As far as Hollywood premieres go, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a pretty spectacular one. At least I think so—it was my first film premiere. While I can’t say anything about the movie itself—I signed over that right, along with access to my mobile phone, when I attended Monday’s screening—I can share my thoughts about the experience.
First of all, for those five people in the world who don’t know, the movie—Episode VII in the space saga—doesn’t officially launch until December 18. But early this week, the film was shown across three Hollywood theaters at the film’s star-studded “worldwide premiere.” The Walt Disney Co. (DIS), owner of Star Wars maker Lucasfilm, closed off a four-block stretch of Hollywood Boulevard for the event. Frenzied fans—some of whom camped out for days and even got married while waiting for the premiere—lined up despite the cold weather. (Yes, under 50 degrees Fahrenheit is considered freezing in Los Angeles.)
The action began well before the 7 p.m. start time of the movie, as actors from The Force Awakens filled the 1,500-foot-long red carpet. The entire cast was there, from newcomers Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn) to old-timers Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. So was Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm and producer of the new movie, along with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and many other Hollywood luminaries.
Who was I wearing, you might be asking? Unfortunately I wasn’t invited to walk the red carpet, though I did pass through several metal detectors and take some selfies. (And for what it’s worth I wore a tank top featuring an ominous-looking Darth Vader made by sci-fi fan girl fashion line Her Universe.)
Once in the theaters, premiere-goers were treated to buckets of popcorn emblazoned with pictures of The Force Awakens characters and the film’s logo. They were also asked to relinquish their mobile phones. (No recording devices of any kind were allowed in the theater, and all movie reviews are embargoed until Wednesday.) On the mezzanine level of the Dolby Theatre, the excitement was palpable. And very, very loud. Because I did not have my phone, I spent most of my time people-watching and eating my tub of popcorn.
It sounds ridiculous, but the wait was almost as much fun as the movie itself. It also gave me newfound appreciation for movie theaters, which have been in decline for years. Why? Because the power of the shared, live experience—being in a roomful of fans waiting to see the latest episode of one of the most successful franchises in movie history—is not easily replicated in a living room. The anticipation of the audience, the cheering and laughter and “oohs” and “aahs” are all part of the unique theatre experience. So is getting popcorn on the floor and not caring.
Of course, the fact that Disney CEO Bob Iger kicked off the movie also made it a unique experience. He thanked Lucas for creating Star Wars and told the audience how he watched the first film as a young boy. “The movie changed me forever,” Iger said. “I stand here tonight humbled and incredibly grateful.”
Kennedy, director J.J. Abrams, and the cast and others involved with the film (including composer John Williams!) joined Iger on stage. Even droids R2-D2 and BB-8 were there. And then… the lights went out, the music started, and the crowd went wild.
After the movie, I somehow found myself asking actress Geena Davis for directions to the cell phone pickup line and spotting Cuba Gooding Jr. in the parking lot elevator. (I’m guessing this is normal for Hollywood premieres but like I said, it was my first.) It was a memorable evening, but not just because of the star-watching and the complimentary tub of popcorn. And not even because of the film, of which you will be seeing lots of reviews later this week. It was because of the whole experience.
Even standing in line in the “freezing” cold.
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