LOS ANGELES » The next generation of “Star Wars” films kicked off with an elaborate debut for “The Force Awakens” Monday that served as a proverbial passing of the lightsaber to new groups of fighters dueling in a cinematic galaxy far, far away.
“The Force Awakens” premiere had familiar elements for a “Star Wars” event: Stormtroopers marched and droids rolled down the red carpet. Later, Carrie Fisher joked for cameras and Harrison Ford and Lupita Nyong’o reflected on the next phase of the franchise.
The world’s first screening of the seventh “Star Wars” film attracted a constellation of stars, including Spike Lee, Jon Favreau, Janelle Monae, Elizabeth Banks and Sofia Vergara. While many opted for chic red carpet attire, Joseph Gordon-Levitt showed up dressed as Jedi master Yoda.
John Williams’ soaring score played in a massive opaque tent that built on years of secrecy surrounding the film, which some expect to break box office records when it is released on Friday.
At one point, Fisher turned the microphone on her co-star, Oscar Isaac, and conducted an interview that included her dropping an expletive.
Ford reflected on the impact of the film and the role that catapulted him to superstardom.
“Well, in the ’70s nobody knew what to anticipate,” Ford said in an interview with Starwars.com. “Nobody had ever seen anything like it. Now we have to live up to what the first films delivered.”
Before the film’s human stars arrived, the droid BB-8 rolled by the cameras. The soccerball-esque droid has been a popular fixture in trailers for the seventh “Star Wars” film, and it was soon joined by series mainstays C-3PO and R2-D2.
Despite being in charge of “The Force Awakens” for the past three years, director J.J. Abrams seemed overwhelmed by the magnitude of the premiere.
“It’s very surreal. I’ve never seen this kind of thing,” he told Starwars.com. “It’s insane. I feel enormously guilty for this community, this neighborhood.”
The carpet melded classic “Star Wars” figures with the new generation that will carry the weight of two more sequels, video games, comic books, toys and other merchandise.
Abrams and Lucas posed together for photos, and both men took time to chat with fans before heading into the premiere. Original trilogy cast members Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams attended, as did series newcomers Max von Sydow, Gwendolyn Christie, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley.
Disney took over a half-mile section of Hollywood Boulevard for the premiere, where the film was screening at three theaters. Some 5,000 invited guests would see the characters Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa and Han Solo reunite for the first time on the big screen since 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.”
In bleachers set up on the boulevard, some fans dressed as X-Wing pilots while others donned outfits from new “The Force Awakens” characters.
For those without tickets to the premiere, the most they could see was the outside of the tent.
“We’re really disappointed because we are big Star Wars fans, and we were hoping to at least see a little of the celebrities,” said Natalie Arnet, a tourist from Paris.
“I understand the need for security,” Arnet said.
But for a lifelong “Star Wars” fan, it was tough being that close to the premiere and not getting a better look. “I wanted to see the old cast members because I grew up with these films,” she said.
Actors Chadwick Boseman and Sarah Hyland, and director Steven Spielberg were among the Hollywood stars who attended what could be the largest Hollywood premiere ever. One of the participating theaters — the iconic TCL Chinese — hosted the premiere of the original “Star Wars” in 1977.
Spielberg praised the “Star Wars” franchise, saying he knew when the first film was released that it would be an enduring hit. “It was a slow burn, but I knew it would never go away,” Spielberg told Starwars.com.
AP Entertainment Writer Marcela Isaza contributed to this report.