PASADENA. Calif. – Nature's grandeur was on full display at the 118th Rose Parade on Monday, featuring a bounty of floral creations that included a fire-breathing dragon protecting a castle, hummingbirds hovering over blossoms and a frog trying to lap up some water.
The festivities began with a majestic flyover by an Air Force B-2 stealth bomber that brought cheers from people packed in bleachers and on streets. Actress-singer Kristin Chenoweth and a dancing troupe rang in the new year with a tribute to this year's parade theme "Our Good Nature."
One of the highlights was the three-piece "Star Wars Spectacular," an entry that celebrates the 1977 release of "Star Wars," the first film in the sci-fi saga. About 200 stormtroopers led by Darth Vader marched down Colorado Boulevard as Ewoks swung from trees and waterfalls cascaded down the side of the garden planet Naboo.
The parade's Grand Marshal was "Star Wars" creator George Lucas who rode in a 1911 Pope-Hartford, Model Y.
"We've lived here all our lives and never been to the parade, but this year we just gotta see Mr. Lucas," said 51-year-old Robin Romero of Hacienda Heights, who frequents "Star Wars" conventions across the country. "This is the 10th time I'll see him (Lucas) in person. It's going to be so cool to see the stormtroopers march."
The parade featured 45 floats, which must be completely covered by organic material, 22 marching bands and 23 equestrian units. Actor James Garner, Miss America Jennifer Berry and basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also made appearances. The parade also was marked by a first-ever appearance by llamas.
The few first floats didn't disappoint the masses. A 45-foot tall Mother Nature was surrounded by animals while scores of live doves were released as it began its procession. The float was soon followed by "Jewels of Nature," a colorful display of butterflies adorned with tulips, daffodils and lilies.
It was the first Rose Parade for Ralph and Annette Cyr, who traveled from Pittsford, N.Y. The couple usually has two televisions ready to go at their home to watch the parade.
"I've been wanting to come all these years, and this year our daughter bought us the tickets and said, 'You're going,'" said Annette Cyr, 70.
Many parade-goers spent a cold night along the route, staking out prime seats. Police said the crowd was generally peaceful, though 18 people were arrested on suspicion of various crimes, including public drunkenness.
Overnight temperatures dipped into the 40s, but temperatures began to warm and were expected to be in the 60s. Last year's parade was doused with rain for the first time in 50 years.
Hundreds of volunteers scrambled late Sunday to put the finishing touches on the floats.
"It's about 100 hours of work for about 20 seconds on television," said Diane Garlock, a 59-year-old retiree from Northridge, as she placed roses on a float. "But it's worth it ... the floats just transform before your eyes."
The parade precedes the Rose Bowl, which will pit Michigan against Southern California.