“Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” was finally unreeled for ticket-buyers on Sunday, raising $4 million at 11 charity premieres held around the country. Here’s some exclusive PEOPLE news from some of the events. (For more details, click here).
- More than 1,400 ticket-holders who paid at least $500 each — including Samuel L. Jackson (who’s in the movie, briefly), Dustin Hoffman, Fran Drescher, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Magic Johnson, Danny DeVito, Christina Ricci, Lisa Kudrow and Melanie Griffith — came out in full force for the Los Angeles premiere, reports PEOPLE’s Julie Jordan. The Hollywood event, which was held in the afternoon (the movie is largely targeted toward children), raised more than $1.2 million for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Drew Carey made a bee-line to the food table once his ticket was taken. “Great!” he said as he walked inside the theater. “There are snacks!”
- The premiere in San Francisco did two amazing things: It raised $500,000 for the 108-year old San Francisco Boys and Girls Club, and it brought out the ultra-shy George Lucas, who told PEOPLE’s Gabrielle Saveri after the screening: “This is the first time I’ve seen it with a normal crowd. It’s the first time it’s been shown anywhere, except for critics and theater owners and employees that have worked on the film . . . it was great to see it with a regular audience.” Did people cheer in the right places? “Oh yeah, they had a great time.”
- Bill Gates and his (very pregnant) wife, Melinda, were very much in evidence at the Seattle premiere, which raised more than $500,000 for Seattle’s Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, reports PEOPLE’s Nicole Brodeur. “It’s gonna be fun to see the movie,” Bill said while standing outside the newly refurbished Cinerama theater, waiting for friends. “This will be fun,” Gates shouted to one well-wisher. He told someone else that he hadn’t gotten a sneak preview of the movie. “Oh, no, no,” he said. “This is it.” When asked if the movie’s computer-generated special effects might outshine anything at Microsoft, Gates said demurely: “I’m sure whatever George (Lucas) did is fantastic.”
- The Chicago premiere benefited Rosie O’Donnell’s The For All Kids Foundation, which awards grants to nonprofit programs for at-risk and needy children throughout the U.S. Rosie was hostess for the screening and party afterwards, which also brought out Chris O’Donnell (he’s no relation), Bonnie Hunt, Billy Zane and Leonore Varela, TV’s new Cleopatra. As Rosie told PEOPLE’s Mary Green, the event came about thanks to Chicago native Brenda Barnes, the former CEO of Pepsi, who serves on the boards of both Rosie’s and George Lucas’s foundations. “When (the Lucas people) were looking for children’s charities to benefit from the premieres,” she said, “Brenda submitted us, and George read about it, and said we could have one of the premieres.”
- New York held the most star-studded premiere of all, benefiting Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Hospital patients. Tickets were also the most expensive: $1,000 per. In attendance: The movie’s Natalie Portman with costars Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, as well as Macaulay Culkin and wife Rachel Miner, Sarah Michelle Geller, Glenn Close, Kathleen Turner, the Backstreet Boys, Q-Tip, Dennis Leary, Jenna Elfman, Kevin Spacey, David Spade, Armand Assante, Lara Flynn Boyle, Rob Lowe, Christian Slater, Donald Trump, Bebe Neuwirth, Walter Cronkite, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, Natasha Richardson (Mrs. Liam Neeson), Christie Brinkley and her children, and Gov. George Pataki. Mayor Rudy Giuliani was not there, but his son Andrew was.