LOS ANGELES » The premiere of "Furious 7" turned into more of a family affair than a lavish Hollywood event, with thousands of fans turning up Wednesday to see Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris and other favorite stars from the 14-year-old franchise.
Fan loyalty and cast bonds deepened when Paul Walker was killed in a car accident in late 2013. The actor’s death occurred midway through production on "Furious 7." Though Walker appears in the new film, some of his scenes were completed with the aid of special effects. His brothers Cody and Caleb also acted as stand-ins.
The hoards of fans against the barricaded area said they had gotten there as early as noon, opting to skip the film’s pre-concert event across the street to get a better view of the carpet.
Others who had arrived a little later resorted to climbing on the stairs of the "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" building to see over the masses in the front. Some preferred an aerial view from atop the Hollywood & Highland Center.
Almost all fans had mementos from the films, including posters of the late Walker and model cars.
"Oh, my God, Ludacris!" one fan screamed.
"Please sign my poster!" yelled another.
Diesel approached fans across the street to sign some autographs and take selfies as screams from the crowd echoed across the street.
Instead of a red carpet, celebrities walked down a black carpet resembling a race path. Their interviews were broadcast on a large screen overlooking Hollywood Boulevard.
A DJ played songs from the soundtrack on a stage set up toward the end of the carpet, with scantily clad go-go dancers, sporting gold glitter, replicating a party scene from the film. The car Diesel drives in the film was parked outside of the theater on a revolving circular platform, with another dancer in front of it.
Inside the theater, producer Neal Moritz, who has stayed with the franchise since the beginning, took the opportunity to remember and honorWalker’s memory and thank everyone involved with the franchise.
"We know Paul is smiling down on all of us right now," Moritz said. "We love you dearly, Paul. And you will always be part of all of us."
He then introduced Diesel, who bobbed down the stairs in the middle of the theater to grab the microphone. After a brief pause and a sigh, Diesel said to the audience: "I’m going to tell you something: Last year it was really hard to come back to work."
But seeing his fellow cast and crew members "willing to come back" and "showing up committed," helped.
"This movie is more than a movie," he said. "You’ll feel it when you see it. There’s something emotional that happens to you where you walk out of this movie and you appreciate everyone you love. Because you never know the last day when you are going to see them."
Diesel was right: Moviegoers were emotional. They applauded when Walker first appeared on screen and again at the end after a "for Paul" dedication flashed before the credits. Some even sniffled.
In the theater lobby after, attendees exchanged thoughts on how it wrapped.
"They did a great job," said one.
"It was an appropriate send-off," echoed another.
Moviegoers were in more high spirits at the after-party, held at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Tropicana Bar by the pool.
Guests devoured Middle Eastern food — basmati rice, meat and veggie skewers, cucumber and feta salad — as well as hamburgers, hot dogs and bite-sized desserts.
Ludacris, Diesel and other cast members posed for photos with family and friends as guests mingled by the open bar.
By midnight, most fans had left the premiere’s vicinity. But some fervent "Furious" fans lingered by the hotel, hoping to get an autograph or selfie.