Midnight screenings packed as Star Wars opens in Blackpool

Star Wars fans Dave Hughes and Chris Cassidy

Star Wars fans Dave Hughes and Chris Cassidy

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More than 1,000 Star Wars fans attended special cinema screenings in Blackpool this morning as the biggest movie franchise of all time returned following a 10-year break.

Critics have hailed JJ Abram's Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, released in the UK today, saying it is a Force to be reckoned with.

Fans attended the screenings dressed like their favourite Star Wars characters, including Chewbacca

Fans attended the screenings dressed like their favourite Star Wars characters, including Chewbacca

And cinema-goers at Odeon in Rigby Road, who donned Obi-Wan Kenobi robes, Kylo Ren outfits and Chewbacca onesies for five midnight showings seemed to agree, clapping loudly and cheering enthusiastically as the end credits rolled.

Among them was Star Wars fanatic Chris Cassidy, 32, from Marton, who had kept away from social media sites to avoid spoilers and attended a 3D screening despite an early start on Thursday.

He said: "I have to be at work at 5 o’clock in the morning but I don't care. I'm watching it again tomorrow and I will probably watch it a third time too."

Fellow fan and former Odeon worker Dave Hughes, from Preston Old Road in Marton, dressed as a Sith master to watch the most highly anticipated film of the year.

Staff joined in the fun, serving customers with their faces painted

Staff joined in the fun, serving customers with their faces painted

The 45-year-old has been obsessed since he saw the first instalment in 1977. He saw The Empire Strikes Back 13 times in a month in 1980, and was named the cinema chain's Jedi master in 2005 after proving his phenomenal Star Wars knowledge and passion.

And while many had doubts when Disney bought LucasFilms, the company behind the Star Wars films, in 2012, Dave didn't.

He said: "I thought Disney would bring more to the table. The only thing they won't have is the iconic 20th Century Fox fanfare but, to be fair, Disney and the director have kept the good stuff under wraps."

For months, JJ Abrams has cleverly teased fans with tiny snippets that gave away just enough to get fans frothing at the mouth in anticipation.

And Odeon was forced to draft in extra staff - who got their own private viewing later on - to cope with the huge demand.

The cinema will also open around three hours earlier than usual today and will hold screenings every 30 minutes.

Vue in Cleveleys and The Island in St Annes are also showing the film, which is 'certified fresh' with 94 per cent positive reviews on popular film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.

Robbie Collin, in the Daily Telegraph, gave the film five stars, saying it managed to 'reconnect with its long-missing past'.

The Daily Mail's Brain Viner offered four stars, and said: "Devotees can now lather up with their Yoda-shaped soap under that Darth Vader shower content that in the hands of director and co-writer JJ Abrams, the empire has struck back.

"The Force Awakens is the most exhilarating film yet in this mighty franchise. It is the magnificent seventh."

Kate Muir, for the Times, called Episode VII a 'humongous piece of cinema' and gave it five stars.

She said: "This is the first Star Wars with a 12A rating and most children should find it unterrifying; adults will be floored by tearful nostalgia, because this is a classic. Exactly what we were hoping for."

John Hiscock, in the Daily Mirror, said: "All I can say is The Force Awakens evokes magical memories of 1977's Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, with plenty of humour, action, drama and heart."

And the Independent's Geoffrey Macnab awarded four stars, saying "the reboot turns out to be a thoroughly invigorating affair".

He added: "The Force Awakens could easily have turned into an anti-climax. Instead, it is very close to a triumph - a film that fans of the old movies will relish but one that looks bound to capture the imagination of a new audience too."