Star Wars: The Force Awakens has made box office history days before its release, selling more than half a million tickets for its opening week at one cinema chain alone.
The latest instalment of the sci-fi epic doubled Odeon’s previous record of pre-booked tickets set by Spectre, prompting the cinema group to launch its biggest ever logistical operation to cope with the huge crowds.
Demand for tickets was forecast to be so great that handling the surge has required months of planning akin to that seen for the World Cup or Queen’s Jubilee, the cinema claimed.
The chain plans to hold nearly 5,000 screenings of the blockbuster during its opening weekend, with the first sell-out shows scheduled to start simultaneously in 113 Odeon cinemas nationwide at 12:01am on Thursday.
Die-hard fans hoping to see the film on the first night can still get tickets for screenings between 3am and 6am and tickets are still available for the following days.
Duncan Reynolds, managing director of Odeon UK & Ireland, said it is poised for a “24-hour operation” and has recruited 500 extra staff.
“We expect it to become the biggest film of all time, and (it) promises to be a landmark cinematic event,” he said.
The chain expects “tens of thousands of guests” to fill seats across the country when screenings begin just hours after the stars attend the UK premiere in Leicester Square.
However it emerged earlier this week that fans who wear Darth Vader or Storm Trooper-style helmets may be barred entry at some cinemas.
An Odeon spokesman said guests were being “encouraged to dress up”, but added that “the usual rules apply on decency”.
That means no full-face helmets, switching lightsabers off when the film begins and not carrying props that resemble offensive weapons.
Actress Carrie Fisher has described returning to the role of Princess Leia with her original colleagues as being like a school reunion. As Hollywood last night prepared to host one of the most anticipated film US premieres in its history, she said she has had to “censor” herself so as not to reveal any details.
She said: “I understand – there is just this insane interest. People grew up with these characters, so it’s their childhoods.”
On working with Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill again, as well as newer faces, she said: “The new actors are great.
“We’re like the old guard who come back and we have a reunion and they’re the freshmen.”
Describing fan attention, Fisher said: “Most people are really nice, even if you’re tattooed on their arm.”
The premiere was expected to take place at Los Angeles’ TCL Chinese Theatre, the Dolby Theatre – home of the Oscars – and the El Capitan Theatre. The London premiere is on Wednesday.