They overran theaters like so many intergalactic storm troopers.
Fans from Seattle to Savannah, many in costume, many with tickets for more than one show, descended upon movie theaters across the country Friday for the 20th anniversary rerelease of the ultimate science-fiction movie: "Star Wars."
"I have been waiting my whole life for this," crowed Wellesley student Sarah Stryker as she joined the serpentine line outside Boston's Cheri Theater.
Like Ms. Stryker, most of the fans at the theater were twenty-somethings who were feeling the force of "Star Wars" on the big screen for the first time. And like Stryker, many of them snapped up tickets the minute they went on sale.
"We bought our tickets three weeks ago," says Ben Haid, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We knew we were going the minute this was announced."
The 1977 film's appeal cuts though culture and generation gaps like a light saber, drawing on themes that have deep and lasting resonance.
"It's the principles," explains Irwin Applebaum, president of Bantam Books, which has 20 million "Star Wars" books in print. "Good versus evil, coming of age, the struggle for freedom, the great themes of all times that George Lucas was able to weave into eye-opening, pulse-pounding stories."
The trilogy - "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" are being released in February and March, respectively - has inspired everything from CD-ROMs to soap, becoming part of the culture and raking in $1.3 billion in the process.
Ronald Reagan picked up on the "evil empire," James Earl Jones's rumbling bass became universally recognized, and "may the force be with you" worked its way into the lexicon.
Lucas has said he wanted to create a timeless story and credits the influence of myth scholar Joseph Campbell. "I wanted to anoint it with certain mythological traditions and take thematic issues that had been around for thousands of years and put them in theatrical context."
For die-hard Boston fans Kevin and Doris Wells, whose wedding cake was topped with the figures of Han Solo and Princess Leia, the film was just plain fun. They brought their three small sons along to share the enjoyment.
"We saw it in high school and then lined up for hours to see the rest of them," Mr. Wells says. "And it was totally crazy in the theater, like the first time around."
For young Grayson Wells, outfitted as Han Solo and brandishing an orange light saber, the movie outshone the video. "It had better action and there were new parts," he says, referring to computerized visuals added by Lucas and his team when they restored the film.
The return of "Star Wars" has sent action figures and toys like Grayson's light saber flying off shelves at hyperspeed, prompting some stores to limit customers to two apiece.
And there are toys for kids of all sizes. The normally staid Wall Street Journal recently carried ads for "Star Wars" collectibles - including a limited edition X-Wing Fighter priced at $1,500.
Lucas and his team are building on the enthusiasm with a marketing campaign that extends into the next century and includes everything from a Smithsonian exhibit to "Star Tours" at Disney theme parks. Not to mention three new "Star Wars" films beginning in 1999.
The adventure continues.