The force may already be with the new "Star Wars"

A group of analysts who got a 20-minute preview of "Star Wars" a few weeks before the film's 1977 release were impressed with what they saw, according to Hal Vogel, an independent media analyst who was there.

"Nobody really knew what 'Star Wars' was in 1977," he said in an interview with CBS MoneyWatch. "We knew that it was going to do well. We didn't know how well."

Indeed, the first installment of George Lucas' galactic soap opera has grossed more than $1.1 billion in inflation-adjusted terms, according to Box Office Mojo. Analysts expect history to repeat itself when the latest installment in the franchise, "Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens," is released in December.

Keith Simanton, the managing editor of IMDB.com, expects the film to gross $225 million during its opening weekend, breaking a record held since 2012 by "Marvel's the Avengers." He estimates it will earn $1.8 billion altogether, the biggest total in history behind "Avatar" and "Titanic." Ray Subers at BoxOfficeMojo isn't quite as bullish, expecting a $125 million to $150 million opening weekend and a total gross of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion.

"I haven't heard the buzz that I have heard for "The Force Awakens" for a very long time," Simanton said in an interview.

In an interview with CNBC yesterday, Walt Disney (DIS) CEO Bob Iger tried to temper expectations, noting that there hasn't been a "Star Wars" movie since 2005's "Star Wars: Episode II -- The Revenge of the Sith."

Writing in The New York Times, Brooks Barnes described the reaction of fans who watched the second teaser trailer featuring Han Solo and Chewbacca at the biennial "Star Wars" Celebration in Anaheim, California, as "nothing less than bone rattling." The first teaser went online in November and generated 60 million views.

Wall Street was thrilled by the reaction to the film, the first to be released since Disney acquired "Star Wars" creator George Lucas's LucasFilm for $4 billion in 2012. Disney has already felt the impact, getting a roughly $2 billion boost to its market capitalization on Thursday following the release of the "The Force Awakens" trailer at the Anaheim event.

In a recent note to clients, Nomura analyst Anthony DiClemente raised his price target on Disney stock from $110 to $120, noting the potential gains the company may reap from "The Force Awakens." The shares closed on Friday at $106.69, down $1.41 (1.3 percent) amid the end-of-week meltdown on Wall Street.

Walt Disney, whose other properties include ABC and ESPN, estimates the new file will the company to report earnings per share 6 percent to 11 percent higher than it originally expected.

"The Force Awakens" probably will appeal to a broader audience than Disney's recent megahit "Frozen," which should bode well for the film's financial performance because it will introduce a new generation of fans to the beloved franchise.

"This is likely to be one of if not our most valuable property once the movie comes out," Iger told CNBC.

Even critics are powerless to derail the growing momentum behind the movie. "It's probably critic-proof," Vogel said.

Fans are also pleased that J.J. Abrams -- the co-creator of "Lost" and who's credited with breathing new life in the "Star Trek" franchise -- is at the helm of "The Force Awakens."

"There is no better custodian than J.J. Abrams," said Paul Degarabedian, senior media analyst with Rentrak, adding that "Star Wars" is "more than a movie. It's way life for some people."

Disney has been integrating "Star Wars" into its operations since buying LucasFilm in clever ways. For instance, it now sells "Star Wars" Muppet action figures featuring Kermit the Frog as Luke Skywalker and Miss Piggy as Princess Leia. Iger told CNBC plans are in the works for multiple "Star Wars" attractions at its theme parks.

"The merchandising is huge," Vogel said. "It is something that Disney knows how to do very well."

"The Force Awakens" picks up where 1983's "Return of the Jedi" left off, and plans for five more movies are in the works.

When adjusted for ticket price inflation, Box Office Mojo estimates that the "Star Wars" franchise, including reissues, has grossed more than $4.7 billion.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.