A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars launched into theaters and became a pop culture icon, and the stars of that movie gathered Monday in Los Angeles with a new generation of actors to premiere the first film in the next era of the high-grossing franchise.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh film since the original came out in 1977, and the first since 2005. The latter three films are prequels to the original trilogy, so the new movie picks up the story following 1983's Return of the Jedi.
Mark Hamill found fame as a Jedi named Luke Skywalker in the original films, and after reuniting with Harrison Ford (Han Solo) and Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) said it was "surreal" to return to the role decades later.
"It's nice to have a job lined up for my twilight years, so that's really nice. It's like a pensioner plan now that I'm a Jedi elder," Hamill said.
Ford said he was pleased to be back.
"There's a lot of admirable characteristics to the opportunity. I mean, first of all, people have been anticipating this film for a long time, and that is a good thing," said Ford.
John Boyega plays Finn, one of the new characters, and expressed reverence to the work of his older co-stars at the premiere.
"I am a Star Wars fan so I feel like we're paying homage to a film that I really respect, so I feel good," said Boyega.
J.J. Abrams directed what is the first of four new Star Wars movies due out by 2019. Since their announcement, fans have eagerly awaited the new batch and showed that enthusiasm at the Los Angeles premiere as well as at stores buying merchandise. The most dedicated have spent days camping outside theaters awaiting the movie's release.
"Nobody has been to a premiere of this magnitude," said Anthony Daniels, who played the droid C-3PO in all of the films. "This is the biggest thing I have ever been involved in. I was at the Oscars ceremony in 1977, it was nothing like this."
Lupita Nyong'o, who won an Oscar in 2014, said Monday she was initially in disbelief about joining the Star Wars cast.
"It's moments like these where it hits me, time and again, what it actually means," said Nyong’o.
Monday's event was a preview of what will happen at theaters across the country in the early hours of Thursday when the movie is released in the United States and more than a dozen other countries. People in many other places around the world get to see it Wednesday.
Daisy Ridley, another of the new stars, said it is exciting to be a part of the franchise, but joked that fans should tamper their enthusiasm.
"God, if everyone could tune their excitement down 10 percent, then we would 10 percent increase the payoff. I think it would be great and people who are huge, huge fans of this have seen it and been like, 'fantastic,' so I believe them," said Ridley.