Grown men, big bucks and rubber masks

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, die-hard fans parted with $500 to attend a premiere of “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.”

Given that the high ticket costs at the premieres Thursday in San Francisco and nine other cities will benefit charity, crowds included well-heeled moviegoers as well as die-hard fans. The film opens to the public at midnight May 19.

A red carpet lined the side of the Sony Metreon theater in San Francisco and volunteers, dressed like stormtroopers, X-wing pilots and bounty hunter Boba Fett, crowded the front door. Fans gathered on the sidewalk waiting for a glimpse of director George Lucas.

Chris James, 36, a software engineer in Montara, Calif., was hoping to score a ticket for the premiere.

“I think [Lucas is] going to please the fans and I’m happy that he’s going to complete the saga,” James, said.

At a party after the screening, guests could swat a pi�ata shaped like the Death Star and munch on “Wookie cookies.”

Lucas 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, who plays Jedi Master Mace Windu, and Liam Neeson, who plays 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 and trying to be a normal kid.

“It’s like the end is here,” he said of the final film. “It’s part of cinematic history.”

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 had to dress 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, attended the premiere, saying she has 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” 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 storyline showing how a democratic government turns into a despotic regime.