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Star Wars fever grips Hollywood with Rise of Skywalker premiere

A galaxy of VIPs turns up for glittering occasion; Disney's all-conquering publicity machine ramps up hype on an intergalactic scale

Fans in Star Wars costumes attending the world premiere of Disney's Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California on Dec 16.

Veterans Harrison Ford (above) and Mark Hamill arrived to bid farewell to the movies that launched their careers in style.

Los Angeles

THE final film in the epic Star Wars trilogy of trilogies brought Hollywood to a standstill on Monday (Tuesday morning, Singapore time), as a galaxy of VIPs from the space saga that began four decades ago descended on a glittering world premiere.

Veterans Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) arrived to bid farewell to the movies that launched their careers in style at a futuristic hangar filled with life-size X-wing star-fighters in Los Angeles.

They were joined by a who's who of Hollywood, with special guests from Steven Spielberg to Spike Lee.

"Tonight, looking at this whole mise-en-scene is quite bewildering," Anthony Daniels, who has played droid C-3PO in every main Star Wars film, told AFP.

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"In fact, it's such a big experience that I'm not sure I can quite cope with it. But I do feel proud to be here and proud to be part of it."

The Rise of Skywalker officially concludes the so-called "Skywalker saga" of films begun by George Lucas in 1977 - a fact Disney's all-conquering publicity machine has used to ramp up hype on an intergalactic scale.

Analysts predict a stellar US$200 million to US$225 million at the North American box offices this weekend, which would put the film among the biggest openings in movie history.

Disney chief Bob Iger said that fans would get "some kind of closure, some sense of satisfaction" for their favourite characters. "Star Wars is probably the most important, most valuable mythology of our time, of the modern time," he said. "If you just consider the global base of fans that have worshipped this storytelling since 1977, over 40 years... tonight being a culmination of nine films is an incredibly important night."

Heading the glitzy premiere were the new film's young stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac.

Plot details have been kept tightly under wraps. But director JJ Abrams has said the trio's characters - Rey, Finn and Poe - will be reunited on-screen, after scattering for 2017's The Last Jedi, which divided fans.

The film is set one year after its predecessor, and at 141 minutes will be slightly shorter.

Abrams returns after his first outing, 2015's The Force Awakens, broke the all-time North American box office record, making him the only person other than Lucas trusted to helm multiple Star Wars installments.

But his presence has stoked controversy - Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow was initially lined up but was fired for failing to satisfy Lucasfilm bosses with his script.

Abrams had to cope with the death of Carrie Fisher, whose iconic Princess Leia was set for a central role in the finale. Leia will instead appear using unused, re-cut footage from Abrams' last film.

Meanwhile, Disney has whetted fans' appetites further by releasing new clips and trailers at the weekend.

In one, a returning Emperor Palpatine's voice declares: "This will be the final word in the story of Skywalker," while Star Destroyers and red Stormtroopers battle X-wings and Resistance fighters.

A second saw the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) growl: "I know who you are. I know the rest of your story," sending fans abuzz over the long-standing mystery about heroine Rey's parents.

These are familiar tropes to Star Wars aficionados - but it may be the last time they are seen for years.

Rise of Skywalker is the franchise's fifth film in five years, and Disney has promised to apply the brakes to avoid fatigue. The company's release schedule has untitled Star Wars films listed for 2022, 2024 and 2026.

"We're in no rush. We know that fans will want another film, or another few films, and we'll make them," said Mr Iger.

Until then, fans can make do with Disney+ television series The Mandalorian, and two further series featuring Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and the stars of hit spin-off movie Rogue One (2016).

"The beauty of all this is that we stand in front of a blank canvas, and we paint and we paint and we paint," added Mr Iger. "And when the picture looks good, we'll show it to the world." AFP

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