(Adds fan comments)
LOS ANGELES, Dec 20 (Reuters) - The highly anticipated movie "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" collected $40 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales on its opening night, the fifth-highest debut of all time, Walt Disney Co said on Friday.
Longtime fans of the celebrated science-fiction franchise packed theaters Thursday evening for the ninth installment in the story of a fabled Jedi warrior in a galaxy far, far away.
In international markets, "Rise of Skywalker" brought in an additional $59.1 million, Disney said.
The debut in the United States and Canada, the world's latest film market, came in lower than the last two "Star Wars" films. "The Force Awakens," released in 2015, hauled in $57 million on its first night in theaters, and 2017 installment "The Last Jedi" took in $45 million.
The movie directed by J.J. Abrams is billed as the final episode in a 42-year-old film saga begun by George Lucas in 1977 and centered around a young hero named Luke Skywalker. The latest episode stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac as a trio taking up the fight against the evil First Order.
While "Rise of Skywalker" has divided critics, Disney said fans have embraced it. Eighty-six percent of ticket buyers surveyed by website Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a positive score, Disney said.
At a theater in Hollywood, costumed fans turned out for a 24-hour marathon of all nine films.
"I started this when I was five, the adventure," moviegoer Mark Masaoay said. "And 42 years later here we are. It's been an amazing journey and just to be here with all the like-minded people, the fans, it just makes it all the more worthwhile."
By Sunday, "Rise of Skywalker" is expected to rank among the biggest openings of all time. "Force Awakens" went on to generate $248 million in ticket sales over its first weekend, while the "Last Jedi" took in $220 million.
The record for a Thursday night opening belongs to Disney's April release, "Avengers: Endgame," which pulled in $60 million in its debut on its way to $357 million for the weekend, also a record. (Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Rollo Ross; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang)