Colleen Crosby, 48, saw the very first "Star Wars" movie at the Chinese Theatre in 1977.
And on Thursday she grabbed her lightsaber and homemade Jedi costume and rushed to the same spot for opening night of
"I can't wait," said the Los Angeles resident, who expressed excitement about
Multitudes of fans filed into movie theaters Thursday night with lofty expectations for the seventh film in the
Perhaps more astronomical are the box-office expectations for the new movie, directed by
It's projected to gross between $180 million and $220 million through Sunday in the U.S. and Canada alone, according to pre-release tracking, putting the record for highest domestic opening in sight.
Thursday night box-office estimates are set to be released at 8:30 a.m. Friday. The film could take in $50 million or more just from the pre-shows, which would be a record-breaking result, topping "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2."
Moviegoers at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood gathered in costumes representing the dark side and the light, complete with masks and props. On the street outside the cinema, three people dressed as members of the cantina band from the first "Star Wars" entertained passersby.
Alicia Starkey, a 28-year-old Irvine resident, came to the screening with a group of 30 friends to watch the movie about a galaxy far, far away, with her hair done up in Leia's signature side-buns.
"It surprisingly didn't take too long," she said. "I dressed up as Princess Leia when I was a little girl for Halloween, so I kind of had it down."
Lines at TCL Chinese Theatre stretched around the block late into the night, and people began lining up for the 10 p.m. screening at the El Capitan theater across the street three hours before the movie started.
Danny Kemp, 42, was the first in line at the AMC Marina Pacifica 12 in Long Beach on Thursday. The dog trainer, who regularly gets up at 5 a.m., said he had nightmares for months that he would oversleep.
"This is what I've been dreaming of and been waiting for all my life," said Kemp, who called repeatedly on the day tickets went on sale, ultimately snagging 17. "This is my Christmas. I haven't been this excited since 'Phantom Menace' came out."
Among the throngs of moviegoers exiting the Chinese Theatre after the first showing, most fans gave the film high marks.
Twenty-four-year-old video game engineer Sabarish Chandramouli said the audience appreciated the movie's old-school feel.
"The crowd just went nuts for everything," he said. "It was a throwback to the good old days."
Jessica Snyder, 29, who traveled from Santa Cruz to watch the movie with a large group of friends on opening night, also praised the call-backs to the first trilogy.
"I loved it," she said. "It's still a lot to take in right now, but I thought it was really great.... Feel like it lived up to the original series."
But some were less enthusiastic, including Christopher Brandt, a 32-year-old Encino gunsmith.
"To be honest, I was a little disappointed," he said. "The nostalgia was done well. The introduction to new characters was forced.... Overall I'd give it a C+."
Some even crossed international borders for "Star Wars."
Father and daughter Ben and Mary Joe Menbreno flew into Los Angeles Thursday morning from Honduras just so they could see "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at Regal LA Live.
Mary Joe, 11, dressed in a Princess Leia white gown, said she's been waiting for this moment for years.
"When I saw the tickets online, we needed to come and see it here tonight," she said. "I wanted to come see it here for the whole experience. I felt like this would give me a more special feeling."
Many moviegoers said they were thrilled for the return of original cast members such as Fisher and Harrison Ford, and have turned off social media sites to avoid spoilers.
Some who hadn't seen the film were trying to tamp down their hopes, still smarting from the disappointment of the three prequel films that began their run in 1999 with "The Phantom Menace."
"We were burned with the prequels," said Derek Traub, a 32-year-old writer from downtown L.A. who got tickets for the 7 p.m. Chinese Theatre screening. "So we're trying to keep our expectations low and be pleasantly surprised."
Theaters have spent months preparing for the arrival of the most-anticipated movie of the year. Cinemas have stepped up efforts to ensure security in the light of theater shootings, widely enforcing bans on masks and face paint.
Moviegoers had to go through metal detectors before entering the Chinese Theatre, and those in costume had to go through a separate line.
Meredith Woerner and Megan Garvey contributed to this report.