LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Two plastic lightsabers up.
That's the general reaction among ``Star Wars'' fans who emerged from midnight screenings of ``Star Wars: Episode II _ Attack of the Clones'' early Thursday, cheering the latest installment of the sci-fi saga.
Critical reaction to the movie has been harsh, but many viewers expressed delight at the film's action sequences, computerized effects and climactic battle scene between robot forces and a battalion of Jedi knights.
``The last 45 minutes was worth more than the price of admission,'' said Chad Bates, 27, a computer consultant from Seattle who attended a midnight showing at Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles.
Others praised the film's romantic subplot, and said ``Attack of the Clones'' was superior to the previous prequel, 1999's ``Star Wars: Episode I _ The Phantom Menace.''
``What the last one lacked in character, this one definitely made up for it,'' said Steve Anderson, 32, a television director from Los Angeles. ``There was finally some heart in this one.''
Theaters across the country were mostly full, but it took longer for them to sell all the seats. The ardor was a little muted this time, partly because ``The Phantom Menace'' debuted nearly 16 years after 1983's ``Return of the Jedi'' and there was greater pent-up demand among fans.
The growing use of advance ticket sales over the Internet likely reduced the number of fans who would have waited in line outside theaters, but there was still costume pageantry and tailgate-style line partying at some cinemas.
Outside the historic Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, fans staged mock lightsaber battles, while others dressed in the armor of Stormtroopers and father-son bounty hunters Jango and Boba Fett.
In suburban Miami, Michael Lapidus, a commercial real estate broker, came alone to a midnight showing in Sunrise, Fla.
``My wife doesn't like the 'Star Wars' movies. If I had waited for her to come and see this with me, it would already be out on video,'' said Lapidus, 51. ``Star Wars is just a great escape. It's an incredibly well-done saga. I'm not a critic, I'm just here to have fun.''
Theater operators expected a ``Star Wars'' rush later Thursday as the film plays on about 6,000 screens in 3,161 theaters domestically.
The movie also opened in about 75 nations around the world. A Russian-dubbed version of the film opened at midnight in Moscow nearly eight hours before the first U.S. debut. Moscow's premier movie theater, the Rossiya on Pushkin Square, held showings every 40 minutes, but there were no serious lines.
``Attack of the Clones'' is not expected to surpass the U.S. box-office debut of ``Spider-Man'' two weeks ago. Playing on about 1,500 more screens than ``Attack of the Clones,'' ``Spider-Man'' took in a record-smashing $114.8 million in its first three days.
``Attack of the Clones'' opened on fewer screens because director George Lucas was choosy about locations, insisting on top-of-the-line theaters with digital sound.
Some theaters ran the movie on several screens at the same location. At the Star Theatre in Southfield, Mich., outside Detroit, the 12:01, 12:02 and 12:03 a.m. shows sold out early, but tickets were still available late in the evening for the 12:04 showing.
``Attack of the Clones'' takes places approximately 10 years after events in ``The Phantom Menace.'' Hayden Christensen plays Anakin Skywalker _ who later becomes masked villain Darth Vader _ now a Jedi trainee assigned to protect Galactic Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman.)
Ewan McGregor reprises his role as Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, a part originated in the first three films by the late Alec Guinness. This time, Kenobi helps reveal a fallen Jedi's scheme to overthrow the Galactic Republic.
``This was as good as the first'' trilogy,'' said Kurt Dunbar, 49, a history teacher from Bellingham, Wash. who attended the CityWalk screening in Los Angeles. ``The plot got more intricate, so it leaves you hanging for the next one.''