NEW YORK - Jay Greene and his friends had a pact: When the sixth and final "Star Wars" movie came out - the one that brings the plot back around to George Lucas' original 1977 masterpiece - they'd be there, on opening night.
Like the legions of other fans who showed up for midnight showings of "Episode III - Revenge of the Sith," Greene, 26, was eager to see how the saga all came together.
"Regardless of knowing what's going to happen, you still get that excitement, and it's closure for you," he said early Thursday after emerging from, appropriately enough, the AMC Empire 25 Theatre in Times Square.
"What's incredible is seeing him (Anakin) finally become Darth Vader," added Ryan Smith, visiting from San Diego.
Sold-out showings of "Episode III," the final installment of the seminal science fiction series created by Lucas, drew enthusiastic crowds to theaters across the country - many dressed in full "Star Wars" regalia with Jedi light sabers at the ready.
Both Greene and Smith described the excitement in the theater "like a party on opening night and that's why we're going back in."
Similar scenes played out nationwide ahead of the opening. People waiting for days and in some cases weeks could hardly contain themselves as the clock wound down Wednesday night.
In Chicago, 31-year-old graphic designer Ben Delery said that for him "Revenge of the Sith" was the most widely anticipated of the "Star Wars" epic. He noted it finally explains what drives Jedi hero Anakin Skywalker to embrace the dark side and transform himself into Darth Vader.
Much like the cult-following that emerged with the 1977 debut of the original "Star Wars," many fans said they would be repeat viewers.
"I could understand why. I would do it myself if it wasn't so late," said Charles Smallwood, of Philadelphia, who joined his mother at the midnight showing in New York.
Renee Portee, 45, added: "It lived up to all the hype. It brought everything together."
A few hours after the movie started rolling on East Coast screens, several Web sites already claimed to offer pirated copies for downloading over the Internet.
In Los Angeles, the line stretched around the block for the midnight showing at the Vista Theater on Sunset Boulevard. A group of cloaked youngsters watched previous "Star Wars" movies on a computer as they sat on the sidewalk.
"It's one of my favorite things, like electricity, fire, medicine," said Christian Miller, 27, who makes a living canvassing door to door for politcial campaigns.
Miller, dressed as Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn, portrayed by Liam Neeson in the film, said "It's proof that myth will have a role in human culture."
Jeff Schiffman, 25, of Burbank, moved to California three years ago for a job as a film restorer who worked on the original "Star Wars" trilogy for DVD.
Sporting a "Star Wars" tattoo, he wore a black cloak and sinister Darth Maul contact lenses for the latest film. Even his Yorkie, Zoe, had a "Star Wars" patch.
Schiffman chose the cloak, similar to that of the movie's evil emperor, because "the Dark Side is so much cooler," he said.
In Boston, the entire 16-person staff of a Web development firm planned to take Thursday off to see the film. The outing was paid for by the company - popcorn and soda included.
Seth Miller, the president and chief executive of Miller Systems Inc., said the tradition began with "The Phantom Menace" in 1999.
"It speaks to our culture. It's the benefit of not working at a giant monolithic - dare I say 'Imperial' - type company," he said, referring to the Empire in the "Star Wars" films.
Tickets for the movie went on sale last month, and many fans who couldn't bear the thought of a bad seat began camping out well in advance. "I'm a typical 'Star Wars' geek, trying to see the final episode," said Jimmy Burns, 32, who helped his Rebel Legion fan club be first into a Georgia theater on the outskirts of Atlanta.
"This is a big event for all of us," said Russ Rolle as he waited outside Edwards Big Newport, one of the largest theaters in Southern California. The 23-year-old student had been taking turns with friends since May 8 saving a spot in line to make sure they catch the first showing. His wristband identified him as No. 7 in line for one of the 1,200 seats to the sold-out 12:01 showing.
John St. Clair, of Hopatcong, N.J., recalled going to the first "Star Wars" in 1977. He saw the film five weeks after it opened, then saw it about 10 times.
"Nobody knew anything about the first movie. Word of mouth is what carried it," said St. Clair, 60.
"After the first three, you had a lot of questions of how everything came to pass, and this answered all those questions," he said.
Associated Press Writers Jonathan Landrum Jr. in Atlanta, Michael Tarm in Chicago, Robert Jablon in Los Angeles and Ben Fox in Newport Beach, Calif. contributed to this report.