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Carroll 'Star Wars' fans return to a galaxy far, far away

Noah Johnson, 6, wears a full stormtrooper costume as he waits to enter the theater for the opening of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" with, from left, Justus Shupe, 11, his brother Peter Johnson, 11, Jennifer Shupe, and his mother Shannon Johnson outside Regal Cinemas Westminster 9 in Westminster TownMall Thursday, Dec. 17.
Noah Johnson, 6, wears a full stormtrooper costume as he waits to enter the theater for the opening of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" with, from left, Justus Shupe, 11, his brother Peter Johnson, 11, Jennifer Shupe, and his mother Shannon Johnson outside Regal Cinemas Westminster 9 in Westminster TownMall Thursday, Dec. 17. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

"Star Wars" fans from the moisture farms of Tattooine to the forest moon of Endor — or, more accurately, from towns around Carroll County — descended upon the Regal Cinemas at the TownMall of Westminster on Thursday night to take in the latest entry in the "Star Wars" saga, "The Force Awakens."

Despite record-breaking national pre-sales, and a big enough media push to knock Alderaan out of orbit, the Westminster premiere of "The Force Awakens" was relatively quiet. With five screens and 11 showings of the film scheduled for Thursday night, only a single 7 p.m. showing of the "Star Wars" film was sold out in advance of the start time.

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Thursday marked the early screening of "The Force Awakens," prior to the official Friday release date. The film continues the saga first begun by George Lucas in "Star Wars" — as it was known before a title change to "Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope" during a 1981 re-release — picking up with characters last seen on the big screen in 1983's "Return of the Jedi." It's been a decade since the most recent live-action "Star Wars" film was released, so for many young fans, this was their first chance at checking out a part of the saga in a theater.

Stephanie Webber, 13, sported a "Star Wars" T-shirt with Han Solo, Chewbacca and the Millennium Falcon. She said she's a new convert to "Star Wars" fandom, with her father introducing her to the franchise in the past couple of years.

"I was just hanging out with my dad and we decided we could bond over that," Webber said. "I've been extremely excited all day. I couldn't function at all during school."

Ronald Johnson, in contrast, is a longtime "Star Wars" fan, who attended the screening with his family. Johnson showed off his Millennium Falcon tattoo on his upper arm, while his 6-year-old son Noah came dressed as a Stormtrooper of the First Order, the villainous organization that has replaced the evil Empire in the new film. Unfortunately, because of theater rules, Noah had to remove his helmet and leave it in the car before heading to their seats.

"The Force Awakens" marks a number of firsts for the franchise, as it's the first live-action "Star Wars" film to open without the 20th Century Fox logo or opening fanfare, which to many fans is as integral a part of a "Star Wars" opening as "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." The film is also the first "Star Wars" film to be released in December, with the traditional May release pushed back after scripting issues, and the replacement of "Toy Story 3" screenwriter Michael Arndt with Lawrence Kasdan, scribe for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "The Empire Strikes Back."

In addition to Noah, there was only one other costumed movie buff waiting for his friends before the 7 p.m. screening, though 23-year-old Brandon Warehime chose a more contentious character to represent.

"Meesa got it online," Warehime said in reference to his full-head latex Jar Jar Binks mask.

Warehime said he was introduced to the franchise with 2005's "Revenge of the Sith," and he was sorry to have missed the rest of the franchise theatrically.

"Unfortunately I wasn't around for the '70s," Wareheim said. "I love 'Star Wars,' and I'm not going to miss any now."

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