LOS ANGELES • A veritable army of security guards, publicists and event staffers. Quadruple the typical number of invited guests. A lavish after-party, replete with Stormtroopers and a roaming Chewbacca, stretching for four city blocks.
Even by the razzmatazz standards of the Walt Disney Company, the high-security, spare-no-expense world premiere for Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Monday was something to behold.
"Sincere apologies to the neighbourhood," the film's director J.J. Abrams said in his introductory remarks, dryly calling the event "incredibly low-key".
For fans, and there were plenty among the A-listers in attendance, the invitation-only premiere was a chance to revel in the restart of the Star Wars franchise after a decade of theatrical absence.
The guestlist included director Steven Spielberg, producer Brian Grazer and DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is not in the film, turned up in green face paint and Yoda ears.
The Force Awakens focuses on young Rey (Daisy Ridley) as she becomes entwined with efforts - led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher), no longer a princess - to locate a missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and generally save the galaxy from evil combatants called the First Order.
The clear consensus among attendees: The Force Awakens, the seventh Star Wars movie and the first made without the involvement of George Lucas, is dramatically better than the last three "prequels".
For Disney, the premiere, which overflowed from the 3,400-seat Dolby to two adjacent theatres - the TCL Chinese and the El Capitan - was an overt celebration of its 2012 decision to get into the Star Wars business.
Disney, which paid US$4 billion for Lucasfilm, will collect an estimated US$2.5 billion (S$3.5 billion) in global ticket sales for The Force Awakens, with related merchandise generating US$5 billion over the next year.
Four more Star Wars-themed movies are on the way by 2020.
Costing roughly US$350 million to make and market worldwide, The Force Awakens began its international run yesterday in France, Italy and nine other countries.
Cinemas in Britain, Germany, Russia, Brazil and 14 territories, including Singapore and Hong Kong, will begin playing The Force Awakens today, with all other major markets - except mainland China, where the movie opens on Jan 9 - following over the weekend.
Since the collapse of the DVD market in 2007, movie premieres have become more austere affairs. But there was a time when premieres as ostentatious as The Force Awakens' were relatively common.
Universal Pictures took over 38 theatres in the Times Square area in 2005 for its King Kong premiere; and Disney unveiled Pearl Harbor in 2001 on an aircraft carrier in Hawaii.
Disney worked hard to keep Monday's premiere festive, but unusually heightened security undercut the lightheartedness. With the Dec 2 massacre of 14 people in nearby San Bernardino, California, still fresh in people's minds, Disney sent invited guests through metal detectors and frisking checkpoints.
Even stars such as Modern Family actress Sofia Vergara, who wore her hair in Princess Leia-like buns, had to wait in line for her cellphone after the screening.
NEW YORK TIMES, BLOOMBERG