The latest – and many ecstatic fans are saying the best – dispatch from a galaxy far, far away has opened with a poignant tribute to its lost princess Carrie Fisher, who died last year soon after finishing filming her final appearance as Leia.
Speaking in LA, Rian Johnson, the writer and director of the film, said: “Let’s all have a blast tonight for Carrie.” He was introducing the world premiere of the latest outing for one of the most successful movie franchises.
Star Wars: the Last Jedi, predicted to be the box office smash of the Christmas period, ends with a dedication to Fisher, who created the role of Princess Leia in 1977. “She has no friends, no family, her planet was blown up in seconds, along with her hairdresser,” Fisher once said of Leia’s distinctive hairstyle.
She died of a heart attack in December 2016, having finished all the filming and most of the sound recording for The Last Jedi, in which her character has a central role.
Johnson said: “I want to dedicate tonight to Carrie, who is up there right now flipping me the bird, saying ‘Damn it Rian, don’t you dare make this night a solemn tribute’.”
Celebrity guests and actors in the film walked into the Shrine Auditorium past a guard of stormtroopers and droids, and giant models of assault vehicles and transporters.
The British actor John Boyega, who plays the stormtrooper-turned-resistance-fighter Finn for the second time, reached LA with moments to spare after several cast members and Johnson and the director tweeted their anxiety about his being snowed in at Atlanta, where hundreds of flights were cancelled.
When Boyega tweeted that no planes were leaving the city, Johnson responded: “Hahahaha oh my god GET HERE JOHN!”
The snow turned to rain just in time, and Boyega made his flight.
Laura Dern, who plays the vice-admiral Amilyn Holdo, admitted being starstruck and overawed to meet the real R2-D2 when she first joined the cast, saying: “It’s like being seven years old again. We are all the age we were when when we first saw Star Wars.”
The film is the second in a new trilogy of Star Wars films, following The Force Awakens in 2015, which introduced a new cast of younger actors including Boyega. The Last Jedi features for the first time the Porgs, wide-eyed, puffin-like creatures certain to be among the most heavily merchandised characters from the film.
The Last Jedi opens in cinemas next week and is predicted to take more than $200m (£149m) over its opening weekend in the US.