SAN FRANCISCO – In the original 1977 film "Star Wars," a brash young boy named Luke Skywalker parts with his prized speeder to pay for a ride on a spaceship named the Millennium Falcon. Almost three decades later, fans parted with $500 to attend a premiere of "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith."
Given the high ticket costs at the premieres Thursday in San Francisco and nine other cities — the proceeds go to charity — crowds included well-heeled moviegoers as well as die-hard fans. The film opens to the public at midnight showings May 19.
A red carpet lined the side of the Sony Metreon (search) theater in San Francisco and volunteers dressed like stormtroopers, X-wing pilots and bounty hunter Boba Fett. Fans gathered for a glimpse of director George Lucas.
Chris James, 36, of Montara, Calif., dressed like an X-Wing fighter pilot and was hoping to score a ticket.
"I think he's (Lucas) going to please the fans and I'm happy that he's going to complete the saga," said James, a software engineer.
At a post-screening party, guests could swat a pinata shaped like the Death Star and munch on "Wookie cookies."
Lucas, who says he plans to return to experimental films now that the last "Star Wars" film is completed, planned to enter each theater at the Metreon to thank patrons and introduce the film.
Asked how he felt to see the "Star Wars" saga end, Lucas said: "I'm relieved and I'm glad that I get to go on and do other things. It's been 30 years of my life, so it's a lot of time."
Stars at the New York event included Samuel L. Jackson (search), who plays Jedi Master Mace Windu, and Liam Neeson (search), who played Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace."
Jake Lloyd, 16, who played the young Anakin Skywalker, says he's transitioned into a normal life.
"It's like the end is here," he said of the final film. "It's part of cinematic history."
When "Star Wars" icon Mark Hamill arrived in Los Angeles, fans burst into cheers. Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the original episodes, ran across the street to shake hands and sign autographs.
Jimmy Smits, who plays Sen. Bail Organa in the last two episodes, cut short his interviews with reporters because of a knee injury, his publicist said.
Also present were John Ratzenberger (search), who plays Maj. Bren Derlin, and Bai Ling, whose scenes as Sen. Bana Breemuwere were edited out. Billy Dee Williams, who played Lando Calrissian in previous episodes, also attended.
The premiere also drew "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer, who said he interviewed for the role of Han Solo in the first "Star Wars" film but didn't get it.
"I met Mr. Lucas when I was 19-years old," Grammer told reporters. "I was a little too young but then two years later I was watching this movie and I said ... 'that was the movie (Lucas) was telling me about,' cause he said, 'We're going to do a fairy tale in space.'"
At Atlanta's Phipps Plaza shopping mall, red carpet patrons entered the theater as white-armored stormtroopers greeted everyone who passed by.
Some children wore little Anakin Skywalker outfits while most of the older fans came in casual attire. But not David Morgan, a massage therapist who dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Morgan, who paid $2,500 for a VIP ticket, said he dressed up even though he's not a big fan.
"I have my Adidas on to match my costume. It looks good, I think," the 23-year-old said.
Amy Allen, who plays the Blue Jedi in Episode III, said she's been "waiting for this moment for a very long time."
"It's kind of surreal to be in a movie that I haven't seen before. When we made the movie, I did everything by myself, with a blue and green background. To see it now is going to be great," Allen said.
Moviegoers at a theater in suburban Denver were greeted by costumed members of the Rocky Mountain Fan Force, a group of Star Wars fans who appear in costume at charity events.
John Soto Jr., 6, was decked out in a Luke Skywalker costume, swinging a balloon light saber. He'd been telling his kindergarten classmates all day that he would be watching the premiere.
"It's kind of neat," his father said. "I grew up when my younger brother was going through the euphoria a lot of kids were going through with 'Star Wars.' Now I get to watch my child enjoy 'Star Wars' the way my brother watched it years ago."
"Revenge of the Sith"_ the last installment in the "Star Wars" series — chronicles Anakin Skywalker's transformation from hero to villain Darth Vader. The film may be the darkest chapter in the "Star Wars" story, featuring more violence and a story line showing how a democratic government turns into a despotic regime.
Carrie Fisher — Princess Leia in the original trilogy — attended the Washington, D.C., premiere. And in Miami, premiere organizers planned to re-create the cantina scene from the original "Star Wars."
Lucas has used previous premieres to raise money for charitable causes. Money raised at the San Francisco event will go to the Koret Family House, a group providing housing for seriously ill children seeking treatment away from home.