The highly anticipated final installment of the "Star Wars" saga is producing out of this world numbers at the box office.
The movie reached $40 million in ticket sales within the United States and Canada on Thursday night, making it the fifth-highest domestic opening night of all time, according to estimates from distributor The Walt Disney Company.
Previews began Thursday at 5 p.m. in 450 theaters for special fan event screenings with a further nationwide break at 6 p.m. Skywalker will be in 4,406 theaters by the weekend, the most theaters any December release has opened in.
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The saga that began with George Lucas's vision of a space opera in 1977 has proven a smart investment for Disney, which acquired the franchise along with Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the first installment under the leadership of CEO Bob Iger, became the fastest movie to reach $1 billion in box office sales in 2015.
Some fans have attacked the storylines for failing to achieve the human appeal and on-screen chemistry of the first three "Star Wars" films, which hit theaters from 1977 through 1983. Similar criticisms greeted the second trilogy, which began with "The Phantom Menace" in 1999.
What differentiates the last three films is that they shift away from the heroes and villains of earlier installments, featuring a more diverse cast and focusing on a female protagonist, Daisy Ridley’s Rey.
The backlash is no surprise to director J.J. Abrams, especially since the new film — which he calls the “aftermath of Luke Skywalker and his sister, Princess Leia," marks the end of a cycle that began 42 years ago.
"There are some people who, in this age of outrage, need to be vitriolic and hurtful, and that’s not right,” said Abrams, who returned to the director's chair after directing "The Force Awakens," this latest trilogy's first installment.
Abrams also co-wrote "Rise of Skywalker" after handing over the reins to Rian Johnson for 2017′s “The Last Jedi,” the second part of the trilogy and a blockbuster that received mostly positive reviews from movie critics but remains divisive among hardcore fans. But the third edition has fans split.
"I’m glad someone else likes it! I logged back in all excited to talk about it and everyone is soooo mad," one user wrote in response to a Twitter rave from Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu.
Indeed, "mad" reactions inundated the Twitter-sphere in the early morning hours of Dec. 20.
"STAR WARS: RISE OF SKYWALKER was a mess," one user wrote.
"The nicest thing I can say about 'Rise of Skywalker' is I'm not even mad because at about the midway point it became so stupid that it was literally impossible to care about anything that was happening," said Jenny Nicholson, a "Star Wars" aficionado and social media influencer whose YouTube channel has 459,000 followers.
A longtime “Star Wars” fan himself, Abrams "gets" that fans are passionate. But he draws the line at comments attempting to demoralize the film’s cast or production crew, behavior he says is a societal issue.
“That in no way is a “Star Wars” phenomenon,” Abrams said. “That is a cultural phenomenon. If you’re not in the right political party, you’re against us. If you’re not doing exactly what they want, then you’re an abomination. It’s sort of par for the course in everything right now.”
"A satisfying end to the story," one Twitter user wrote. "So good I already want to see it again."
Producers successfully overcame the challenges of working with a four-decades-long franchise that has developed a fierce fan base, said another: "I enjoyed Rise of Skywalker. Level of difficulty on this was high, finish something that started 42 years ago and has changed hands many times."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.