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Hollywood has seen plenty of big premieres over the years, with Marvel superheroes, A-list stars and glamorous afterparties taking over the iconic Hollywood Boulevard. But none compares to the massive premiere held for Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Monday night.
Disney and Lucasfilm hosted the premiere for J.J. Abrams’ return to a galaxy far, far away in all three theaters on Hollywood Blvd.: The Dolby Theatre (where the Oscars are held), the TCL Chinese Theatre and El Capitan Theatre. In total, more than 5,000 guests attended the star-studded event in the three theaters.
A long white tent took over Hollywood Blvd. and hosted both the red carpet before the screening and the massive party after the screening.
All of the stars attended and walked the over 1,500-foot-long red carpet, including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o and Domhnall Gleeson along with original trilogy stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.
Before the premiere, guests walked along the tent, which stretched from Orange Drive to Highland Avenue, taking in a slew of Star Wars decorations, from Storm Troopers to Lego designs of main characters like Rey and Kylo Ren.
Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger took the stage first to speak to the crowd in the Dolby Theatre. His first act was to thank George Lucas, who was seated in the audience next to his good friend Steven Spielberg.
“None of this would be possible without the sheer genius … of George Lucas,” said Iger, which brought the thousands-strong audience to its feet to salute Lucas.
Iger recalled how seeing the first movie when he was a youngster had an impact on him. “The movie changed me forever,” he said. “I stand here tonight humbled and incredibly grateful,” he added of the opportunity to work on the relaunch of the franchise.
Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy joined Iger and Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn onstage and started her comments off with a thought many people in the audience had as well: “Oh my God, I can’t believe we’re here.”
“The Star Wars saga is about seemingly endless chance encounters,” said Kennedy, before going on to detail the events going back decades that have connected her and other key players of the Star Wars movies.
She mentioned how her stepfather in Northern California was the one who pulled Lucas out of the wreckage when the Star Wars creator had his infamous car crash as a teen. It was chance that brought her to work with Lucas and Spielberg years later. It was happenstance that Spielberg’s lost Super 8 movies were found and that she hired two boys to restore them, and that one of those boys was a young J.J. Abrams.
“And when George offered me one of the greatest jobs in show business, only one person seemed perfect to direct,” she said. “Destiny, fate, was every one of these events moving toward this? Was it the Force? I think so.”
She then brought Abrams onstage, who first thanked Lucas and his longtime mentor Spielberg. “It is an honor to be here with you at this incredibly low-key premiere,” he said to laughs.
Then he spoke directly to Spielberg: “I owed you everything already before you lobbied for me to get this movie,” he said. “Dude, I’m tapped out.”
Abrams then thanked much of the crew before bringing the stars onstage. Fisher, Hamill and Ford all received standing ovations.
After the screening, the afterparty was held in the same sprawling tent on Hollywood Boulevard. Before heading into the theater, all guests were required to check in their cell phones to avoid any piracy issues, which led to long lines while exiting the theaters.
Celebrity guests included directors Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, Colin Trevorrow, Edgar Wright, Jon Favreau and Roland Emmerich. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who will helm the Han Solo stand-alone film, were also in attendance, seeing the film for the first time.
Abrams was swarmed after the screening and couldn’t walk two feet without enthusiastic audience members asking for autographs and photos. He obliged every one, while his handlers patiently watched. He was as sought-after as the movie’s stars, although he pooh-poohed the idea.
“I think the actors have it far worse than anyone behind the camera,” Abrams told THR, adding that fans are key to the Star Wars universe. “I feel nothing but blessed to be part of it.”
Abrams also described a sense that the pressure on him was lifting now that the movie’s release is imminent: “I feel more relief now that the movie is being seen. The worst part was the anticipation.”
Also seeing it for the first time with an audience were many of the stars, including Boyega, who called it “very surreal.” The actor, who stars as a Stormtrooper caught up on an epic adventure, was seen at the party talking to some of his many young fans, while also chatting with Iger, Chadwick Boseman and Greg Grunberg, who is also in The Force Awakens.
While the party was mainly Star Wars fans sharing their initial reactions to the film, there was a brief commotion when one partygoer was detained by security and forcibly escorted out of the VIP area with his hands pegged behind his back.
Also spotted at the premiere were Matthew McConaughey and his family, Josh Gad (chatting with Walt Disney Animation and Pixar’s John Lasseter), Zach Braff, Jason Bateman, Jaime King, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michael Bay and Brian Grazer, among others. Joseph Gordon-Levitt attended the premiere dressed as Yoda, complete with ears and green face paint, while Rainn Wilson also showed up in costume. Other guests included Rob Lowe, Patton Oswalt, Ben Schwartz, Gina Rodriguez, Seth Green, Geena Davis, Sofia Vergara and Elizabeth Banks.
Quincy Jones was seen chatting with Ford for a long time, Ford kneeling down to speak with the 82-year-old music producer, who made his way through the crowded event in a wheelchair. “It’s so great to see you,” Ford said.
Favreau, chatting with Chris Hardwick during the party, was overheard saying “I’m a bit overwhelmed” when asked for his reaction to the film.
Hardwick responded: “I know, my brain just melted.”
The Force Awakens opens wide on Friday.
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