‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ premiere looks backward with nostalgia — and forward with a new hope

BB-8 is surrounded by photographers at the red-carpet Hollywood premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

After many months of buildup and endless amounts of media coverage featuring countless “Star Wars” references, the long-awaited premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was held Monday night — and Hollywood showed up in force (sorry, you knew it was coming).

On-screen and off, it was a night of nostalgia, looking back with reverence to the much-loved original “Star Wars” trilogy, and of looking forward, as the franchise shifts to a new generation. Despite tight security, a few long lines and cold, blustery weather, the mood was as festive as you’d expect for the first “Star Wars” movie to hit theaters in 10 years.

The audience broke into applause at the opening blast of John Williams’ theme music and at each successive appearance of a classic “Star Wars” character, including Han Solo, Princess (now General) Leia, Chewbacca and R2-D2. But by the end of the night, as overwhelmingly positive reactions began spreading on social media, many were talking of the strength of the younger cast members, led by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, who will carry the series into the future.


FULL COVERAGE: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

The Walt Disney Co. pulled out all the stops for the event, closing down four blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and screening the movie in not one but three theaters: the El Capitan, the Dolby Theatre and the TCL Chinese Theatre. As befitting arguably the biggest franchise in film history, this was a premiere on steroids.

Fans turned out in droves to catch a glimpse of boldface names from the film and television industries and beyond, including Pixar chief John Lasseter, music producer Quincy Jones, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and director Ava DuVernay. A few showed their love for “Star Wars” by coming in costume: Joseph Gordon-Levitt dressed as Yoda, complete with a painted green face, and Rainn Wilson wore Jedi robes. As a goodwill gesture, a number of fans who have already spent days waiting in line in front of the Chinese Theatre to see the film when it opens were also invited into the premiere.

Robert Iger, Disney’s chairman and chief exec, took the stage at the Dolby before the film began and warmly acknowledged the franchise’s creator, George Lucas, who was seated in the audience beside longtime friend Steven Spielberg. The spotlight shone on Lucas for a moment, and though he didn’t speak, he received a rousing standing ovation from the crowd.

Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy spoke of the sense of fate and destiny that has always lain beneath the “Star Wars” franchise, noting that “The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams had been hired at age 16 to restore some of Spielberg’s long-lost childhood Super 8 films — only to have Spielberg decades later lobby for him to be hired to direct the seventh “Star Wars” film.

“Is it the Force?” Kennedy said. “I think so.... Tonight may the Force be with us all.”

Abrams wryly thanked Disney for putting on “this incredibly low-key premiere” and expressed his gratitude to Kennedy “for meeting filmmakers who rejected this opportunity so I could direct a ‘Star Wars’ movie.” The director then brought out his cast, along with Williams, co-writer Lawrence Kasdan and others.


After the screening ended, the audience spilled out into the tent that lined Hollywood Boulevard for an after-party, where kids — and adults — could build BB-8 toys, play “Star Wars” video games and chow down on “Star Wars”-themed desserts.

With the film’s Friday release (and Thursday night early screenings) so close, Disney will ride the wave of enthusiastic early reactions — and hope that no spoilers leak out. (Yes, there are a few big surprises.) Having kept the movie’s secrets under tight wraps with such care throughout its rollout, the studio hardly wants what Abrams likes to call his “mystery box” to be opened too soon.

Meanwhile, millions of fans around the world eagerly wait for their own chance to return to the galaxy far, far away.

Twitter: @joshrottenberg


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