11:41am PT by Ryan Parker, Aaron Couch
'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Premiere Was a Night of Emotional Reunions
The Star Wars family was back together again Saturday for the premiere of The Last Jedi.
Writer-director Rian Johnson and his team unveiled the film for the first public screening, which received positive reactions at USC's Shrine Auditorium, likely a big relief for Johnson. The filmmaker noted he felt immense pressure when stepping into the Star Wars universe, not only as a fan but also following the massive success of 2015's The Force Awakens.
"It's the middle chapter. We have to really challenge the characters, so it is going to go to some intense places, but it was really important for me that it still felt like a Star Wars movie. That means it feels fun," Johnson told The Hollywood Reporter. "I hope fans are going to be pleasantly surprised by how fun and funny this movie is. I really tried to keep the tone in that place where it can go back and forth nimbly between getting heavy and being just a blast."
The success of Force Awakens propelled actress Daisy Ridley to A-list status, and saw her character Rey become an icon for young female fans. Ridley acknowledged it feels great to see Rey toys sell out in stores across the country, but said she credits the writers for creating her character.
"Everything is down to Michael [Arndt], J.J. [Abrams] and Larry [Kasdan], and obviously [Lucasflm president] Kathleen [Kennedy] and the story team at Lucasfilm," said Ridley. "And Rian sort of continued that, so I can't take credit for that. I'm just very happy to be the face. It feels awesome. Everybody is very kind and I hope will continue to enjoy it."
Andy Serkis, who plays the villainous Supreme Leader Snoke, noted that his character is badder than ever after suffering setbacks in The Force Awakens, which saw his Starkiller Base destroyed.
"I was thrilled when I saw where Snoke is going in this, because he goes to some really horrible places," said the actor. "He is a leader that has been under attack and is therefore much more vengeful. There is an element of fear, and fear makes for bad decision-making and he senses this feminine force that's out there in the universe … and that is terrifying to him."
Warwick Davis, one of the longest-serving members of the Star Wars family, noted that he'd been thinking about Carrie Fisher as he arrived at the premiere. The beloved actress, who played Leia, died last December.
"She'd be here just loving the fans and loving all of you guys, the press and just having a ball, as she always did," said Davis, who first worked with Fisher on 1983's Return of the Jedi and has enjoyed roles in multiple Star Wars films. "I just miss her. Having interviewed her in the past many times, she's just so funny and brilliant and loved Star Wars deeply. It's really sad, but it will be very poignant when you see her in the film again."
Other stars on hand included Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong'o and breakout star Kelly Marie Tran, who embraced producer Ram Bergman for an emotional hug on the red carpet, thanking him for giving her a chance to join the Star Wars galaxy.
The screening featured laughs and sustained periods of applause as the audience cheered on familiar faces, in particular Hamill's return as Luke Skywalker. After the film, which was dedicated to the memory of Fisher, the crowd celebrated with an afterparty that included a number of poignant moments.
The cast mingled in a large, roped-off VIP section, where at one point, original Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew (who retired from the role following The Force Awakens) and Hamill had an extended conversation. Mayhew later spent time chatting with new Chewbacca actor Joonas Suotamo.
Driver was all smiles as he helped a young guest pose for photos with a group of Stormtroopers, while Johnson received well-wisher after well-wisher, shaking hands and posing for photos. Gleeson held court at his reserved table, while Tran wandered the floor speaking with guests.
Other notables who came out for the screening included Jon Favreau, Edgar Wright, Ava DuVernay, Robert Kirkman, Adam F. Goldberg, Shawn Levy, David Goyer, Chadwick Boseman, Zach Braff, Donald Faison and Rob Liefeld.
The Last Jedi opens Friday.