By Ricardo Lopez
The Force took over the Shrine Auditorium near downtown Los Angeles, as stars and filmmakers of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” came together Saturday night for the first screening of the eighth installment of the massive Lucasfilm franchise.
Giant AT-M6 walkers flanked the entrance to the red carpet, as stars like Daisey Ridley, Mark Hamill, Laura Dern, Lupita Nyong’o and others arrived and posed for pictures with fans. John Boyega had built suspense about whether he would make the premiere, tweeting earlier Saturday that bad weather had kept him from flying out of Atlanta.
“The Last Jedi” picks up where 2015’s “The Force Awakens” left off, with Rey reaching the planet on which Luke Skywalker had been holed up, away from the war waging between the First Order and The Resistance. Ridley, who plays Rey, teased on the red carpet that her character gets “enough” screen time. “I’m not going to lie, I’m proud of myself,” Ridley said. “It’s nice seeing something that you worked so hard on, that it’s tangible, that you can measure. Because I’m like, ‘I was stronger and that fight’s cool.’”
Carrie Fisher, who unexpectedly died late last year, was ever-present at Saturday’s premiere, featured prominently in film posters lining the red carpet. The iconic actress, who first portrayed Princess Leia in 1977, was able to finish filming her part as General Leia Organa before her death.
“I’d like to dedicate tonight to Carrie,” writer-director Rian Johnson said before the screening began. “Let’s have a blast for Carrie.”
Initial reaction to the film was overwhelmingly positive, giving hardcore fans plenty to chew on after an action-packed film that struck many notes.
“It’s very complex and very intimate and very emotional,” said producer Ram Bergman. “There’s a lot of movie…. It’s one of those movies, you’re going to say, I need to digest it, and I want to go see it again because there’s just a lot of it. I think the movie is dense. It’s complex, but it’s a fun ride. It truly is a Rian Johnson movie.”
Johnson, who is tapped to direct future Star Wars films, said the franchise has remained so popular and enduring because of the ability to straddle fun and drama.
“With the original trilogy and also with the prequels, it was that hero’s journey, something that everyone can relate to packaged in a fun adventure, a fun ride that just makes you come out of the theater and want to grab your spaceship toys and run around the backyard,” Johnson said. “I think it’s the combination of those two things. I’ve said it’s like the balance between opera and bubble gum. The fact that Star Wars rides that balance just right is what makes it special.
With other movies in the pipeline, Johnson said there’s no set story arc yet. “That’s what we have to figure out,” he said. “That’s what’s going to be fascinating going forward: What makes it Star Wars? What makes it feel Star Wars? What do we maintain in order to give the audience that feeling? So I don’t know. That’s to be seen.”
An elaborate after-party immediately followed the screening, with the Shrine’s Expo Hall decked out to resemble a Canto Bight casino. Storm Troopers patrolled the area, stopping to take pictures with partygoers.
Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO took pictures with guests. Sponsor Nissan showcased two vehicles outfitted to look like an X-wing fighter. Cast, crew and other studio execs partied in a cordoned-off area of the venue, streaming past other guests as they were whisked through the crowd.
The film also stars Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro.