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“Thank you, J.J. Abrams,” shouted one “Star Wars” fan at the conclusion of the 7 p.m. debut of “The Force Awakens” at the Rave Cinema in Ypsilanti.

The cheer that followed from the crowd signified that fans agree: The new director did a good job ushering the franchise into a new era.

“It was crazy good,” said Karl Dickinson of Ann Arbor. “It was funny, visually stunning, heart breaking and just a great story... great acting.”

Dickinson saw the film with several friends, many longtime fans, including Chis Taylor who said “people are freaking out about how good it was.”

“I loved Rey, she is awesome,” said Ezra Lomba, 14, attending an early screening Thursday with father Eric Lomba and sister Haley Lomba, 21, in the Bay City area.

“It’s a fantastic beginning for a new generation,” said Eric Lomba, who says he has been a fan of the series since he was 2 years old. “A perfect blend of old and new.”

The “Star Wars” fans who took the initiative to snag tickets to the very first showing of the franchise’s first film in a decade all had something in common: a personal connection to the saga.

Matt Wixson of Ferndale said it was “really important” for him to see the first showing Thursday evening.

“ ‘Star Wars’ has been a part of my life since I was a kid. My dad worked at a movie theater when the first one came out, and h

e got to watch it over and over. When I was a kid, the VHSes were out ... it turned into a bit of a nerd thing.”

Wixson, who turns 32 on Sunday, bought tickets to see “The Force Awakens” at the MJR Troy as soon as they went on sale months ago. He said he had faith that director Abrams would do Episode VII justice.

“Maybe in three hours I’ll say something different,” he said beforehand. “It’s exciting that I might see a new ‘Star Wars’ movie that doesn’t disappoint me.”

Gene Maroulitsas of Wixom, 34, also has been a fan since childhood and purchased tickets for the first showing well in advance.

“I wanted to enjoy the experience of seeing it with everybody. Everybody ... doesn’t have to be friends, just everybody that’s watching it, the whole atmosphere.”

The MJR Digital Cinema in Troy opened the auditorium showing the 7 p.m. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at 4 p.m. to avoid fans having to line up.

“People have been casually walking in going ‘where’s the line?’ There’s no line; you can go in and sit down,” said Dennis Redmer, vice president of operations at MJR.

Redmer said there are a few reasons why studios have been holding screenings for their blockbuster films before the opening day.

“It changed after (the movie theater shootings) in Aurora and Colorado,” he said. “They wanted to shift from the midnight screenings, so they started playing (films) at 10 p.m., 9 p.m., 8 p.m.”

He also said it being a school night was a factor, and that the box office receipts before opening day count for the opening day total gross.

Many moviegoers showed their allegiance by wearing “Star Wars” T-shirts of some kind, but full costumes were scarce in Troy.

Costumes were allowed at most theaters. MJR, which was selling film merchandise in the lobby, were allowing costumes only Thursday evening, but not for any showings afterward.

Emagine Entertainment allows costumes, but no backpacks. AMC Theatres’ costume policy allows light sabers so long as they are turned off during the film; masks or facepaint are prohibited.

Anything resembling a weapon is forbidden at all theaters.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is rated PG-13 and runs 2 hours and 16 minutes. Ticket prices vary by theater.

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/melodybaetens

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