Star Wars obsessives have been barred from wearing Darth Vader helmets or carrying unsheathed lightsabers in British cinemas amid security concerns ahead of the launch of latest film in the series. Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be released nationwide on Thursday, prompting the Odeon cinema chain to warn fans that they will be refused admission to the company's 120 UK cinemas if they refuse to remove their masks.
The notice has been issued as part of Odeon's bolstered security in the wake of last month's terror attacks in Paris. There are concerns that British cinemas packed with Star Wars fans could be a target for would-be jihadis inspired by Islamic State (Isis).
"We're asking people not to wear Darth Vader helmets and to keep their lightsabers sheathed," an Odeon spokesman said. "Fans in full-face helmets will be asked to lift them so we can say 'hi' at ticket collections," he added.
Phil Clapp of the UK Cinema Association has backed Odeon's plans. "It helps put other customers at ease if people don't wear full-face masks," he told The Sun. "It's also not a great viewing experience if you're sat behind an eight-foot Chewbacca outfit," he added.
The warning comes as Odeon predicted that The Force Awakens will be "the biggest film of all time". The forecast is based on the fact that fans of the franchise now stretch across several generations, with no sign of the Star Wars appeal being lost on the current crop of teenagers despite the new film being the first instalment for 10 years, since the badly received Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was seen in cinemas. Much of this is likely due to the success of the animated Star Wars TV shows Clone Wars and Rebels.
Duncan Reynolds, Odeon's managing director, told The Times: "We expect it to become the biggest film of all time. It promises to be a landmark cinematic event." Meanwhile, Vue's chief executive Timothy Richards added that the new film's success lay in its cross-generational appeal.
"There is the baby boomer generation who grew up with the original Star Wars, then there are the millennials [who grew up with the second trilogy] and now a whole new audience is being introduced," he said.
The release of The Force Awakens will be carefully stage-managed, with almost every cinema in the country expected to be packed when at one minute past midnight the first simultaneous screenings begin. One cinema in West London is understood to be expecting such heavy demand that all of its 12 screens will broadcast the film at midnight, with a total of 78 showings in the first 24 hours alone.
Despite Odeon's warnings, many fans are expected to turn up in fancy dress, creating a festival-type atmosphere. Some cinemas are even said to have booked orchestras to play John Williams' famous Star Wars theme as guests arrive.
The seventh film in the Star Wars series has already broken records by making over $50m (£33m) in advance ticket sales, and by the time of the film's release this could be $100m (£66m). Most Imax shows have sold out, with cinemas continuing to add screenings of the British-made, Pinewood Studios-filmed movie to keep up with demand.
Another key element in predictions that Star Wars: The Force Awakens could become the biggest film of all time, is the fact it is a highly anticipated release in emerging markets such as China and India. Although Hollywood continues to dominate the film industry, the vast majority of box offices sales now come from outside the US.
The Force Awakens, which is directed by acclaimed director JJ Abrams, has reunited original Star Wars: A New Hope cast members Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. It is the first Star Wars film in the series to be produced by Disney.
Since the first Star Wars film in 1977, the franchise has made approximately $42bn (£27bn) – broken down into $10bn (£6.5bn) in box office sales and $32bn (£21bn) in officially sanctioned merchandise. The Force Awakens – which is the first film since 1983's Return of the Jedi to move the storyline forward in time – is expected to add a further $4bn (£2.6bn) to that total, according to Disney.