IT’S 40 years since the film that had already become the most successful in history opened in Bournemouth.

Darth Vader himself was in attendance when Star Wars finally reached UK towns including Bournemouth in time for the February half-term holidays.

The film, which had opened in the US in May 1977, was the first to play on both screens simultaneously at Bournemouth’s Gaumont – later renamed the Odeon.

On the steps of the Westover Road cinema, Darth Vader met a local mascot, Bertie the robot.

The Evening Echo reported: “The meeting delighted the queue – formed at 11am – waiting for the very first house of Star Wars, the film said to be the most popular in the history of the cinema.”

Bertie was the droid built by Bournemouth public relations officer Dick Shepherd to promote the town’s fundraising lottery.

Bertie also met his biggest fan, 67-year-old Sylvia Kenna of Balmoral House in Bournemouth, as the queue formed at 11am for the first showing of Star Wars on Thursday, February 9.

Victoria Gaddy, aged six, had her picture taken with the dark lord of the Sith, played for the day by Mike Bacon of Poole.

Gaumont assistant manager Carl Pyatt said he was expecting Star Wars to do “phenomenal” business, running on both screens for a month and remaining in one of them after that.

“I think the film is absolutely tremendous,” he said.

The Echo’s own entertainment critic, Stan Sowden, wrote that: “The most common reaction to all the build-up to Star Wars is that people feel they are going to be disappointed, that the film will not live up to its reputation.”

He went on: “I thought it was great stuff, undemanding, pure escapism, flawed certainly, but fantastic as any good science fiction film should be and at times intensely exciting.”

But he admitted: “Personally, I was not enamoured of the two robots which seem to have captured everyone’s affection.”