AUGUSTA — Moviegoers came from near and from far, far away Thursday night to see the return of The Force.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the seventh installment in the entertainment business’ biggest movie franchise, opened with much fanfare and tons of fanboys and fangirls at Regal Cinemas in Augusta. General manager David Wallace said the theater sold out a majority of the 12 showings Thursday and most on Friday and estimated ticket sales in the thousands of dollars.

“We should be studying for exams, but this is our priority,” said college student Thomas Kincade, 20, who came with several friends from across the region.

Despite the nation’s largest movie theater chain having a policy prohibiting masks, light sabers and other props that look like weapons, several fans showed up dressed as their favorite characters, including 40-year-old Peter Spiegel, of Hallowell, and friend Brian Juengst, 33, of Manchester, who donned the familiar Jedi costumes and proceeded to take their lightsaber duel to the parking lot.

“The adult part of me understands the need for safety at the theater, but the child in me says they just took away my lightsaber,” Juengst said.

The crowd included a mix of adults and families, including Gardiner’s Michael Labbe and his 9-year-old son, Canaan, who was dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Canaan said his father told him they could see the movie on opening night when its release date was announced in November 2013.

“We got tickets right when they went on sale in October and have been excited about it since it was announced,” Michael Labbe said. “It’s nice to get to have a father-son night.”

With the advancement of online ticket purchasing and reserve seating, the days of fans lining up outside theaters for days in anticipation are gone, a point not lost on the staff at Regal. This afternoon, Fandango announced that it has sold more “Star Wars” tickets in advance of its opening than any other movie’s entire run.

“It’s wonderful and comforting,” Wallace said. “The hype was off the charts, so we have extra staff compared to what we’d have on a normal Thursday night.”

The hype for the series’ first film in more than a decade began when a new slate of “Star Wars” films was announced by Walt Disney Studios, which bought franchise creator George Lucas’ Lucasfilm for $4 billion in October 2012. A few months later, J.J. Abrams was named director of the film, an announcement universally praised.

Members of the Messalonskee High School robotics team, including the group’s resident “Star Wars” superfan Robbie Moore, were the first guests to arrive for the theater’s first show. Moore, 17, from Belgrade, has his own online movie review blog and said Abrams was the perfect choice to direct the film.

“The prequels were obviously disappointing, so I’m hoping J.J. Abrams can recapture the magic of what made ‘Star Wars’ so great,” Moore said. “The elements J.J. Abrams is putting into this is enough to make it a great movie, much less a ‘Star Wars’ film.”

Throughout the process of making the film, casting decisions and plot points were kept secret. The stars of the original trilogy, including Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, all have a role in “The Force Awakens,” but not much else is known.

Superfan Dan Meyer, a college student from Boston dressed as new character Kylo Ren, came with his friend Tim Dutton, dressed as new character Finn, and their girlfriends, despite having examinations Friday morning. Meyer, 21, was most excited about seeing what happens with Luke Skywalker, who did not appear in any trailers.

“I think that they are either trying to find Luke because he is in exile or he is in captivity,” Meyer said. “I don’t think we’ll see Luke until the end, but Hamill is signed for episode VIII, so he’s definitely going to show up at some point.”

The film is expected to be one of the biggest grossing movies of all time, if not the biggest. That record is held now by 2009’s “Avatar,” which took in more than $760 million domestically and almost $2.8 billion worldwide. The yet untitled eighth “Star Wars” movie is scheduled to arrive in theaters in May 2017.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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