Director J.J. Abrams’ widely-anticipated “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” screened for the first time Monday night and the initial responses were, to the relief of fans, overwhelmingly positive.
Actress Geena Davis let out a whoop from her seat in the second row of the Dolby Theater balcony, as soon as the film ended, “I loved everything about it,” she said. “Especially Rey,” referring to newcomer Daisy Ridley.
Young stars John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver also received cheers from the audience at the Hollywood and Highland complex, where Lucasfilm’s seventh “Star Wars” pic screened simultaneously in three different theaters, but the night’s biggest reactions came for the filmmakers and stars of the original “Star Wars” films. A large roar went out for Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill, who were all on hand for the massive world premiere.
Twitter quickly flooded with thumbs-ups from actors and journalists alike after they got their phones back from security.
“It was epic, awesome and perfect,” added Rainn Wilson.
Brett Morgan, director of Kurt Cobain documentary “Montage of Heck,” called it “the best blockbuster since the original.”
Among the Hollywood onlookers in attendance were Spike Lee, Matthew McConaughey, L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who dressed in full costume as Yoda.
The festivities finally began in earnest at 7:09 p.m. when Disney CEO Robert Iger took the stage. He remembered seeing “Star Wars”for the first time on a summer day 38 years ago. “None of this would have been possible without the sheer genius, the guts, the talent, the vision of one person… George Lucas.”
Lucas, who was sitting beside Steven Spielberg, then stood to an immense ovation from the Dolby crowd.
Iger also thanked director J.J. Abrams, who, he said “delivered a film that exceeded even our loftiest dreams and expectations.”
Following Iger and Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy, Abrams was the last to address the crowd at the Dolby. “It’s an honor to be with you all at this incredibly low-key event here,” he quipped. “My apologies to the neighborhood. ”
The director also thanked his parents, including his father, who was in attendance. “Thank you for taking me to see ‘Star Wars’ when I was 10. That was a very good decision,” he said. The director then introduced composer Williams, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and the stars of the film. The last pair to leave the stage before the screening was R2-D2 and his new droid companion BB-8.
Disney triple-sized the premiere by closing and tenting Hollywood Boulevard and reserving three theaters, instead of just one, to accommodate guests for the world premiere. Those lucky enough to nab a ticket began arriving early and could claim their passes starting at 5 p.m. for the 6:30 p.m. showings at the TCL Chinese, El Capitan and Dolby theaters.
The Los Angeles Police Department sent 50 officers to oversee the event, a deployment as large as for the Academy Awards.
Disney staged a party immediately following the screening under the giant tent, where fans outside the Dolby Theater were invited to take part in the festivities.
Details of the premiere had been largely kept under tight wraps, as had been details of the seventh episode in the “Star Wars” saga.
Fans got the pre-screening festivities started early. Some had been gathering around the forecourt of the Chinese Theater for more than a week. A few made Jedi robes, while others dressed as storm troopers. Fans came from all over the world, including a couple from Australia that planned a “Star Wars”-themed wedding just hours before the premiere. Caroline Ritter and Andrew Porters were to wed in front of a Storm Trooper honor guard in the Chinese Theater forecourt, with a Darth Vader character walking the bride to the altar.
The debut came with enormous expectations that have been mounting ever since Disney acquired Lucasfilm from founder George Lucas in October, 2012. The $4 billion cash-and-stock deal made Lucas the second-largest non-institutional shareholder in the entertainment conglomerate. Some analysts initially expressed skepticism about the acquisition, suggesting Disney CEO Robert Iger paid too much.
But leading into Friday’s public debut, forecasters projected that “The Force Awakens” had a shot at not only topping all previous “Star Wars” episodes but perhaps besting “Avatar,” the James Cameron animated fantasy whose $2.8 billion box office take stands as the all-time record. And judging by the crowd’s reaction on Monday night, the force had indeed been awakened.