The Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiere finally took place Monday night in Hollywood, and original cast members Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill all walked the red carpet – before a fleet of stormtroopers!
The highly anticipated, already record-breaking new installment to the beloved franchise was screened in front of a public audience for the first time in what was possibly one of the biggest premieres in recent memory.
The movie was shown to VIP crowds in three separate theaters across L.A., including the TCL Chinese Theatre where the original Star Wars was played for the first time in 1977. A half-mile stretch of road in front of the iconic venue was closed off for the red carpet.
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First off, a legion of stormtroopers marched past fans down the carpet, and film stars Anthony Daniels, who plays C-3PO and Gwendoline Christie, who joins the cast as the villainous Captain Phasma, both arrived next. Peter Mayhew, who plays Chewbacca, was also at the event, wearing his Chewbacca medal from the first film and sporting a lightsaber shaped cane.
Daniels took time on the carpet to remind PEOPLE that he was the first “non-human” cover of People Magazine as C-3PO back in 1977 when the original film was released. And acclaimed actor Max von Sydow, who plays an unknown role in the new movie, also spoke with us on the carpet, revealing the success of the first Star Wars movies inspired him to join the cast of 1980’s Flash Gordon, one of favorite childhood comics.
Christie, best known for her role on Game of Thrones told PEOPLE she would be keeping an eye on the audience’s reaction during the screening. “My eyes will be flirting all about taking everything in,” she said.
Daisy Ridley, who stars as Rey, said of her first ever premiere, “I think I’ll wake up tomorrow and say ‘Did that happen?!”
Director J.J. Abrams also spoke to PEOPLE about the enormity of directing a new film in a franchise beloved by millions – including his boyhood self.
“For me, I was aware of certain feelings I had and wanted to try and give the audience that sense that anything was possible,” he said.
Abrams also spoke about George Lucas – who also attended the premiere – and attempting to stay true to the vision he created.
“George Lucas was so brilliant in what he did, that it was really about not harnessing the plot or the story or any of the characters as much as trying to harness that feeling that he gave all of us, and do the best we could to bring that back to people,” he said.
Non-Star Wars celebs also attended the event in droves, including Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland, who told PEOPLE she’s a huge fan of Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia. “She just kicks ass – and still does!” the actress, 25, said.
Diane Sawyer was also spotted in attendance, and was seen giving The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger a congratulatory smooch. And newlyweds Joe Manganiello and Sofia Vergara walked the carpet arm in arm, beaming.
The event was livestreamed on the official Star Wars website, where stars like Jason Bateman and Spike Lee were spotted in the background, while creator George Lucas and Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford, also spoke on camera.
“In the 70s, nobody knew what to anticipate, nobody had ever seen anything like it – now we have to live up to what the first film delivered,” he said. But Ford joked that he’s not feeling any pressure: “No it’s not my faulty you can blame it on J.J. [Abrams], I just work here.”
Mark Hamill also dropped by the Livestream, and continued to play coy about Luke Skywalker’s absence from the film’s posters. “Well that’s the thing – you’ll see – in two hours time we’ll have a nice conversation,” he said slyly.
He also admitted that this has been the easiest press tour he’s ever been on, saying, “Yes because all the young cast, and Harrison and Carrie, they’re doing the heavy lifting, all because of the marketing has been to keep a mystery over my character.”
Director J.J. Abrams gave a touching speech before the film thanking his three kids and saying the thing he was most proud of was being their father. He also thanked his wife for putting up with him for the last three years while making the film.
Following the screening, Ford, Hamill and Fisher all posed together and hugged to huge applauds from the audience.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters everywhere Dec. 18.
• With reporting by SCOTT HUVER