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Thursday, July 1, 1999 Published at 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK


Star Wars fakes seized

Midnight - and tickets go on sale in London

Police and trading standards officers in London have seized their first pirate copies of the new Star Wars film - as the first tickets for The Phantom Menace's UK release go on sale to fans.

Havering Council in east London said it had joined police to confiscate a number of copies in a raid in Romford.

The raid also seized computer equipment such as monitors and CD writers - used to copy discs - and hundreds of computer games. The haul is valued at around £250,000.

The seizure comes amid fears that illegal copies of The Phantom Menace are flooding into the UK from the Far East, where they are reportedly selling for around £1.

[ image: Over 100,000 tickets have been sold for the film]
Over 100,000 tickets have been sold for the film
Havering Council leader Cllr Ray Harris said: "Potentially this operation could have deprived legitimate business from valuable income and could have made the people behind this operation significant sums of money."

Meanwhile, more than 100,000 tickets for the new film have already been sold as sci-fi fans stayed up all night to book tickets for The Phantom Menace.

Cinemas reported "unprecedented" demand from Star Wars fans, in person and by phone, to see the film which makes its debut in the early hours of 15 July.

Tickets went on sale just after midnight on Thursday - and the film now looks certain to smash British box office records.

Screens around the country are aiming to run round-the-clock, back-to-back showings to cope with the interest.

The BBC's Cary Johnston reports from London's West End
The UCI chain, which will screen the film at 35 sites around Britain, said that 11,500 tickets were sold within 30 minutes of going on sale.

Some fans were reported to have bought blocks of 50 tickets at a time as whole days completely sold out.

Janet Smith, UCI's head of marketing, said: "All our cinemas have been anticipating massive demand for this huge film but the response has been unprecedented."

Massive queues were reported at UCI cinema complexes in Dudley, Poole and Swansea, with fans of the sci-fi trilogy lining up from midday on Wednesday.

[ image: Waiting in line in London]
Waiting in line in London
The chain had to take on 1,000 extra staff to cope with nationwide demand.

In London, 1,000 people queued on Wednesday night outside the Odeon in Leicester Square - the site of the British premiere of the first Star Wars film in 1977.

"There has been a phenomenal demand, I'm sure it's going to break all the records," said a spokesman for Odeon Cinemas.

The chain has had to take on extra phone operators to deal with fans swamping the lines.

When the blockbuster was released in the US last month, many fans camped out for weeks to pick up advance tickets.

The Phantom Menace, which looks at the early years of characters who went on to become household names in the Star Wars trilogy, has already smashed previous box office records in the US and is expected to become the biggest selling movie of all time.

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