THE release of the latest film in the Star Wars saga has seen film fans flocking to cinemas in record numbers.

Both Odeon, in Southend, and Empire, in Basildon, held midnight screenings for eager fans wanting to watch Star Wars: A Force Awakens at the earliest possible opportunity.

But south Essex has always had a fascination with George Lucas’s space franchise, as these pictures from the Seventies and Eighties prove.

In 1978, shoppers in Southend town centre were puzzled by the sight of Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper sidekick wandering the streets and even taking a call in a public phone box.

Hidden underneath the uniforms were two members of cinema staff, promoting the fact the first movie in the saga,ANew Hope, was being screened.

Projectionist Peter Beer, 19, of North Street, Great Wakering, said taking on the role of Darth Vader was thirsty work.

He added: “It’s somewhat hot under all this gear. If only my mum could see me now.”

The success of the original Star Wars trilogy meant Darth Vader was a regular visitor to the seafront, as he returned to Southend to promote the films throughout the early Eighties.

And the popularity of the films was the same as it is today – as a huge queue outside the Odeon for a triple screening of the trilogy more than 30 years ago proves.