LOS ANGELES — J.J. Abrams was going through a range of emotion at the world premiere of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” Monday night.
“I’d say it’s 50% excitement and 50% terror, and goes back and forth, to 51% terror,” Abrams broke it down to USA TODAY from the red carpet.
Later from the Dolby Theater stage, Abrams would admit to the star-studded crowd that the number had moved up to “92% terrified.”
It’s for good reason: The stakes are high. “Rise of Skywalker” not only ends the current trilogy Abrams started with 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” but also the nine-episode Skywalker saga George Lucas started in 1977.
The biggest names in the mega-franchise had not even seen the film, including Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, who was greeted on the stage with a standing ovation Monday. Likewise, trilogy cast members present – Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac – were still in the dark about the new, concluding film.
‘This was not small stakes for us’: J.J. Abrams brings ‘Star Wars’ saga to a close with ‘Rise of Skywalker’
Before Monday night, Abrams estimated to USA TODAY that maybe “four dozen” people had seen the top secret project. No cast, no press had seen the movie.
“It’s terrifying to go from seeing it with eight people to 3,500 people in a room,” said Abrams. Not to mention, the premiere will mark the beginning of fans across the world seeing the film, which opens Thursday.
The final saga has a tinge of sadness. Finishing the movie and the saga means that Abrams will not see the cast with whom he worked on 2015’s “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.”
And it further marks the final work for Carrie Fisher, the beloved Leia, who died in 2016 after filming her role in “Force Awakens.” Filmmakers were able to feature Leia in a significant role for “Rise of Skywalker.”
“It’s mostly sad that Carrie is not here. Tonight would be such a better night if she were here,” said Abrams. “But I’m thrilled we have the footage to bring Leia back for fans, and I hope they see it as the gift it’s meant to be.”
Abrams has kept mum on Fisher’s role except to say it will be meaningful. “We wouldn’t have done it if it didn’t have meaning. She’s not put in in a gratuitous way or throwaway moment. The footage we had of Carrie allowed us to tell the story.”
Speaking on the stage, Kathryn Kennedy, president of LucasFilms, noted the night was “bittersweet” not only because of the absence of Fisher, but original cast members Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), who died in May, and Kenny Baker (R2-D2), who died in August.
But “Rise of Skywalker” does see the return of Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams, 82.
“Like everyone else, I have not seen the movie, I’ve only seen the trailer,” said Williams, who said he was looking forward to talking to people about the role. “I’ve kept this secret for such a long time. I can’t talk, because I don’t want to get struck by lightning.”
Harrison Ford, whose character Han Solo was killed off in “The Force Awakens,” was present at the premiere, as was 87-year-old John Williams, who composed the score.
Disney CEO Bob Iger, who has seen “Star Wars” films gross $5 billion in box office since Disney acquired LucasFilms in 2012, was one of the few people in the world who had seen “Rise of Skywalker” before Monday.
Iger told USA TODAY he saw the film, alone, “a week ago. It was finished very late.”
“I feel tonight, how I think we want the audience to feel. Yes, there is sadness to what is really closure on nine chapters of the Skywalker saga, and it’s hard. And JJ. has delivered a film that brings closure in an emotional way,” said Iger.
But he pointed to other projects like Disney+’s “The Mandalorian” which shows “Star Wars” will go on long past Skywalker.
“On the other hand, it’s not the end of telling stories from a galaxy far, far away,” said Iger. “In many it’s just the beginning.”