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'The Force Awakens' with South Florida fans

Popular, the premiere screenings were for "Star Wars."

On Thursday at South Florida cineplexes from Boca Raton to Weston, entire squadrons of costumed Stormtroopers, droids and lightsaber-wielding Jedi turned out in heavy force to soak in the continuing space saga of a franchise 40 years in the making.

The much-hyped seventh installment of the movie series that became a cultural phenomenon, "Episode VII: The Force Awakens," promised a reunion with the familar "Star Wars" trilogy crew: destined Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, the dignified Princess Leia, wisecracking Han Solo, his hairy fuzzball Chewbacca.

But at Cinemark Palace 20 in Boca Raton, where hundreds of fans turned out for the 7 p.m. premiere screening, many came garbed as the film's new fleet of characters.

"I love BB-8, obviously," said Jordan McFadden, who arrived with her fiance dressed in a T-shirt depicting the titular droid, a cross between R2-D2 and a soccer ball. "I think he's so adorable. [But] I'm looking forward to seeing the orginal cast and how they're going to be tied in."

At the AutoNation IMAX 3D Theater in Fort Lauderdale, many fans queued clad as the original cast. Standing in the sold-out 7 p.m. screening line inside the IMAX theater, mega-fan Eli Jacob, 35, of Pembroke Pines, wore an orange jumpsuit and helmet, an X-Wing pilot with, as he described, "the same custom paint job that Luke Skywalker had in 'A New Hope.'"

"I've seen all of the films, but I've never seen them on a six-story screen," said Jacob, who bought his tickets in October.

"God, I'm so sweaty. Look at me," said Jacob's friend, Oscar Delgado, 35, of Pembroke Pines, dressed as Darth Sidious, Darth Vader's black-cloaked mentor, in a scaly white mask.

"You think you're sweaty?" Jacob retorted. "I'm in a freaking helmet."

In the sold-out 10 p.m. queue that wrapped around the IMAX building, John Caballero, 24, of Miami Lakes, sat with friends in folding chairs. He was busy watching "Return of the Jedi" for the first time on his iPad.

"I like to think of this as 'extreme procrastination,'" Caballero, in line since noon, said with a laugh. "I figured, hey, I have eight or 10 hours, and there's free Wi-Fi here."

Not every South Florida theater let "Star Wars" diehards flaunt their full costumes. At Cinemark Paradise 24 in Davie, crowds were smaller, and visitors were barred from wearing facepaint or bringing masks and props. Several wore Chewbacca and Stormtrooper onesies. A man garbed as Darth Vader strolled by without his signature helmet.

Alden Diaz, 20, of Pembroke Pines, remembered seeing much-larger crowds when he visited the same theater to watch "Episode III" in 2005.

"It's not as crazy as the time you took me in fifth grade," Diaz told his mom over the phone. "Because with reserved seats people don't feel the need to line up."

Staff writers Barbara Corbellini Duarte, Jim Rassol and Michael Laughlin contributed to this report.

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