LOS ANGELES — After months of anticipation and a massive marketing blitz, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" celebrated a gala world premiere in Los Angeles Monday evening.
Two and a half blocks of Hollywood Boulevard were transformed into a Star Wars-themed red carpet leading to the TCL Chinese Theatre, where a parade of Imperial Stormtroopers marched to the familiar strains of the blockbuster franchise's theme music.
Crowds dressed as Jedi Knights and other characters cheered from the stands for veteran droids R2D2 and C3PO. Actor Peter Mayhew, who plays the Wookiee sidekick Chewbacca, posed for photos with a lightsaber cane.
Bob Iger, chief executive of Disney, which now owns the blockbuster science fiction franchise, said the monumental celebration was only fair.
"It's not about how we feel about Star Wars; it's about how the world feels about Star Wars," he told StarWars.com in a live-streamed interview from the red carpet.
Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, stars of the original 1977 film that launched the franchise and players in its latest incarnation, and Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, part of the film's new generation of stars, were expected to make big entrances later on.
Playing to the crowd, Fisher posted a picture of herself on Twitter posed Jedi-style with Ridley in bathrobes backstage.
Star Wars fans have been queueing – some for more than 12 days – in front of the cinema, hoping to catch a glimpse of the film's cast and pick up coveted tickets for when it opens to the public.
One pair of superfans even planned to marry in the queue, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper. Caroline Ritter and Andrew Porters' wedding, complete with Star Wars-themed dress, will be live-streamed Monday evening.
The JJ Abrams-directed film is one of the year's most highly anticipated, breaking ticket presale records in the United States, United Kingdom and other countries.
It's also been one of the year's best-kept secrets. Only few details about the plot or characters have emerged ahead of Monday's premiere.
Disney, which now owns the Star Wars franchise, has said the film is set 30 years after the end of 1983's Return of the Jedi.
It includes roles for Ford, Fisher and Mark Hamill, who played space buccaneer Han Solo and intergalactic sibling heroes Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker in the earlier films.
But the film also promises to shake up the series with new lead characters including Ridley's Rey, a scavenger orphan, and Boyega's Finn, a deserter Stormtrooper.
Even the original film's iconic theme has been given an update by composer John Williams.
The film reportedly cost Disney, which bought the rights to the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas three years ago, 200 million dollars to make. Disney has been advertising the film for months.
The film is set to open to the public with round-the-clock showings starting on Friday in the U.S. – although some cinemas planned to beat the clock with showings Thursday evening. The film opens in some European countries on Wednesday and Thursday.
Industry analysts say if The Force Awakens lives up to the hype, it could well make history as the biggest film of all time, perhaps pulling in as much as USD$3 billion dollars worldwide. The current record-holder, 2009's Avatar, has grossed more than 2.8 billion dollars worldwide since its release in 2009.
In an interview published Monday, Abrams told the Los Angeles Times that even he was in suspense.
"It's like I'm standing at the doorway of the airplane … and we're about to open the door. Do I hope the parachute opens? Yes," he said.