The sleepy foyer of a South West London cinema is a galaxy far, far away from the glitz and glamour of Leicester Square’s red carpeted European premiere, but as The Force awakens at midnight on December 17th it may as well be the centre of the Star Wars universe.
The iconic Duel of The Fates plays as Star Wars t-shirt wearing folk stream in and out of the bathroom, with Kylo Ren topped cups and highly sought after lightsabers doing the rounds.
Just hours previously Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess (or should I say General?) Leia were milling past us on the red carpet – now bargain basement versions of the heroes are standing in an orderly queue, patiently waiting to see themselves on film.
Almost every cinema screen in the venue is packed full of eager fans, who quite simply couldn’t wait any longer for the The Force to awaken. They may not have come from the four corners of the globe like those we encountered on Leicester Square, but they’re just as eager to finally see the film.
“I’ve been Googling random members of the cast” explains Star Wars lover Lowell, who’s come along with his friends to feel The Force at midnight. “I’ve been watching every interview with JJ Abrams”, he continues, as excitement begins to build among those who’ve gone to great lengths to avoid spoilers for the new movie.
“What I really love, what I think they did very well with the UK and US trailers, is that I don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Lowell’s friend Barney. “And in a funny sort of way I don’t care, by which I mean I’m totally psyched but they’ve managed to make me very excited without using any of the lines.”
There is one thing fans do care about though, and one young woman in the row behind puts it perfectly: “This film had better have Mark Hamill in it,” she muses. “They haven’t put him on the poster, which usually means that they’re up to something.”
And judging by the reaction to Hamill’s arrival on Leicester Square earlier in the evening, she’s not the only one who feels that way. Luke Skywalker is the man they’re looking for, though they’ll quite happily take a dose of Han Solo and Chewbacca if it’s going too.
When the film starts all demands go out the window. Fan theories fade into insignificance the moment the opening credits roll, with the iconic Star Wars theme tune roaring into auditoriums for the first time in more than a decade – much to the joy of the Stormtrooper who’s been struggling to bring balance to his bag of popcorn and his toy blaster.
With every new revelation (some predicted, some totally unexpected) comes a collective laugh or gasp as fans roll with The Force punches JJ Abrams’ Star Wars reboot delivers. It’s a world away from the glitz and glamour of the star-studded press screening or premiere, but if there’s anywhere to be as The Force Awakens, its among the fans who’ve flocked to see it on their small suburban cinema screens.
Because they’re the ones who can’t help but laugh when the Millennium Falcon makes its return. They’re the ones who clap and whoop with joy when Han Solo and Chewbacca pop their heads through the door. They’re the ones who’ve been searching the galaxy for the Skywalker who’ll “bring balance” for almost 40 years now.
‘I’ll probably go out and see it again first thing,” jokes Lowell before the film begins.
And as the credits roll, the thunderous applause suggests he won’t be on his own in that endeavour. Especially considering how close a few have come to nodding off during the late night screening.
You can’t begin to imagine the power of the sleepy side of The Force. Let’s just say I was lucky I’d seen the film with press the night before too, because not even the strongest Lord of The Sith could vanquish the drowsiness that develops in a warm cinema screen after midnight.
Fighting sleep is worth it, though, because Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and co have everyone on the edge of their seats, with daring lightsaber battles and X-Wing exploits that’d leave even the most casual fan yearning for Episode VIII.
In Episode VII it seems Star Wars fans have truly felt an awakening. And as we file out of the cinema, animatedly chatting about droids, death and big character revelations, it’s clear that the film doesn’t just signify an awakening in The Force.
The buzz of chatter, louder than the hum of any lightsaber, hints that this little space opera heralds a new dawn for the franchise, and most importantly, a new hope for its future.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is in UK cinemas now