on the significant opportunities ahead.”

Marc Swanson Promoted to CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment

Marc Swanson has worked with SeaWorld Entertainment for over twenty years. He joined the team in 2004 as Vice President of Sesame Place. Swanson served as Corporate Controller of Busch Entertainment Corporation from 2008 to 2011 and Performance Management and Corporate Controller of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment from 2011 to 2012. Swanson served as Chief Accounting Officer since 2012, as interim Chief Financial Officer from June 2015 until September 2015, and as interim Chief Executive Officer from August 1, 2017, until his recent permanent appointment. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Purdue University and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from DePaul University. He is also a Certified Public Accountant.

Today, Marc Swanson is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Orlando Science Center.

He shared his enthusiasm regarding his new position, stating: “The past year has been a unique and extraordinary period for our company, our industry, and the world. The capabilities of our Management Team combined with the complementary expertise of our Board allowed us to make the innovative and necessary decisions to address an unthinkable and unprecedented reality. Today, we have even more confidence in our long-term strategy, and I look forward to continuing to work with our dedicated team and board to drive long-term value for all stakeholders.”

Marc Swanson Speaks at 2021 IAAPA Virtual Conference

Prior to accepting his permanent appointment as CEO, Swanson was a featured keynote speaker at the IAAPA 2021 Virtual Conference on April 7-8. The event focused on the recovery and resilience of the attractions industry in a post-COVID environment, and Swanson spoke directly on how SeaWorld Entertainment has navigated through the challenges of 2020 and 2021. In his 30-minute speech, “Navigating the Covid-19 Crisis,” he highlighted how the company’s success is attributed to the collaborative efforts of the Management Team and Board members, including Hill Path Capital Founder and Managing Partner and SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. Chairman of the Board of Directors, Scott Ross.

Swanson recounted, “Our partnership with our Chairman and our other Board members allowed our company to adjust and move forward with more creativity and nimbleness than we had before.” He continued, “Having a large investor on the board allows us to align our goals and move even more confidently and decisively. We were all in this together, and having our leadership team and board in constant communication certainly allowed us to address this crisis head-on.” He added, “That collaboration allowed us to address our operational costs and maximize our financial flexibility, giving us some breathing room to make the difficult decisions with some degree of confidence.”

SeaWorld Entertainment Excited About Recent 2021 Q1 Earning Report

On May 6, 2021, SeaWorld Entertainment released its first-quarter 2021 results.

New CEO Marc Swanson discussed the high points: “Our first quarter events including new or expanded event days at some of our parks as well as several new or reimagined venues which we launched during the quarter and which helped contribute to the increased guest spending,” Swanson said. “We are excited to have experienced a robust Spring Break season across our parks, including several days where our parks reached capacity limitations for the current operating environment. To be clear, we believe our attendance would have been notably higher, were it not for capacity limitations and closed parks.”

The company report included the following key takeaways:

  • First-quarter 2021 peak attendance was 2.2 million guests, a decline of 0.1 million guests, or 4.5%, from the first quarter of 2020. Compared to the first quarter of 2019, attendance declined by 1.1 million guests or 33.7%.
  • Total revenue was $171.9 million, an increase of $18.4 million, or 12.0% from the first quarter of 2020. Compared to the first quarter of 2019, total revenue declined by $48.7 million or 22.1%.
  • Net loss was $44.9 million, an improvement of $11.6 million or 20.6% from the first quarter of 2020. Compared to the first quarter of 2019, net loss increased by $7.9 million or 21.2%.
  • Adjusted EBITDA was $25.2 million, an increase of $56.0 million from the first quarter of 2020. Compared to the first quarter of 2019, adjusted EBITDA increased by $8.8 million or 53.4%.
  • Total revenue per capita increased 17.2% to $77.63 from the first quarter of 2020. Admission per capita increased 10.8% to $43.25 while in-park per capita spending increased 26.4% to $34.38 from the first quarter of 2020. Compared to the first quarter of 2019, total revenue per capita increased 17.6%, admission per capita increased 12.0%, while in-park per capita spending increased 25.3%.
  • As of March 31, 2021, the company had approximately $431 million of cash and cash equivalents on its balance sheet and approximately $312 million available on its revolving credit facility resulting in total liquidity of approximately $743 million.
  • The company estimates that its average monthly adjusted net cash flow during the quarter was approximately $5.1 million of net positive cash flows, which excludes certain payments to vendors due in and deferred from previous quarters.
  • The company estimates that the average monthly net cash burn during the quarter was approximately $1.1 million when including these deferred payments.
  • As of March 31, 2021, 10 of the Company’s 12 parks were open (which is consistent with the same period in 2019).  Parks continue to operate with capacity limitations and modified/limited operations due to the COVID19 pandemic.
  • In the first quarter of 2021, the company helped rescue over 530 animals, bringing total rescues over its history to more than 38,600.

CEO Marc Swanson shared insight into the recent findings: “Our first quarter financial results continue to demonstrate our ability to strategically operate in the current environment.”

He continued, “I am extremely proud that we not only generated positive adjusted net cash flow during the quarter, but that we also achieved higher adjusted EBITDA in the first quarter compared to the first quarter of 2019. The success of the strategic pricing, marketing, cost, and capital investment initiatives that we developed and had been refining prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the strategies we developed and actions we have taken during the COVID-19 pandemic period helped us deliver meaningfully positive first quarter adjusted EBITDA when compared to the first quarters of both 2020 and 2019. Our pricing and product strategies are clearly working, and our guests are spending more when they visit our parks.”

Moving further into 2021, the SeaWorld Executive team and Board of Directors, including Marc Swanson, Elizabeth Castro Gulacsy, and Scott Ross, are looking forward to a year of progress.

Regarding growth and earnings, CEO Swanson said, “We are encouraged by our guests’ desire to visit and spend at our parks and believe this is a good indicator for expected demand during our peak summer season.” He looked forward to the coming season: “We expect that our parks will return to a more normalized operating environment as the year progresses. Despite the progress we have made, we continue to believe there are significant additional opportunities to improve our execution and drive meaningful growth in revenue and adjusted EBITDA when our parks are no longer restricted by capacity limitations and limitations on events.  We are successfully navigating through this extraordinary environment, and we are confident we are emerging an even stronger and more profitable enterprise.”

Scott Ross wrapped up, attributing the company’s success and future prospective growth to the newest members of the SeaWorld Entertainment Executive team: “Over the past year, Marc and Elizabeth, alongside the board, have continued to execute the strategic initiatives we have been working on over the past several years and have taken the necessary decisive actions to position the company for long-term success. We look forward to their continued leadership as we work together to emerge a stronger and more efficient company and realize the full, long term potential of this great company and its irreplaceable assets and brands.”

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Bobby Bones Marries Caitlin Parker in Intimate At-Home Ceremony: See the Wedding Photos

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Bobby Bones Marries Caitlin Parker in Intimate At-Home Ceremony: See the Wedding Photos

Bobby Bones and Caitlin Parker are married!

The radio host, Breaking Bobby Bones star and American Idol mentor and Parker tied the knot at their Nashville-area home on Saturday evening — and PEOPLE has all the exclusive details.

“We love home. We picked this place out together — that was really one of the first decisions that we made as a couple. And so she thought, ‘What if we got married here?'” Bones, 41, tells PEOPLE.

Adds Parker, 29, “It was such a big gesture for Bobby to want to get a home for us both, that had some of my touches. We got to start fresh. For me, it really wasn’t even a question. It was just — if we’re getting married in Nashville, we’re getting married at the house.”

With the help of Ninth & Everett owner and planner Josiah Carr, the couple’s backyard was transformed into the wedding venue of their dreams. Blooms from Stella Rose Floral were everywhere while a “C + B” from Alpha-Lit Nashville lit up the area. Additionally, string quartet Long live La Strings played while floating in Bones and Parker’s pool during the cocktail hour.

“Josiah has just been the best — not only planning, but also being a bit of a therapist at times for different reasons,” Bones says. “Honestly, I didn’t know the value of a wedding planner. I thought they hired a couple of people, you ate your cake and you called it a day. But he has been so great and helpful and giving in ways that I never expected him to be.”

Bobby Bones Wedding

Bobby Bones Wedding

Charla Storey Bobby Bones and Caitlin Parker

RELATED: Bobby Bones and Caitlin Parker Prep for Their Own Summer Nuptials – by Attending a Bunch of Weddings

Bones and Parker planned to forgo a first look ahead of the ceremony — “I will not see her until she’s walking down the aisle,” he tells PEOPLE — but both were looking forward to the other’s appearance as the wedding march began.

Parker was also awaiting the moment her father would hand her off to her fiancé. “I am so close with my dad and he’s just the perfect example of what a man should be to his wife and his daughters,” she says. “His blessing means a lot to me. And I just like the idea of being passed over from my favorite man in the world to my new favorite man in the world.”

After the groomsmen — including retired tennis pro Andy Roddick — walked in to The Office theme song, the couple’s two dogs, Stanley and Eller, also made their way down the aisle in bow ties and pearls — though days before the ceremony, Bones was unsure if the rambunctious pups would be able to “pull it off.” He joked, “We’re rooting for them, but it’ll be a game-time decision.”

RELATED: Bobby Bones’ Dogs Will ‘Have a Spot’ in the Wedding Depending ‘How Their Training Goes’

Bones and Parker, who wrote their own vows, were married by her childhood music minister, Jeff Elkins. “I don’t have a godfather, but if I did, it would be him,” Parker says of Elkins, who’s also her childhood best friend’s dad. “He was the only option.”

For their wedding, Bones wore a custom suit with bow tie by Alton Lane, preferring to “blend in” with a classic look so Parker could “come down and own the show” in her Galia Lahav gown.

Parker found the perfect piece at The Dress Theory Nashville much quicker than she initially expected.

“It was probably the third dress that I tried on, and I knew it immediately. I had five girls [including bridesmaids Abby Smyers and Bobby Bones Show personality Amy Brown] with me and three of them started crying! It was the absolute opposite of what I thought that I wanted from the start — completely different,” she tells PEOPLE. “Bobby’s very superstitious about it. He doesn’t even want me to say the word ‘dress.’ He won’t look at my phone — he’s afraid a picture will pop up. He won’t go into the closet where it’s hanging, even though you can’t see it.”

Parker finished her bridal look with hair by Sarah Klein and makeup by Marz Collins.

RELATED: Bobby Bones Says Falling for Fiancée Caitlin Parker Was ‘One of the Best Things’ to Happen to Him

Following the ceremony, guests — including country stars Dierks Bentley, Jake Owen, Chuck Wicks and radio personality Charlamagne Tha God — enjoyed a cocktail hour with apps passed on marble trays in the shape of Bones and Parker’s home states of Arkansas and Oklahoma while listening to the floating quartet White Door Events set up in the couple’s pool.

The party then moved into a tent on the property for dinner and dancing, where the pair were officially introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Bobby Estell. Pals Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney of Dan + Shay then took the stage to sing Bones and Parker’s first dance song — the Jesse and the Rippers version of The Beach Boys’ “Forever” from Full House.

Bobby Bones Wedding

Bobby Bones Wedding

Charla Storey Caitlin Parker and Bobby Bones

Other industry friends provided additional entertainment, as Gary LeVox serenaded the crowd with Rascal Flatts‘ hits “Bless the Broken Road” and “Fast Cars and Freedom” while Ronnie Dunn performed the Brooks & Dunn classic “Neon Moon” as a light-up moon was lowered from the ceiling as a surprise for the newlyweds.

Bones tells PEOPLE he was especially looking forward to the dances — both the first and last. “I know I won’t cry then,” he says of the Dan + Shay performance, but if a few tears sneak out, “I can just hide on her shoulder.” The pair planned to share a private moment at the end of the night as well. “We’re going to do a last dance when everybody’s gone,” Bones explains. “I look forward to that with no pressure.”

Bubbles & Brews Nashville provided champagne and craft beer, while Beyond Details catered the event, serving steak, crab cakes, mashed potatoes and vegetables, while Cakes + Co provided sweet treats, including Bones’ favorite Funfetti cookie dough cake that he previously had for his birthday. “They’ll be very full when they leave here,” Bones jokes of his guests.

But the couple was most excited about the evening’s send-off — a Sonic Drive-In pop-up serving everything from “put a ring on it” onion rings to Nashville hot chicken sliders to the couple’s personal concoction, the Bobby Water. (Despite the name, the drink — which features water, strawberries, cherries and Nerds — was Parker’s creation. “Bobby went on air the next day and was like, ‘So I invented this crazy thing at Sonic.’ And I caught wind of it and was furious!” she recalls with a laugh. “That might be the biggest fight we’ve ever had.”)

Bones and Parker consider the Sonic snacks the “most personal part of the night” because it reminds them of the early days of their relationship when they were figuring out their feelings for each other.

“When she was coming from Los Angeles to Nashville and I would pick her up at the airport, I would go by Sonic and get her drinks first,” Bones explains of the first few months of dating long-distance in 2019. “It was like, ‘Hey, you just flew for five hours. This is an odd thing I’m doing because I’m trying to show you how much I care about you, but I don’t really know how to express human emotions.’ So to have that as a big part of our wedding means a lot to us. It wasn’t some sort of product placement. We actually pursued them and were like, ‘Is there any way you will do this here?’ And they went above and beyond.”

After meeting through mutual friends on the West Coast, the couple dated for a few months before the pandemic hit in March 2020. Parker, who was living in California at the time, decided to travel to Tennessee to ride things out. “I came with a mindset of, ‘I’m going stay for about a week because L.A. is shut down and Nashville isn’t.’ It was just, ‘I’d rather be with my boyfriend locked in the house than by myself in L.A. locked in the house,’ so that part was easy. It was months later when I was about to graduate grad school where we had to really think about if I was going to officially make the move or continue long-distance.”

For his part, Bones “was mostly just trying to convince her to be here. I wanted her to stay the whole time. When it was time to have those conversations, I didn’t want to because I didn’t want her to even think about going back.”

Bobby Bones Wedding

Bobby Bones Wedding

Bobby Bones Wedding Caitlin Parker and Bobby Bones

RELATED: Bobby Bones Says Girlfriend Caitlin Parker Is a ‘Champ’ for Putting Up with Him in Self-Isolation

By the summer, Parker had decided to stay in Nashville. “When she finally agreed to move here, I just knew I was going to propose,” Bones tells PEOPLE.

He continues, “I knew immediately that it was extremely different, even from the start. Early on, it was like, ‘I really needed to treat this delicately and invest my time and my capabilities because this is going to be for a long time.’ I wasn’t freaked out and that’s how I knew it was right. I never once went, ‘Oh God, what’s happening here?’ Mostly I was like, ‘Maybe this is what people are talking about, when you watch movies and read books.’ That’s how I knew she was the one — because I wasn’t freaking out.”

Bones proposed to Parker in the barn on their property last October, soon after they’d moved from his bachelor pad where they’d quarantined together. Parker knew accepting was the right decision.

“I had conversations with my mom growing up about when you fall in love with that right person and how you know,” she recalls. “And she always told me that it’s just not hard. You will go through a lot of things together as a couple, but that the relationship itself shouldn’t be hard. That it feels like a sense of peace washing over you. And with Bobby, that’s how it’s always been. When I’m with him, there’s such a strong sense of peace about us no matter what it is we’re going through that day. I just know he’s the one for me.”

Bobby Bones

Bobby Bones

Hannah Hall Caitlin Parker and Bobby Bones

RELATED: Bobby Bones Engaged to Girlfriend Caitlin Parker: ‘I Get to Marry the Love of My Life’

Of course, not everything’s perfect — Parker wishes Bones would stop biting his fingernails and learn how to soak a plate (“I don’t even need you to do the dish; just put water on it before you let it crust over in the sink!”), while Bones is irritated that Parker’s “better than him” at just about everything, including time management. But he admits he needs to hear it.

“She’s the first person that actually tells me, ‘No’ or ‘You don’t need to spiral this way.’ And I’ve listened — probably not as much as she likes— but I’ve never listened, honestly ever. I get so annoyed by being told what to do, but this is actually, ‘Hey, let me help you get a little more balanced.’ I’m getting better because I see it’s for my own good.”

Bones grows introspective. “I’ve just been so alone, by myself, independent. I’m finally starting to have substance in my life. She’s constantly trying to convince me that my life is more than just what I do for a living and trying to show me that my worth is more than just what I put out on TV or on the radio,” he says. “I haven’t been much of a human. I’ve been very much a robot for all of my life until now, but I can feel small cracks in that really unhealthy frame that I used to live inside of. I’m learning.”

Bobby Bones

Bobby Bones

Hannah Hall Bobby Bones and Caitlin Parker

As talk turns to the future, both Parker and Bones say they hope to have children — and develop their own family traditions.

“We want kids. I never really had a family growing up,” Bones tells PEOPLE of his childhood burdened by poverty, an absent father and a mother (now deceased) who abused drugs and alcohol. “It’s also a growing process for me to be a better, more well-rounded human. I’m looking forward to that.”

Adds Parker: “My family is really big on traditions. Christmas Eve, we do the same thing every year, and we always go on a family vacation. I really look forward to continuing some of those with him, but also starting our own.”

But first, the honeymoon. “There’s a little motel about a mile from the house, so we’re going to go stay for a day,” Bones initially jokes, before confirming he will in fact be enjoying a brief break. “I’ve never taken two weeks off of work!”

The Breaking Bobby Bones season finale airs Sunday night at 10/9 CT on Nat Geo. For more from Bobby Bones and Caitlin Parker’s wedding, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

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Can ‘The Mandalorian’ Save Star Wars?

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Can ‘The Mandalorian’ Save Star Wars?

This article was published online on June 21, 2021.

When I look out my window, a few floors up in New York City, I see Star Wars. Rooftop bouquets of dirty satellite dishes, jumbled architectural styles united by peeling paint, variously shaped (and largely face-masked) life-forms jostling on the sidewalk—each sign of shabby modernity feels like something I glimpsed in childhood while hypnotized by George Lucas. In the director’s 1977 space fantasy, wizards lived in what appeared to be crumbling stucco huts, and moon-size superweapons had onboard trash compactors. As a kid, I believed that Earth was just another planet in Lucas’s universe. Today, I’m still susceptible to that lovely illusion.

The Star Wars franchise offers action and escapism, but re-enchanting our own world was always its greatest trick. As Luke Skywalker rises from backwater farmhand to galactic savior over the course of the first three films, audiences gain a visceral sense of why the galaxy he lives in is worth saving. Debris-strewn sets convey that exotic planets have history and commerce. Silly-looking critters and robots carry themselves with dignity and purpose. A supernatural “Force” hums throughout the interstellar menagerie. Viewers come to feel a humanistic, or even animistic, connection. Star Wars immerses you in the awesome knowledge that peripheral things—the neighbors you don’t understand, the buildings you don’t notice—have their own sagas.

Right now, Star Wars is at a turning point. Lucas’s original vision famously inspired an era of big-budget blockbuster movies whose creators, just as famously, eventually ran out of new ideas and came to rely on sequels and spin-offs. Inevitably, Star Wars itself succumbed to that fate. After releasing a divisive trio of prequels around the turn of the millennium, in 2012 Lucas sold his franchise to Disney, Hollywood’s chief recycler of old stories. Fresh Star Wars films began to roll out in 2015. Though early acclaim and profits were impressive, creative troubles began to hurt the bottom line. In 2019, dismayed reviews and relatively soft ticket sales greeted The Rise of Skywalker, the finale of a trilogy set 30 years after the action of the first films. Around that time, Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, announced a moviemaking “hiatus” for Star Wars.

Had Lucas’s galaxy lost its power, or had its new stewards simply mismanaged it? The recent success of a remarkable Star Wars television series suggests the latter. When the streaming-TV service Disney+ launched in late 2019, it featured The Mandalorian, which picks up five years after the events of the original trilogy, and follows the adventures of a mysterious mercenary who has sworn never to take off his helmet. By the end of Season 2, a critical consensus had emerged: It was the best live-action Star Wars product to arrive since the early 1980s. Millions of viewers cooed over the short-statured enigma known to fans as Baby Yoda, who has a price on his adorable head for unknown reasons. As The Mandalorian’s laconic and lethal hero travels from one planet to the next, the sublime feeling of immersion that laced Lucas’s early movies reemerges. To watch the show and then look back at the sweep of Star Wars history is to understand where that feeling comes from—and why most of Hollywood’s hero-driven, special-effects-laden fantasies never attain it.

The plot of The Mandalorian unspools like a thin, near-invisible thread: Each week, the protagonist completes a discrete quest that unobtrusively points the way toward the next quest. The pleasure of watching lies very much in the journey and not the destination. This episodic, open-ended style of entertainment is a hallmark of dramatic TV—but it’s also very Star Wars. Soon after its initial success, the first movie was retitled Episode IV—A New Hope because Lucas wanted viewers to feel as though the film were one chapter in an ongoing Saturday-morning serial. In the new book Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars, by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman, Lucas says this of his work on the first film: “It’s always been what you might call a good man in search of a story.”

What Lucas means is that when conceiving Star Wars, he dreamed first of visuals, concepts, and feelings—not of plot. He felt drawn to make “a movie in outer space like Flash Gordon used to be. Ray guns, running around in spaceships, shooting at each other.” He also wanted to mash up tropes from samurai films, Westerns, and spy flicks. Above all, he wanted a look and feel that prized “credibility” rather than the “clean,” sleek sci-fi of 1950s serials and 2001: A Space Odyssey. His own days working in a greasy mechanics’ shop, plus the thought of NASA’s Apollo capsule returning from the moon full of “candy wrappers and old Tang jars,” informed that vision.

Without a narrative he was burning to tell, Lucas had trouble turning such notions into a workable screenplay. He wrote multiple, overlong drafts that each radically refigured its characters, arcs, and themes. Eventually, he arrived at a relatively straightforward tale modeled on ancient legends. Lucas had been reading the work of Joseph Campbell, a literary scholar who identified a “monomyth,” with a predictable structure, occurring across cultures throughout the centuries. Star Wars would be a Chosen One story; Luke Skywalker was like King Arthur or Siddhartha Gautama. This blueprint, with its prescribed wise-mentor figures, talismanic weapons, and trusty sidekicks, helped make the mess of a script gel.

Lucas’s reverse-engineered fairy tale resonated with audiences, but Star Wars aficionados tend to overrate plot when explaining his success; books have been written about the profundity of Luke’s search for identity. In the new oral history, the critic Roy Morton articulates conventional wisdom when he argues that Lucas’s “most significant creative decision in crafting the script” was to draw from myths. Disney’s chief Star Wars executive, Kathleen Kennedy, says that “what was really important to [Lucas]—and certainly important to me—was story.” Whenever Star Wars films have faltered with audiences, commentators have blamed shoddy storytelling: the needless complexity of Lucas’s prequels, the inconsistent logic of Disney’s sequels.

Yet the hero’s journey in the original movies was always sketchy. The opening 15 minutes of A New Hope feature strikingly few recognizable human characters, and Luke Skywalker is usually the least interesting thing in any scene that follows. A lot of the film’s suspense derives more from wondering what the movie’s about—the touristic curiosity of “Where is this going?”—than from tracking clues to how Luke will fulfill his destiny. Secrets of the Force documents that the trilogy’s iconic twists, which would seem key to choreographing a monomyth, nearly weren’t filmed. In the shooting script for A New Hope, the mentor figure, Obi-Wan Kenobi, survives to the end rather than dying midway through. Some drafts of the second film, The Empire Strikes Back, don’t indicate that the evil Darth Vader is Luke’s father. Glorious though such surprises are, Lucas’s work wasn’t driven by them.

In fact, the story crescendos are compelling because they double as world-building. Learning who Darth Vader really is raises a host of tantalizing questions about the history of the galaxy (not least, how does someone become Darth Vader?). Kenobi’s early-movie references to mysterious concepts such as “the dark times”—exposition left unfinished once he dies—also spark rich intrigue. “Lucas makes movies that are intentionally designed to have holes in them that need to be filled later,” the producer Brian Volk-Weiss says in the oral history. He’s right except for one thing: Do they need to be filled in? Many a mediocre Star Wars product has arisen from trying to define every entry in the galactic glossary. The original films work precisely because of the holes.

They also work because Lucas, as a filmmaker, was fastidious about blending novelty with naturalism. Directing the initial movie, he insisted that the sets be streaked with scum and scorch marks. He spliced together footage of World War II dogfights and then invented special effects to make space battles look like those dogfights. When the time came to shoot, Mark Hamill (who plays Luke) first delivered his lines with campy panache—but Lucas encouraged him to be more low-key. “These actors believed the world they were in,” Liam Neeson, a star of 1999’s The Phantom Menace, says in Secrets of the Force. “Mark Hamill jumps into his speeder and—phooph!—he’s off … To them, it was everyday stuff.”

Such far-out realism has rarely been achieved since then. In the dreary prequels, Lucas went overboard with then-novel computer-generated imagery, losing the lived-in feel he’d once prized. The Disney sequels are too frantically paced—and too packed with winks to old Star Wars films—for viewers to settle in with the new sets, creatures, and costumes. Both of those later trilogies told strenuously mythic stories: The prequels followed the tragic transformation of a hero into a villain, and the Disney movies amounted to another Chosen One tale. The flaws of their scripts have been rightly scrutinized, but fixing those flaws would not solve the more fundamental failures of execution. When Star Wars is bad, its galaxy feels like a thing on a screen—not a place you can go.

The world of The Mandalorian, thankfully, is sturdy, like well-worn concrete. The hero flies a rickety spaceship modeled on a ’70s warplane. Baby Yoda’s twitching puppet ears convey the expressive range of actual toddlers. Most important, the showrunner, Jon Favreau, has absorbed the take-your-time, exploratory ethos of Lucas’s first trilogy. One early episode spends 10 dialogue-free minutes following the Mandalorian as he tries to survive on an arid planet. Two episodes later, the Mandalorian arrives in a forested village where locals harvest bioluminescent krill from ponds. He doesn’t just save the village from a hostile tribe’s attacks. He moves in to live the Star Wars simple life for a few weeks.

Such wanderings do have a mythic quality. The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda are an odd couple: protector and charge, father and son, man and beast. There is also a running plot, involving a black-armored arch-villain, that fulfills the demands of modern blockbusters to set up future spin-offs (10 other Star Wars TV shows were announced in December). When the second season culminated in a CGI-assisted cameo from the original-trilogy cast, some critics fretted that the show was about to devolve into Hollywood hackery. But thus far, archetypal storytelling and serialized intrigue—ingredients often misused in franchise-driven entertainment—have mainly just anchored Favreau’s careful creative riffing. If the miracle of The Mandalorian continues, viewers of future seasons will only rarely notice an overdetermined hand of fate guiding the action. They’ll instead continue to be caught up in individual moments.

To cheer for a Hollywood product that emphasizes look and feel rather than story and character may sound superficial. But in life, aesthetics are not incidental. The dents on a vehicle tell a story. So does the glint in a stranger’s eyes. Tidy plots are scarce, and populations do not readily divide into Chosen Ones and Unchosen Ones. Star Wars has proved that mass entertainment can wake us up to such realities. My favorite of the many arcs in The Mandalorian involves a froglike creature carrying her unhatched eggs to another planet. Because the alien doesn’t speak his language, the Mandalorian treats her coldly—until she commandeers a droid’s translation system and delivers a desperate plea for help. Watching that scene jangled my empathy so much that I began to look even at subway rats with a sense of wonder. They are characters in this galaxy too.


This article appears in the July/August 2021 print edition with the headline “A New Hope for Star Wars.”

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AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. Announces Outstanding Share Count Ahead of July 29, 2021 Shareholder Meeting

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AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. Announces Outstanding Share Count Ahead of July 29, 2021 Shareholder Meeting

LEAWOOD, Kan.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Fulfilling a commitment to release share count data, AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: AMC) (“AMC” or “the Company”) is today providing the following information:

  • There were 501,780,240 AMC shares outstanding as of June 2, 2021, the record date for the Shareholder Meeting that is scheduled for July 29, 2021.

  • Only the holders of these shares whose trades have settled as of June 2, 2021 are entitled to vote at the Shareholder Meeting. Trading or other transactions relating to the shares, such as share borrowing, derivatives (including options contracts) or short selling, do not impact the number of shares entitled to vote at the Shareholder Meeting.

  • Advance voting for the Annual Shareholder meeting is expected to begin on June 16 and will continue through July 28. The details of proposals up for a vote and procedures for voting will be available in AMC’s proxy statement, a preliminary version of which is being filed today, with the definitive proxy statement expected to be filed on June 16. Shortly thereafter, the proxy and voting materials will be mailed or emailed to individual investors known to AMC, and to brokerage firms holding shares on behalf of investors in street name. Such investors are encouraged to reach out to their brokers in the latter part of June or early in July if proxy materials have not yet been forwarded to them by their brokers.

  • The share count presented above includes those shares held by both domestic and international investors. AMC has been informed that certain international brokerage houses may restrict international investors’ ability to cast their votes. Affected international investors may wish to seek out other brokers who do facilitate shareholder voting for future elections.

  • AMC expects to receive an approximate count of the number of individual shareholders whose trades have settled as of June 2 and will release this information as soon as it is available, which is currently anticipated to be no later than June 9.

  • The Company does not record or have access to information regarding any share lending or short selling transactions other than what is publicly available from third party providers.

  • AMC has received a number of inquiries regarding so-called synthetic shares and fake shares. AMC has no reliable information about this, therefore we can make no comment in this regard. AMC only maintains records regarding the shares it has legally issued and which are outstanding.

  • The Company has received a number of inquiries regarding speculation about a potential split or reverse split of our stock. A stock split or reverse stock split is not a capital raising transaction and therefore does not achieve the aims of bolstering our liquidity or providing proceeds for other transactions. AMC has no plans to propose or take any actions regarding a stock split or reverse stock split, and in any event such actions would require shareholder approval.

  • AMC understands that there is considerable trading in derivatives on the Company’s stock including both put and call options. These derivative securities can have the effect of increasing the volatility of AMC’s share price, and while they can be structured to replicate the economics of owning or short selling real AMC shares, they carry no voting rights.

About AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc.

AMC is the largest movie exhibition company in the United States, the largest in Europe and the largest throughout the world with approximately 950 theatres and 10,500 screens across the globe. AMC has propelled innovation in the exhibition industry by: deploying its Signature power-recliner seats; delivering enhanced food and beverage choices; generating greater guest engagement through its loyalty and subscription programs, web site and mobile apps; offering premium large format experiences and playing a wide variety of content including the latest Hollywood releases and independent programming. For more information, visit www.amctheatres.com.

Website Information

This press release, along with other news about AMC, is available at www.amctheatres.com. We routinely post information that may be important to investors in the Investor Relations section of our website, www.investor.amctheatres.com. We use this website as a means of disclosing material, non-public information and for complying with our disclosure obligations under Regulation FD, and we encourage investors to consult that section of our website regularly for important information about AMC. The information contained on, or that may be accessed through, our website is not incorporated by reference into, and is not a part of, this document. Investors interested in automatically receiving news and information when posted to our website can also visit www.investor.amctheatres.com to sign up for email alerts.

Additional Information and Where to Find It

This communication may be deemed solicitation material in respect of the Annual Meeting of stockholders (the “Annual Meeting”) of AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. (“AMC” or the “Company”). This communication does not constitute a solicitation of any vote or approval. In connection with the Annual Meeting, the Company plans to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) and mail or otherwise provide to its stockholders a proxy statement regarding the business to be conducted at the Annual Meeting. The Company may also file other documents with the SEC regarding the business to be conducted at the Annual Meeting. This document is not a substitute for the proxy statement or any other document that may be filed by the Company with the SEC.

BEFORE MAKING ANY VOTING DECISION, THE COMPANY’S STOCKHOLDERS ARE URGED TO READ THE PROXY STATEMENT IN ITS ENTIRETY WHEN IT BECOMES AVAILABLE AND ANY OTHER DOCUMENTS FILED BY THE COMPANY WITH THE SEC IN CONNECTION WITH THE BUSINESS TO BE CONDUCTED AT THE ANNUAL MEETING BEFORE MAKING ANY VOTING OR INVESTMENT DECISION WITH RESPECT TO THE BUSINESS TO BE CONDUCTED AT THE ANNUAL MEETING BECAUSE THEY CONTAIN IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT THE BUSINESS TO BE CONDUCTED AT THE ANNUAL MEETING.

Stockholders may obtain a free copy of the proxy statement and other documents the Company files with the SEC (when available) through the website maintained by the SEC at www.sec.gov. The Company makes available free of charge on its investor relations website at www.investor.amctheatres.com copies of materials it files with, or furnishes to, the SEC.

Participants in the Solicitation

The Company and its directors, executive officers and certain employees and other persons may be deemed to be participants in the solicitation of proxies from the Company’s stockholders in connection with the business to be conducted at the Annual Meeting. Security holders may obtain information regarding the names, affiliations and interests of the Company’s directors and executive officers in the Company’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020, which was filed with the SEC on March 12, 2021 (the “2021 Form 10-K”). To the extent the holdings of the Company’s securities by the Company’s directors and executive officers have changed since the amounts set forth in the Company’s 2021 Form 10-K, such changes have been or will be reflected on Statements of Change in Ownership on Form 4 filed with the SEC.

Forward Looking Statements

This communication includes “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the federal securities laws. In many cases, these forward-looking statements may be identified by the use of words such as “will,” “may,” “could,” “would,” “should,” “believes,” “expects,” “anticipates,” “estimates,” “intends,” “indicates,” “projects,” “goals,” “objectives,” “targets,” “predicts,” “plans,” “seeks,” and variations of these words and similar expressions. Examples of forward-looking statements include statements we make regarding the impact of COVID-19, future attendance levels and our liquidity. Any forward-looking statement speaks only as of the date on which it is made. These forward-looking statements may include, among other things, statements related to AMC’s current expectations regarding the performance of its business, financial results, liquidity and capital resources, and the impact to its business and financial condition of, and measures being taken in response to, the COVID-19 virus, and are based on information available at the time the statements are made and/or management’s good faith belief as of that time with respect to future events, and are subject to risks, trends, uncertainties and other facts that could cause actual performance or results to differ materially from those expressed in or suggested by the forward-looking statements. These risks, trends, uncertainties and facts include, but are not limited to, risks related to: AMC’s ability to obtain additional liquidity, which if not realized or insufficient to generate the material amounts of additional liquidity that will be required unless it is able to achieve more normalized levels of operating revenues, likely would result in AMC seeking an in-court or out-of-court restructuring of its liabilities; the potential impact of AMC’s existing or potential lease defaults; the impact of the COVID-19 virus on AMC, the motion picture exhibition industry, and the economy in general, including AMC’s response to the COVID-19 virus related to suspension of operations at theatres, personnel reductions and other cost-cutting measures and measures to maintain necessary liquidity and increases in expenses relating to precautionary measures at AMC’s facilities to protect the health and well-being of AMC’s customers and employees; AMC’s significant indebtedness, including its borrowing capacity and its ability to meet its financial maintenance and other covenants; the manner, timing and amount of benefit AMC receives under the CARES Act or other applicable governmental benefits and support; the impact of impairment losses; motion picture production and performance; AMC’s lack of control over distributors of films; intense competition in the geographic areas in which AMC operates; increased use of alternative film delivery methods or other forms of entertainment; shrinking exclusive theatrical release window; AMC Stubs A-List not meeting anticipated revenue projections; general and international economic, political, regulatory and other risks; limitations on the availability of capital; AMC’s ability to refinance its indebtedness on favorable terms; availability of financing upon favorable terms or at all; risks relating to impairment losses, including with respect to goodwill and other intangibles, and theatre and other closure charges; and other factors discussed in the reports AMC has filed with the SEC. Should one or more of these risks, trends, uncertainties or facts materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results may vary materially from those indicated or anticipated by the forward-looking statements contained herein. Accordingly, you are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date they are made. Forward-looking statements should not be read as a guarantee of future performance or results and will not necessarily be accurate indications of the times at, or by, which such performance or results will be achieved. For a detailed discussion of risks, trends and uncertainties facing AMC, see the section entitled “Risk Factors” in the Company’s 2021 Form 10-K filed with the SEC, and the risks, trends and uncertainties identified in its other public filings. AMC does not intend, and undertakes no duty, to update any information contained herein to reflect future events or circumstances, except as required by applicable law.

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