The wait is finally over. The most hyped film of all time, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, opens in cinemas in France, South Africa and several other countries Wednesday, a decade after the last episode of the space saga.
After months of teasing trailers that raised more questions than answers, and a Hollywood premiere Monday from which the celebrity audience emerged smiling but sworn to secrecy, the franchise's millions of fans will finally get to see it for themselves.
The film opens in France on Wednesday, a day before it goes on release in the UK and two days before cinemas in the US will show it.
More than half a million people have pre-booked tickets in France alone for director J.J. Abrams' two-and-a-half-hour epic, which is reputed to go back to the story's roots.
“That's totally unheard of,” Emmanuel Delesse, the boss of the country's biggest cinema chain, UGC, told AFP.
Some of those fans had made a special trip to Paris to see the film on Wednesday morning.
“I woke at 4 am this morning and I have tickets to see it twice today,” said Antoine Gerber, who made a five-hour trip from his home in Alsace to the capital Paris to see the film with fellow fans.
Box office records are also expected to be tumble across Scandinavia, the Netherlands, South Africa and Morocco, where the film is also opening ahead of its US launch.
So keen are some American fans to see the seventh episode that a dozen are paying up to $5,000 (4,500 euros) to fly to Paris to see the film 48 hours before it comes out at home.
They will be taken straight to a multiplex cinema near Charles de Gaulle airport before flying home after it finishes.
Disney, which bought the Star Wars franchise from its creator George Lucas for $4 billion in 2012, has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the plot shrouded in mystery before the general release.
The secrecy has prompted a backlash against the film's fearsome publicity machine.
The French daily Le Monde boycotted press screenings of the film on Tuesday condemning the “unacceptable… and grotesque” demands made by the studio on journalists who wanted to see it.
It also attacked what it claimed was a attempt “by the distributor to control the content of the articles written after the release of the film” by forcing journalists not to reveal key elements of the plot.
Reviews of the film have also been restricted and can only be published after 0800 GMT on Wednesday, when the first screenings begin in France and elsewhere.
Once the embargo was lifted it was clear however that the French press were clearly seduced by the return of Han Solo and co.
Le Figaro published an article headlined “Three reasons to go and see the film” and the top story on 20Minutes was “Why it's worth the wait”.