Editor's note: spoilers ahead.
Two years after The Force awakened, "Star Wars" fans around Jefferson City felt ready to watch the Jedi make their last stand this weekend.
The second installment of the third "Star Wars" trilogy hit theaters Thursday night when "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" took the world by storm.
Capital 8 Theaters and others around the country hope the movie will provide a welcome attendance boost in a year of falling movie theater attendance nationwide. As anticipation built before opening night, fans around Jefferson City said they've been lifelong lovers of Luke, Leia and the rest of the "Star Wars" gang.
By Thursday morning, posters for "The Last Jedi" hung outside Capital 8 Theaters. Inside were other decorations, like a box collecting 3-D glasses with a picture of R2-D2 emblazoned on it. Capital 8 will show "The Last Jedi" on three of its eight screens.
Erin Cox, general manager of Capital 8, which is owned by Goodrich Quality Theaters, said the first showing at 7 p.m. Thursday was sold out. Sales for every other showing remained strong ahead of time, she said.
Sales before "The Last Jedi" felt stronger than before the last installment in this trilogy, 2015's "The Force Awakens," and before last year's standalone "Star Wars" film, "Rogue One," Cox said.
Sales this year were sluggish at times, she added.
"We did have a slow summer, but with 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and 'Wonder Woman,' those helped," Cox said.
Pixar's international hit "Coco" didn't perform well in Jefferson City, Cox said, in part because of a more than 20-minute short film featuring characters from Disney-Pixar's "Frozen" franchise that screened ahead of the movie.
With nationwide revenues of just more than $9 billion, movie theater box offices nationwide are on pace for their slowest year since 2008, according to box office data site Box Office Mojo. With summer sales of $3.8 billion, movie theaters recorded their worst summer in more than a decade, according to Variety Magazine.
Analysts hope "The Last Jedi" will do its part to reverse that trend.
CNN reported "The Last Jedi" could make $190 million $215 million on its opening weekend alone. "The Force Awakens" made more than $247 million in its 2015 first weekend. "Rogue One" opened with a weekend total of more than $155 million.
Last year, "Rogue One" raked in more than $1 billion globally, and "The Force Awakens" made more than $2 billion.
Lifelong fans in Jefferson City felt ready to see Luke Skywalker's next act.
Steven Howard planned to see the movie Friday night with his wife. He used to attend midnight showings for the movies but said he's too old now.
Howard, 37, was introduced him to the film series by his uncle Terry at age 3 when they went to 1983's "Return of the Jedi."
Throughout the films — and especially in the original trilogy — Christian themes play an integral part in the series as Luke Skywalker's father, Darth Vader, tempts him to fight for evil instead of good. Skywalker, the story's chosen messiah, overcomes the temptations his father could not. Those themes return in "The Force Awakens" when bounty hunter Han Solo is killed by his son, Kylo Ren.
Howard, a practicing Baptist, said those Christian themes helped him understand the story at a young age.
"To an extent, it did help as a kid understanding it better," Howard said.
Howard also collects "Star Wars" toys and merchandise, including a signed 8-by-10 photo of actor Ray Park, who plays Darth Maul in "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace."
He bought his tickets months ago and planned to wear "Star Wars" gear to work today. In "The Last Jedi," Howard is hoping to find out the lineage of "The Force Awaken" main character Rey.
"My theory is she's a Skywalker," Howard said. "My wife thinks she's Kylo Ren's twin sister, but I don't think she's right."
Ryan Cheshire, whose friends call him "Jabba" after "Star Wars" character Jabba the Hutt, wore a black Han Solo T-shirt that said "I know" Tuesday in Antiquarium a comics, books and collectibles store on East High Street in Jefferson City. Later, he pulled out a "Star Wars" wallet from his back pocket.
Cheshire said he grew up surrounded by action figures and toys from the film series.
"When I was a kid, it was just always there," Cheshire said. "I couldn't tell you the first time I saw it."
Cheshire said he's not a collector but loves the films. He planned to see the movie this weekend.
Without blinking or joking, he said doesn't acknowledge the existence of the prequel trilogy that came out in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Overall, he thought "The Force Awakens" was fine.
"I liked it," Cheshire said. "The prequels set the bar so low that it was easy."
While he was excited to see the newest movie, Cheshire felt reluctant to watch any trailers ahead of time. Too many trailers exist online to completely avoid them, he said, but he didn't want to spoil the movie.
"I watched it, but I tried to avert my eyes," Cheshire said. "They show too much in the trailer."