LOS ANGELES: Stormtroopers, droids and celebrities from galaxies near and far hit the red carpet in the shadow of a giant AT-AT assault vehicle Saturday at the glittering world premiere of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" -- although one star almost didn't make it.
John Boyega, who plays the heroic stormtrooper-turned-rebel Finn, had tweeted that he feared missing the big event because a snowstorm had gridlocked air travel out of Atlanta.
"Trying to get back for the LA premiere! I actually NEED a pilot !!!" he lamented, before turning up in the nick of time for the big screening in downtown LA after managing to catch a flight.
"It's thanks to Poe Dameron, the best pilot in the galaxy!" he joked on the red carpet, referring to the rebel pilot who aided his escape in the previous film.
He was joined on the red carpet by the rest of the all-star cast, including Daisy Ridley (Rey in the space saga) who arrived wearing a suitably shimmering dress decorated in stars.
Hotter than one of Yoda's root leaf curries, the "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" is expected to cash in on 12 months of relentless hype with one of the biggest domestic opening weekends ever.
Thousands of guests lucky enough to get tickets were the first moviegoers in the world outside of the production to see the eighth installment of the blockbuster space saga.
Director Rian Johnson introduced the movie by bringing onstage the cast, and paid an emotional tribute to the late Carrie Fisher, the iconic General Leia Organa in the series, who died last December.
Moviegoers clapped throughout as she appeared onscreen, and rose for a standing ovation as the credits rolled.
Rapturous initial reactions
Lucasfilm has embargoed detailed reviews until 9:00 am Los Angeles time (1700 GMT) on Tuesday, but fans were quick to flood social media with rapturous initial reactions to the movie, the longest in the series at 153 minutes.
"There aren’t enough words to express how much I LOVED 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It is mind-blowing! I'm in geek heaven!" tweeted Jenna Busch, a writer for fansite LegionofLeia.com.
"'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' is so very different, exciting, surprising. So many emotions, so many amazing moments. Stay away from spoilers," added Peter Sciretta of entertainment portal slashfilm.com.
The premiere came six days before the movie's general release in US theaters, kicking off a run widely expected to be the most successful worldwide since 2015's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
Experts are predicting an opening weekend domestic box office of around $220 million, which would push it beyond "Jurassic World" (2015) into second place behind "Awakens" ($248 million).
The cast came together in LA with director Rian Johnson on Sunday to build buzz for "The Last Jedi," which sees the return of the characters introduced in J.J. Abrams's first entry in the rebooted trilogy.
Gwendoline Christie, who plays stormtrooper commander Captain Phasma, put the continued relevance of "Star Wars" down to its foundational mythology of good versus evil.
"I think it's because the world we live in is a changing and evolving place that it retains the simplicity of those elements," she said.
"But it really resonates with what it is to follow your own human, dark, narcissistic tendencies, where that will take you."
Christie was joined at the Sunday event by returning stars Ridley, Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domnhall Gleeson and Luke Skywalker himself -- Mark Hamill.
There were new faces too: Kelly Marie Tran as Resistance maintenance worker Rose Tico and Laura Dern, who plays Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo.
"The Last Jedi" -- filmed on the west coast of Ireland and at Pinewood Studios near London -- marks the last appearance of Fisher, who died after already having wrapped her scenes.
Written by Johnson, "The Last Jedi" picks up directly where "The Force Awakens" left off, with Rey looking to Luke to teach her about The Force.
It presages adverse times for the Resistance -- prompting comparisons with the middle chapter of the original trilogy, "The Empire Strikes Back."
Like Fisher and Hamill, Harrison Ford was a "Star Wars" mainstay as loveable rogue Han Solo -- but the character is missing from the latest chapter, having been killed off.
"There hasn't been a 'Star Wars' movie yet that has explored war the way 'The Last Jedi' has," said Boyega.
"It's very messy. The categorizing of good and evil is all mixed together."
"It's a dire situation, it's critical. The Resistance is on its last legs," added Isaac.
"When you're trying to survive, the First Order's right on top of us, it is like war, where you've got to keep moving to try to survive. You feel the momentum of everything that happened in 'The Force Awakens' just pushing to a critical mass."