Star Wars waves its final farewell as The Rise of Skywalker comes to cinemas
A long time ago, in a studio far, far away, a saga began that has become an integral part of movie folklore.
Few could have anticipated quite what a cultural phenomenon Star Wars would become when Episode IV – A New Hope was unleashed on the world in 1977.
It told the story of Luke Skywalker, a farmer on a planet with two suns, who always felt he was destined to be something more.
His encounter with a mysterious old man – Obi Wan Kenobi, played by the film's most established name, Alec Guinness – he discovered he harboured an incredible power, and could use it to restore order to a chaotic galaxy.
Tonight, 42 years later, fans will get the chance to wave farewell to the Skywalker family as Episode IX premieres in London before going on general release around the UK tonight.
Among those who will be beside the red carpet will be Paul Naylor from Newport, a Star Wars enthusiast who writes for the fan site Fantha Tracks.
"Some of the people at Fantha Tracks that are more involved than I am have tickets to see the film," he says.
"And some of us are going to London to chance it. We'll be given an allocated slot beside the red carpet, and a wristband so if any of the people who are invited don't turn up there's a chance we can get in. We have a plan B, though. We've booked tickets to a cinema in Coventry at midnight just in case."
The original three films followed Luke Skywalker and the rebel alliance in their efforts to overthrow an evil galactic empire, presided over by the emperor's all-powerful henchman Darth Vader.
Vader, it transpires in the second film, is also... well, if you know, you know. But if not then there is every chance that you could have aspects of the film ruined for you.
"Spoilers" are one of the great sins of modern cinema, so it would hardly be appropriate to discuss them in too much detail here.
Indeed, details of the new film have been kept under lock and key in anticipation of its release. Former Withnail And I actor Richard E. Grant said security had been so tight around the plot of the film that he did not even tell his wife or daughter the name of his character.
"It was complete lockdown," said Grant at the US premiere in Los Angeles in Monday night. "I was living in terror of being fired."
The main protagonists are now Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, who has spent recent films learning the ways of the powerful Jedi order, and the gloomy, antagonistic Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver.
Since the series was revived to massive fanfare in 2015, these characters have become embroiled in a battle for a galaxy – and that will come to a conclusion in Episode IX, subtitled The Rise Of Skywalker.
"I hated Episode VIII, The Last Jedi," adds Paul. "It was an abomination.
"I think this will feel more like a sequel to Episode VII, and the director JJ Abrams will be undoing a lot of the mania that was put into the last film.
"There will be some characters thrown in that we haven't seen for donkeys' years, but I don't know what will happen."
This will certainly be the final instalment in the saga that follows the Skywalker family's fortunes – but with franchise owner Disney benefiting from huge box office receipts the Star Wars universe is unlikely to be left to one side.
Anthony Daniels, who plays the robot C-3PO in the films, and who is the only actor to have featured in every one of the nine core films, is among those to have said the saga "needed to end".
The entire set of 11 films – 13 if you count the two based around the furry Ewok civilisation in the 1980s – has been worth anywhere in between 27 and 42 billion US dollars, and the two standalone films released outside the main series in recent years have demonstrated that fans have an appetite for non-Skywalker related movies.
An announcement is expected early in the year about where the franchise will go next, and Paul believes the next set of films may take us back in time.
"This ends that story, but it doesn't mean Star Wars is ending," he says.
"The big money is on them going way back to an early cult, the Old Republic, which if done properly will be based on video games that came out in the late 90s, early 00s. that's set thousands of years before the original films."
That's good news for cinemas, too. Robert Johnson, an independent cinema booker who arranges films for the Old Market Hall cinema in Shrewsbury, adds: "Star Wars does help, because it's an event and people will come to see it, and while they are there they see trailers for other films and events and all being well the like the experience and come back again.
"One cinema I look after, on Thursday night has all the fans coming dressed up as the characters – that kind of thing creates a wonderful atmosphere."