Misdirection: Keep that in mind when you check out the eighth “Star Wars” installment, “The Last Jedi,” next weekend.
That’s what writer-director Rian Johnson does throughout this dense, careening, seemingly unstructured movie’s 2-hour, 32-minute running time. The movie is worth a second viewing, as it demands that you pay attention. Every little detail pays off.
At the world premiere — the first-ever public screening — Saturday night at downtown L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall, security guards swept under every car, guests wore individual badges with seat assignments, carried their own smartphones in locked security bags to their seats, and kept their collectible “Last Jedi” popcorn buckets with them all night.
On crutches, veteran director and puppeteer Frank Oz headed into the auditorium to see the film for the first time. No one else gets to voice Yoda, he confirmed. As 2,200 guests at the Shrine watched red-carpet video of 25-year-old movie star John Boyega explaining how he almost didn’t make it out of snowbound Atlanta in time, director Jon Favreau (“Jungle Book,” “Lion King”) chatted with Edgar Wright and Jon Watts.
Seemingly the entire LA press corps and the extended Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm/Pixar family were on hand, revved to see this movie, which was deemed so strong that Disney and Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy has already signed Johnson up for three more “Star Wars” installments.
Lining up on the Shrine stage were returning stars Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Lupita N’Yongo (Maz Kanata), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), as well as newcomers Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke), Laura Dern (Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo), Benicio del Toro (DJ), and Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico), who has built a rabid following ahead of anyone seeing the movie. The biggest applause of the night went to Anthony Daniels (Spoiler: both C-3PO and R2-D2 are back). Missing in action was Oscar Isaac (cocky fighter pilot Poe Dameron), who’s in France shooting Julian Schnabel’s Vincent Van Gogh movie “At Eternity’s Gate.”
Johnson choked up as he dedicated the screening to the missing Carrie Fisher, whose role as Princess Leia in the movie is central, and was expected to be pivotal in the ninth “Star Wars” movie.
That was the subject of much speculation at the after-party that featured plenty of photo opportunities, blackjack tables, and wandering Storm Troopers (“May I take a picture?” “Affirmative!”). The reaction was largely positive (the movie is under review embargo until December 12), although some mentioned the long running time. Other hot topics: The movie is often funny (yes, the Porgs are used as comic relief), there’s a number of gorgeously designed new creatures, and a plot that not only deals with the balance of The Force but also power dynamics between men and women.
Hanging anxiously just inside the entrance to the after party, Johnson admitted that the movie took a long time to write and featured “many moving pieces.” The filmmaker held court to such admirers as Ryan Coogler, whose Marvel entry “Black Panther” is up in February. He told me he had to get back to the editing room, but now has an even higher quality standard to meet. Gina Prince-Bythewood thanked Johnson for giving her some tips as she heads into her next assignment, Marvel’s “Silver Sable.”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” opens on December 15.