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Will audiences turn out in record force for ‘Star Wars’?

How far will Star Wars go?

The betting has begun on just how big Walt Disney Co.’s new space opera, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, will be when it hits theaters Dec. 18.

The film is expected to gross $175 million to more than $200 million in the United States and Canada in its opening weekend, according to people who have seen prerelease audience surveys. And many analysts say it could break the record for the biggest domestic opening ever, which was set in June by Jurassic World. That Universal Pictures sequel grossed nearly $209 million in its initial weekend.

“I would be very, very surprised if it came in below $175 million,” said Bruce Nash, president of film industry research firm Nash Information Services. “But it’s an interesting question because the really huge weekends have been during the summer. We are talking about something that is just such a huge outlier from a typical December release.”

The five largest North American debuts of all-time have occurred during the summer months. The record for the biggest December opening of all time is held by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which debuted at $84.6 million in 2012.

There are distractions competing for consumers’ attention in December, to be sure. Many people are likely to be wrapping up their holiday shopping during the weekend the Star Wars film opens. Others could be contending with inclement weather or traveling. And, fewer than 20 percent of schools are out for holiday break on the day the film premieres, said Dave Hollis, Burbank-based Disney’s head of distribution.

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