As global anticipation builds for what is undoubtedly the cinematic event of the year, if not the decade, Star Wars: The Force Awakens had its world premiere in Los Angeles in advance of its worldwide release.
Three auditoriums at the Hollywood and Highland complex in Los Angeles – including the legendary cinema formerly known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre – were taken over for the world’s first public screening of the seventh episode of the science fiction series, originally created by George Lucas but since acquired by Disney and with JJ Abrams installed in the director’s chair.
The Force Awakens has recalled the original trilogy cast members Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, as well as introducing a host of new faces into the labyrinthine Star Wars narrative – including little-known British actors John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, established figures Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver, and screen legend Max von Sydow.
Despite a heavy security operation, which included bomb-sniffing dogs and some 50 police officers, the arrival of the principal cast members on the red carpet triggered raucous cheers from assembled fans, many of whom had arrived in costume.
True to her unconventional style, Fisher swore copiously on a live TV feed while describing her younger self to an interviewer: “She was very busy partying, partying to make sure I would look like shit later.”
Also making a splash on the red carpet were celebrity fans not involved in the film itself. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dark Knight Rises and Looper star, turned up dressed as Yoda, while The Office’s Rainn Wilson wore an Obi-Wan Kenobi costume. Lucas, who directed the first Star Wars film in 1977, as well as all three of the tepidly received but financially successful prequel trilogy – The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith – was welcomed with a standing ovation.
Although Disney insisted on a global embargo on critics’ reviews until 8am UK time today, initial reactions from the premiere audience have begun to emerge. Composed largely of Hollywood insiders and entertainment journalists, comment was bound to be positive. Wilson tweeted : “It was epic, awesome & perfect. The cast was stellar”; the actor Patton Oswalt wrote : “JJ [Abrams] did it”; and Pitch Perfect director Elizabeth Banks tweeted : “#StarWarsForceAwakens totally delivers … just #wow”.
Entertainment reporters also tweeted positively, with the LA Times’s Rebecca Keegan suggesting : “Story, characters, design, humor – #StarWars fans, this is the movie you’re looking for”, as well as noting that the film appeared to pass the Bechdel test for female-friendly content. Some, however, were qualified in their praise, with Mashable’s Josh Lincoln Dickey tweeting it rated “#3 in the series” and Collider’s Steven Weintraub saying Force Awakens was “the best STAR WARS since 1983 … maybe 1980”.
However, the veteran awards watcher Scott Feinberg, of the Hollywood Reporter, went as far to assert that the Force Awakens could enjoy multiple Oscar nominations in major categories, something that has largely eluded the saga in the face of the genre-averse tastes of the American Academy.
Anticipation for The Force Awakens remains huge, with pre-release ticket sales reaching record levels.
In the UK, the Odeon chain, Britain’s largest, has reported selling more than 500,000 tickets as it prepares to screen the film around the clock from a minute past midnight tonight, more than double the amount for Spectre, the previous record holder.
Vue, the third largest chain, says more than 355,000 advance tickets have gone. In the US current figures are not available, but industry magazines reported that over $50m in presales had been recorded – of which around a fifth were for the Imax format. Estimates suggest Star Wars presales could reach $100m by time of release.
The actual box office total for The Force Awakens is set to be huge. Jurassic World’s opening-weekend US record of $208m is a possibility and if it is to overcome the same film’s epic opening-week total of $525m worldwide, it will have to do it without the increasingly significant Chinese box office, where it is not opening until the new year. Moreover, it has been delayed a week in India, so as not to clash with a pair of Bollywood blockbusters, Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani. Box office analysts all agree the all time record – Avatar’s $2.78bn in 2009 – is certainly in danger.
The figures suggest the $4bn Disney paid for Star Wars in 2012 was money well spent . Factoring in sales of merchandise, analysts estimate the company will earn half that amount back on this film alone. Given there are plans to produce at least two more Star Wars features, and two spinoffs ( including a Han Solo “origins” film ), Disney’s investment would appear sound.
Additional reporting by Ben Child
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015