Curtain rises on first 'Star Wars' film in a decade

[LOS ANGELES] Hollywood rolls out the red carpet Monday for the premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," the first film in the epic space saga in a decade, and fans are frantic.

The star-studded screening of the most anticipated movie of the year will be followed by a global release starting Wednesday. It officially hits US theaters Friday.

"When we finished shooting it felt like 'Oh, it's so long until it comes out - and now we're here,'" Daisy Ridley, who plays the scavenger Rey, told AFP as the clock ticked down.

The 23-year-old British actress, in her first big screen role, is among the fresh faces joining the latest installment of the sci-fi smash hit that has a huge following around the globe.

Others include fellow Brit John Boyega who plays Finn, portrayed as a renegade stormtrooper in the trailer, as well as Oscar Isaac who slips into the skin of pilot Poe Dameron.

Much to the delight of millions, beloved veterans of the original blockbusters - Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher - will once again play Han Solo and Princess Leia.

"Star Wars" has attracted generations of loyal fans ever since the first film arrived in 1977, creating a signature moment in the history of pop culture.

It turned Ford, Fisher and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) into stars overnight.

"You could say it's the themes, it's the Force, it's the lightsaber - there's just something in this that touches people, and I don't think you can summarize that," Ridley said.

Director JJ Abrams had the awesome task of taking the intergalactic tale created by George Lucas forward while trying to meet the high expectations of fans eager to .

"The Force Awakens" - Episode VII in the franchise - takes place 30 years after "Return of the Jedi." But its plot remains a mystery.

"Everyone knows we keep it secret for the right reasons," Ridley said. "Even the people that really want to know about it, they want to see it in the film." The secrecy has sparked much speculation, with Abrams promising it won't be a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Will the hero of the first trilogy, Luke Skywalker, be back? And could Rey, whose last name hasn't been revealed, be linked to the Skywalker dynasty?

As for Darth Vader, is he really dead?

"The Star Wars saga is a lot about family, the preservation of the community, and another strong theme is purpose," another new face of the franchise, Lupita Nyong'o, told AFP.

The Oscar winner plays Maz Kanata, a motion-captured character who plays a pirate whose castle is packed with smugglers from across the galaxy.

"The Force Awakens" cast counts more women than previous renditions. Aside from Fisher, Ridley and Nyong'o, there's also Gwendoline Christie who made a name for herself in "Game of Thrones" and personifies Captain Phasma, one of the film's villains.

"The fabric of 'Star Wars' is diversity," Nyong'o said.

Amid the massive hype ahead of the movie's release, excited fans are counting down the hours, many with tickets already in hand.

Those without may be disappointed on opening night in the United States, with many theaters already sold out.

Anticipation for "The Force Awakens" has been building steadily for months, with Disney unleashing a well-orchestrated advertising campaign of trailers and interviews with cast members that left fans wanting more.

Much more.

There is no escaping The Force in grocery stores, restaurants - and just about anywhere else.

Experts predict that products tied to the film could bring in up to US$5 billion in revenue for Walt Disney Company, which paid US$4 billion for Lucasfilm in 2012.


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