Judy Harris entered the 7 p.m. showing of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” worried that this would be one Disney tale without a happy ending.

For “Star Wars” fans, anyway.

“I was really worried Disney was going to kill it,” said Harris, 35, a fifth-grade teacher at Riverton Elementary School in Portland, referring to Disney’s purchase of the “Star Wars” franchise. “It was a lot better than I expected. Strong female characters. And it’s always nice to see Harrison Ford.”

The long wait for “Star Wars” fans everywhere came to an end Thursday when “The Force Awakens” opened in theaters. People could finally find out what new developments, what new twists would propel the nearly 40-year-old “Star Wars” saga forward. Would the evil Empire prevail? Would the galaxy be free? Would fans be happy?

Harris and other fans who saw the 7 p.m. showing at Portland’s Nickelodeon Cinemas were buzzing, if not cheering, when they left the theater. Many fans were absolutely giddy about seeing old friends from the original 1977 film. “The Force Awakens” features the return of the beloved trio of Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).

The wait was worth it.

“It was absolutely wonderful. I was on the edge of my seat,” said Amanda Williams, a 20-year-old ceramics major at Maine College of Art in Portland. “I loved the references to the other films, to old characters. There was a lot of fan service in the film.”

Some younger fans had been waiting their whole lives for a new installment of the “Star Wars” series, because the sixth and most recent film came out in 2005.

While fans waited 10 years for a new film, they won’t have to wait long to see “The Force Awakens” for a second, third or fourth time in the coming week. Portland-area theaters will be filled with “The Force Awakens” on Friday, when daytime showings begin. The Westbrook Cinemagic is scheduled to have 17 showings of the film each day beginning Friday, and The Cinemagic in Saco will have 15.

SOME SHOW UP EARLY

Tickets for Thursday’s showings went on sale in October. That fact, combined with how many showings are coming up, helped keep the lines at the Nickelodeon relatively small, by “Star Wars” standards.

Still, about 20 to 30 fans showed up about two hours early to make sure they got a good seat.

Devon Martin, a 23-year-old biochemistry student, arrived around 5 p.m. and got to wait in the lobby. But space filled up fast and people who came just a few minutes later than him had to wait outside in the rain.

“I just thought it would be easier to get a good seat here, fewer people (than at some larger local theaters), and there’s enough room here in the lobby to stay out of the rain,” said Martin, of Portland, waiting with two dozen other fans at 5:15 p.m.

To enhance his experience, Martin said he came to the theater Thursday purposely ignorant of any potential plot twists the new movie might have. “I’ve been trying to avoid the hype for this one, so I haven’t been reading things online, or looking at pictures,” he said. “I don’t want to know what to expect. I just want it to be ‘Star Wars.'”

Reviews of “The Force Awakens” have compared it favorably to the early movies, and some reviewers have written that director J.J. Abrams made a film that most longtime fans will both recognize and appreciate. Abrams was a kid when “Star Wars” first came out, and a big fan, so his fellow fans were hoping he would recapture the magic of the original three films. The last three films are mostly recognized by fans as inferior.

“I’ve seen the original trilogy at least 20 times, the prequels maybe 10,” Martin said.

Of the couple dozen fans who arrived at the Nickelodeon two hours before the first showing, several described themselves as big fans but not hardcore. Only a few had “Star Wars” gear, and Nickelodeon staffers were reminding people that such gear was not allowed inside the theater. So the lightsabers had to be checked at the door.

‘THE FORCE’ IS STRONG AMONG FANS

One man, Fred Copeman of Portland, had his hair styled in Princess Leia-style braids. Several said they came early mostly because they wanted the experience of seeing such a highly anticipated movie first.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what all the hype is about, and if some of the theories are true,” said Lindsay Buteau, 30, an accountant from Portland. “Like if Luke (Skywalker) is good or bad, what he’s like in the future, if his kids are good or bad.”

Well? Is he? Are they?

Joe Dennis, 27, of Saco, could tell you, after seeing the 7 p.m. showing at Nickelodeon. But he won’t. Among fans, “The Force” is too strong, and so requests to avoid spoilers will be honored.

“I’m banned from saying anything to anyone,” Dennis said.