'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' premiere kicks off with cheers for Luke Skywalker's return
LOS ANGELES — Luke Skywalker is back to Star Wars in triumphant style.
Mark Hamill was the featured attraction at the world premiere for Star Wars: The Last Jedi Saturday night, the last star to be introduced to the stage of the Shrine Auditorium by writer-director Rian Johnson.
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Hamill hammed with his entrance, popping his collar in front of the wildly cheering crowd of 2,200, before swanning to his spot onstage with fellow actors Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Benicio del Toro and John Boyega.
This was even before the theater lights dropped to see Hamill performing Luke Skywalker's dramatic and full return to the beloved sci-fi franchise. Hamill briefly appeared at the end of 2015's The Force Awakens.
Formal reviews for The Last Jedi have been embargoed before the Dec.15 opening. But the film received wild applause and exclamation from audience members in key moments, including the first time the robed Skywalker appeared onscreen.
There was festive atmosphere even before the screening, as the red carpet featured a life-sized AT-M6 Walker and audience members dressed in Star Wars garb.
Droids R2-D2, C-3PO, BB-8, a legion of Stormtroopers and red-armored members of the elite Praetorian Guard all made their way down the red carpet along before the stars of the film.
The premiere had its share of unexpected drama as Boyega (Finn) barely made it to the festivities after being stranded early Saturday in Atlanta due to a snow storm which halted flights. After proclaiming, "I actually NEED a pilot!!!" on Twitter, a beaming Boyega later made his way down the carpet.
"Did he arrive, is he here?" said Johnson, scanning the carpet. "I was terrified."
The premiere featured the first time any group of more than eight has seen the highly secretive, eagerly anticipated Last Jedi. Johnson admitted the unveiling at the end of the multi-year project was daunting.
"The past 24 hours I was just really nervous, pacing around the house, really terrified," Johnson told USA TODAY. "But the second I stepped out on the red carpet, there were fans lined up, and just feeling the energy from them, suddenly all the fear went away. It was like, 'I’m going to sit down and watch a Star Wars movie with Star Wars fans.' I’m just amped."
There was poignancy to Saturday's event. The Last Jedi marks the final Star Wars film for Carrie Fisher, who died Dec. 2016 after shooting her scenes as General Leia Organa (better known as Princess Leia to Star Wars devotees).
"I do want to acknowledge and dedicate tonight to Carrie," Johnson said from the stage, looking to the sky. "I know she's up there right now flipping me the bird, saying, 'Damn it Rian, how dare you bring the mood down and make this night a solemn tribute.' So let's have a blast together for Carrie."
The Last Jedi is dedicated to Fisher with the inscription, "In loving memory of our princess, Carrie Fisher."