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Japan 'Star Wars' fans flock to sneak preview

TOKYO (AP) -- Star Wars mania has struck in Japan, where fans turned out in droves at theaters around the country Saturday for a sneak preview of the hit movie.

Some in costume and others toting light sabers, the moviegoers began lining up as early as Thursday to see "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace", which officially opens on July 10, more than five weeks after its U.S. debut."It's like a festival," said Yuki Nishijima, a 19-year old student who had been waiting seven hours for one of three late-night showings at the Nihon Gekijo theater in Tokyo.

Around him, hundreds of people sat in the theater's sweltering entryway, fanning themselves and passing the time with everything from backgammon to beer.

Japan, the world's second largest movie market, is home to legions of Star Wars fans, and the film has been heavily hyped by the media in the weeks leading up to its first showing.

Some say the space fantasy series holds a special appeal for the Japanese, who see it as an updated version of classic samurai films.

The first "Star Wars" movie was based loosely on "The Hidden Fortress," a 1958 film about a warrior's journey by Akira Kurosawa, Japan's most renowned director.

Nihon Gekijo officials said advance ticket sales had already surpassed previous records for the theater.