There was no way Tom Long of Portland was going to miss the nationwide opening of “The Last Jedi,” the eighth episode in the Star Wars saga that has become a cultural touchstone for generations of moviegoers.

Long, 43, sported a Jedi costume while holding his ticket to the eagerly awaited installment of the series in the lobby of the Westbrook Cinemagic before the show Thursday night. He’s seen every single Star Wars film in a theater, including the 1977 original when he was 2.

“I don’t remember it, but I was there,” he said.

Phoebe Tran probably won’t have that problem even though she’s a relative newcomer to the ways of the Jedi. Attending the movie with the group of adults that included Long, the 7-year-old sported a Star Wars T-shirt.

Positive reviews and the return of Luke Skywalker to the franchise meant optimism for the new release was running high in the Cinemagic lobby before the show Thursday night.

Lane Boucher of Biddeford, wearing a Rey costume, likes all the Star Wars films – even the much-maligned prequels – and was looking forward to “The Last Jedi.”

Dressed as Jedi knights, 42-year-old Peter Spiegel, left, of Hallowell and Brian Juengst, 35, of Manchester stage a light-saber battle Thursday night on the sidewalk outside Regal Cinemas in Augusta. The Star Wars fans were about to watch Episode VIII in the saga: “The Last Jedi.”

“I’ve heard some trepidation out there, but I’m excited,” she said. “I’m not too afraid.”

It was much the same in theaters across the state as loyal fans turned out in force.

At Regal Cinemas in Augusta, Jake Sturtevant and his family – who have their own podcast about Star Wars – were among a crowd that included plenty of fanboys and fangirls in costumes and Star Wars-related apparel.

Sturtevant, of Poland, was wearing a gray Star Wars hoodie, and his daughter, Bella, 11, and son, Simon, 8, were decked out in capes and blankets adorned with images of their favorite characters.

“I like Luke (Skywalker) the best,” Simon said. His sister didn’t name a favorite character, but did say she really enjoyed the first three films in the trilogy, Episodes I-III, which were released in 1999, 2002 and 2005, respectively.

Their podcast, which is called Sturt Wars and is available on SoundCloud, focuses on the children and what they think is happening in the Star Wars universe. Sturtevant said he’s happy to share his love for the franchise with his kids.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “To see that next generation of fans taking over is pretty special.”

Sturtevant grew up a Star Wars fan. He has a brother named Luke and a sister named Leah, but he said he never asked his mother if they are named after Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa. His mom was at the theater with the family Thursday and confirmed that the names were partly because of Star Wars.

Phoebe Tran, 7, sports a Star Wars shirt in the lobby of Cinemagic in Westbrook on Thursday for the nationwide opening of “The Last Jedi.” Tran went to the movie with a group of adults including Tom Long, left, who wore a Jedi costume for the occasion.

The last Star Wars film, “The Force Awakens,” brought the death of Han Solo and the return of Skywalker, and the movie ended with Skywalker on a deserted island being handed a lightsaber by Rey, the main character in the film. Sturtevant said he’s curious to see what Skywalker’s role is in the film and what becomes of Leia, played by Carrie Fisher, who died unexpectedly almost a year ago.

“I’m really curious where they take things with the new characters and how they work in the story with Luke, because we haven’t seen him in a while,” Sturtevant said.

Director Rian Johnson is new to the franchise, and he has a tough act to follow. J.J. Abrams directed “The Force Awakens” and will return to direct Episode IX, which is set to be released in 2019.

“I think it’s great to see somebody new step into this middle (episode),” Sturtevant said. “To be able to see a different perspective is really interesting.”

The crowd included a mix of adults and families, and there were people in Star Wars leggings, cloaks, hoodies and robes. Just as they did two years ago on opening night, superfans Peter Spiegel and Brian Juengst brought their lightsabers and had a three-minute duel outside the theater.

“I’ve been able to avoid reviews and spoilers by a media shutdown,” Spiegel said. “My expectations are to go in and have fun.”

Spiegel, 42, of Hallowell, and Juengst, 35, of Manchester, predicted the film will address actress Carrie Fisher’s death in a shocking way – they both think her character, Leia, will die.

Juengst was looking forward to seeing how the new writer-director, Johnson – whose previous films included the noirish “Brick” in 2005, “The Brothers Bloom” in 2008 and 2012’s sci-fi adventure “Looper” – handles the story.

“‘Looper’ was based on a book, and he had a lot of source material to work with, and Star Wars is so rich with history,” he said. “There are already characters set in there, and he gets to play in this established sandbox, which makes a huge difference.”

Staff photographer Ben McCanna contributed to this report.

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