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Path to screen for Armenian epic includes evading a knockoff

"The Promise," the grandest big-screen portrayal ever made about the mass killings of Armenians during World War I, has been rated by more than 111,300 people on IMDb — a remarkable total considering it doesn't open in theaters until Friday and has thus far been screened only a handful of times publicly.

The passionate reaction is because "The Promise," a $100-million movie starring Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, has provoked those who deny that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred between 1915 and 1923 by the Ottoman Empire or that the deaths of Armenians were the result of a policy of genocide. Thousands, many of them in Turkey, have flocked to IMDb to rate the film poorly, sight unseen. Though many countries and most historians call the mass killings genocide, Turkey has aggressively refused that label.

Yet that wasn't the most audacious sabotage of "The Promise," a passion project of the late billionaire investor and former MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian.

In March, just a few weeks before "The Promise" was to open, a curiously similar-looking film called "The Ottoman Lieutenant" appeared. Another sweeping romance set during the same era and with a few stars of its own, including Ben Kingsley and Josh Hartnett, "The Ottoman Lieutenant" seemed designed to be confused with "The Promise." But it was made by Turkish producers and instead broadcast Turkey's version of the events — that the Armenians were merely collateral damage in World War I. It was the Turkish knockoff version of "The Promise," minus the genocide.

"It was like a reverse mirror image of us," said Terry George, director and co-writer of "The Promise." George, the Irish filmmaker, has some experience in navigating the sensitivities around genocide having previously written and directed 2004's "Hotel Rwanda," about the early '90s Rwandan genocide.

George bought a ticket to see it. "Basically the argument is the Turkish government's argument, that there was an uprising and it was bad and we had to move these people out of the war zone — which, if applied to the Nazis in Poland would be: 'Oh, there was an uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and we need to move these Jews out of the war zone,'" says George. "The film is remarkably similar in terms of structure and look, even."

The nascent production company behind "The Ottoman Lieutenant," Eastern Sunrise Productions, did not respond to queries for this article. Critics lambasted the film as "revisionist history" that "glosses over genocide." Salon wondered , "What is Sir Ben Kingsley doing in 'The Ottoman Lieutenant?'"

The killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I is widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of war and civil unrest.

While the creation of a rival historical drama is fairly unprecedented, Armenians have a long history of roadblocks in Hollywood. The first film to chronicle the genocide was a 1919 silent called "Ravished Armenia." In the mid '30s, MGM began pre-production on an adaptation of Franz Werfel's "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh," with Clark Gable to star. But under pressure from the Turkish government, it was scuttled.

Elia Kazan's "America America" (1963), an immigrant's odyssey modeled after Kazan's family's own experience, began with persecution of Armenians and Greeks. But the films to most capture Armenian persecution have been made outside Hollywood, by international filmmakers like Atom Egoyan (2002's "Ararat") and Fatih Akin (2014's "The Cut").

"The Promise," bankrolled by the Kerkorian Foundation, was also made totally outside the studio system. Its makers are donating all proceeds to nonprofit organizations, and intend to use the PG-13-rated film as an education tool in schools. Its release has been timed to the April 24 anniversary of the genocide.

"One of the big things for us was taking the darkness of the Armenian genocide and moving it into the light," said producer Eric Esrailian, a Los Angeles physician and friend to Kerkorian. "Genocide denial is one phase of genocide. The way systematic denial has tried to crush it and bury the truth for so many years, it's amazing to see it all come to light now."

"The Promise" was modeled after epics like "Doctor Zhivago" and "Casablanca," charting a love story across wartime. Most of the horrors occur off-screen. Kerkorian, who died in 2015, dreamed of a classical treatment that would render the Armenia plight with the grandeur it has long been denied.

"It's still a movie," said Esrailian. "It's not a political statement. It's just the truth."

Bale, who plays an Associated Press correspondent in the film, was drawn to the altruistic nature of the project. "To my shame, I knew nothing about the Armenian genocide," said Bale. "When I first read the script, it was an uncanny moment."

He suspects many are like he was: only vaguely aware of the events, even though they were extensively covered by the press at the time. Hitler even cited the lack of remembrance of the Armenians as justification for the Holocaust. Still, the U.S. government in recent decades has declined to classify it genocide, despite the promises of some presidents, including Barack Obama , to do so. Turkey is a valuable NATO ally to the U.S. in, among other things, the fight against the Islamic State.

"I really only hope that the film can help and not actually exacerbate any problems," said Bale. "But to me, it doesn't take a genius to see that there's an embarrassment to having to acknowledge the atrocities that occurred in the birthing of a nation. It happens to many nations."

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

James Gunn to write, direct 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3'

Marvel's continuing space opera "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" has yet to hit theaters, but plans are already in the works for the third installment.

On Monday, James Gunn announced on Facebook that he would be returning to write and direct "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3." Gunn also wrote and directed the first and second "Guardians" films.

The franchise stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and features the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel.

In his post, Gunn said that "Guardians 3" will come after 2018's "Avengers: Infinity War" and conclude the story of this iteration of Guardians of the Galaxy, helping to launch Marvel's next 10 years.

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" hits theaters on May 5.

Filmmaker learns why she endured airport stops for years

Laura Poitras' travel nightmare began more than a decade ago when the award-winning filmmaker started getting detained at airports every time she tried to set foot back in the United States.

She was stopped without explanation more than 50 times on foreign travel, and dozens more times on domestic trips, before the extra searches suddenly stopped in 2012. Only now is Poitras beginning to unravel the mystery, which goes back to a bloody day in Baghdad in 2004.

Time after time, airport authorities searched her baggage, rummaged through her electronics and quizzed her for hours about her trips.

In Germany, she was told her name lights up "like a Christmas tree" when security officials scan flight rosters. In Austria, she was told her threat score was "400 out of 400."

At John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, her laptop, video camera, footage and cell phone were taken and held for 41 days. In Newark, New Jersey, a security officer threatened to handcuff her for taking notes with a ballpoint pen that he said could be used as a weapon.

"I asked for crayons because I thought that would be less threatening to him as a weapon," recounted Poitras, whose 2014 documentary film, "Citizenfour," about the National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, won an Academy Award. "He denied me any kind of writing device."

Poitras, 53, knows U.S. government officials are not exactly fans of her politically sensitive work.

"Citizenfour" depicted Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald's rendezvous with Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel where he handed over classified material documenting NSA's widespread surveillance program. Her new film, "Risk," is about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Still, she never knew why the security delays started in 2006. She unsuccessfully sought answers from the Homeland Security Department. She finally took the government to court, filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in 2015 with help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties advocacy organization.

Late last year, as a result of the suit, the government released more than 1,000 pages of documents to Poitras, which she shared with The Associated Press. The documents show for the first time that the U.S. government investigated Poitras on suspicion she might have been involved in an ambush that led to a U.S. soldier's death in Iraq in 2004.

On Nov. 20, 2004, Poitras was in Baghdad filming "My Country, My Country." The film depicts Iraqi elections from the perspective of an Iraqi doctor, who criticized the U.S. occupation yet hoped democracy would take root in his homeland.

Members of a U.S. Army National Guard unit from Oregon reported seeing a "white female" holding a camera on a rooftop just before they were attacked. David Roustum, 22, an Army National Guardsman from West Seneca, New York, was killed. Several troops were wounded. Some guardsmen who saw Poitras suspected she had a heads-up about the attack and didn't share that information with American forces because she wanted to film it. If true, Poitras would have broken U.S. criminal law.

Poitras called the allegation false and said she didn't film the attack.

"There is no ambush footage," Poitras told the AP. "That's the narrative that they created, but it doesn't correspond with any facts."

After the attack, a lieutenant colonel, whose name was redacted from documents, reported the woman with a camera to his superiors. No action was taken.

But after returning home, the lieutenant colonel was contacted by author John Bruning of Dallas, Oregon, who was interviewing guardsmen for a book about their experiences in Iraq. According to the government's documents, the author learned about the woman filming on the rooftop before the ambush.

In an email exchange on Jan. 15, 2006, Poitras confirmed to Bruning that she was filming in the area the day of the attack, but didn't think she could help the author with his research.

"I was staying in the house of an Iraqi family I was following so my record of the fighting is from the perspective of the family," Poitras wrote to Bruning. "I did not venture out onto the street that day — didn't seem like it would have been a good idea. So I really don't have a document of what took place on the streets."

Bruning told the lieutenant colonel that Poitras was the woman on the rooftop. The lieutenant colonel then informed the U.S. military that she could have been involved.

In February 2006, a military police agent from Fort Lewis, Washington, interviewed the lieutenant colonel and the author.

Bruning declined to speak to the AP about Poitras.

But in his sworn statement to military investigators, he said he believed Poitras had prior knowledge of the attack. He said Poitras was staying in a pro-Saddam Hussein neighborhood "and she was not in fear of her life or being kidnapped at a time when Western journalists were being abducted and executed."

Nevertheless, the Army Criminal Investigation Command at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, wrote a two-page letter shortly after to the FBI, saying the Army lacked sufficient evidence to charge Poitras.

It said: "A review by our legal staff of the information developed thus far revealed credible information does not presently exist to believe Ms. Poitras committed a criminal offense; however, this could quickly change if Ms. Poitras were to be interviewed and admitted she had knowledge of the ambush and refused to notify U.S. forces in order to further her documentary and media interest."

Poitras said she was never interviewed.

In May 2006, Army officials sent a summary of their investigation of Poitras to FBI headquarters in Washington.

The airport detentions and delays began shortly thereafter.

David Lapan, a Homeland Security Department spokesman, said other agencies control who is flagged as a high-risk traveler. When people are flagged, he said, authorities must "put them through enhanced screening procedures. This is the reason for Ms. Poitras' repeated referrals to secondary screening." The FBI, which had investigated Poitras, declined to comment.

The detentions stopped abruptly six years later after a 2012 news article highlighted her travel problems.

Lapan said Poitras was deemed no longer of "significant interest." That allowed Customs in June 2012 to "discontinue its enhanced screening procedures," he said.

Poitras worries her ordeal will resume.

She is seeking more information from the government. A federal judge in Washington ruled late last month the FBI hadn't provided adequate justification for withholding some information.

"I don't know if the investigation is ongoing," she said. "I don't know if it was ended or why it was ended."

Mark Hamill says he'd like to play George Lucas in a movie

The actor said Sunday that he would love to play Lucas in a movie about his life when a fan at the Star Wars Celebration event in Orlando, Florida, asked him what role he'd like to play.

Hamill's voice was in rough shape after four days at the fan event but he still managed to affect a solid impression of his former boss.

During the one-man panel Hamill also recounted stories about Harrison Ford advising him not to ask permission ad-lib during filming and how he and the late Carrie Fisher once sneaked into a theater to see the 1977 "Star Wars" trailer.

'Fast and the Furious' on road to record global debut

The eighth installment in the "Fast and the Furious" is on the path to becoming the biggest worldwide debut of all time, besting both "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and "Jurassic World."

Universal Pictures on Sunday estimated that "The Fate of the Furious" would earn a record $532.5 million worldwide over the holiday weekend, thanks to a particularly robust showing in 63 territories, including China.

If the figures hold, it will just inch past the previous record holder, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" which launched to $529 million in December of 2015 without China.

The film broke the record for biggest international weekend ever, with $432.3 million. The previous record holder was "Jurassic World" with $316.7 million.

"There is no market that hasn't had a strong reception," said Duncan Clark, Universal's president of international distribution. "Whatever culture, whatever language, whatever country, we seem to have found a home."

The China opening alone brought in a record $190 million followed by $17.8 million from Mexico and $17 million from the U.K. and Ireland.

An estimated $100.2 million of the global total comes from 4,310 North American theaters — a second best for the franchise and enough to easily top the domestic charts, but well below the $147.2 million opening of "Furious 7" in 2015.

"Furious 7" had a groundswell of additional interest due to the death of actor Paul Walker, who played cop turned street racer Brian O'Conner, a lead character in six of the films. He died in a car crash while the film was still in production.

For the studio, "Fast 8" stands on its own as being "an extraordinary result."

"Each one of these films has its own momentum," said Nick Carpou, Universal's president of domestic distribution. "There are factors from one film to the next that make them unique and certainly there were unique factors with 'Furious 7.'"

"The Fate of the Furious" has many of the returning stars like Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese and Ludacris, but has added some new elements behind the camera in director F. Gary Gray and in front of the camera with Charlize Theron.

The $100.2 million is slightly below analyst expectations for the film. Audiences were 58 percent male, 50 percent under the age of 25 and diverse (41 percent were Caucasian, 26 percent Hispanic and 19 percent African American).

The studio has not released an official production budget, but it is reported to be in the pricey $250 million range. However, an A Cinema Score from exit polls suggest that it will have sufficient staying power.

The "Fast and the Furious" is a global juggernaut for Universal Pictures, which plans two additional pictures. With the addition of "Fast 8," the franchise has earned an estimated $4.4 billion globally.

"It is a franchise that has adapted and changed over the years and is as relevant in 2017 as it was in 2001," noted Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for comScore. "The 'Furious' franchise perfectly represents what that global audience is all about. They're poised perfectly for installments 9 and 10 to do very well. It's still firing on all cylinders."

The rest of the chart looked sleepy in comparison to the fresh fuel of "The Fate of the Furious." ''The Boss Baby" took second with $15.5 million, while "Beauty and the Beast" held on to third place with $13.6 million.

"Beauty and the Beast" crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide this weekend. Rounding out the top five were "Smurfs: The Lost Village" with $6.5 million and "Going in Style" with $6.4 million.

The summer movie season really kicks into high gear in a few weeks when "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" goes into orbit on May 5.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1."The Fate of the Furious," $100.2 million ($432.3 million international).

2."The Boss Baby," $15.5 million ($36.8 million international).

3."Beauty and the Beast," $13.6 million ($22 million international).

4."Smurfs: The Lost Village," $6.5 million ($16.4 million international).

5."Going in Style," $6.4 million ($4.3 million international).

6."Gifted," $3 million.

7."Get Out," $2.9 million ($1 million international).

8."Power Rangers," $2.9 million ($2.7 million international).

9."The Case for Christ," $2.7 million.

10."Kong: Skull Island," $2.7 million ($3.8 million international).

___

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to comScore:

1. "The Fate of the Furious," $432.3 million.

2. "The Boss Baby," $36.8 million.

3. "Beauty and the Beast," $22 million.

4. "Smurfs: The Lost Village," $16.4 million.

5. "A Chinese Odyssey Part Two: Cinderella," $12 million.

6. "Ghost in the Shell," $8.3 million.

7. "Going in Style," $4.3 million.

8. "The Shack," $4.1 million.

9. "Kong: Skull Island," $3.8 million.

10. "Power Rangers," $2.7 million.

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Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by 21st Century Fox; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ldbahr

Clifton James, sheriff in 2 James Bond films, dies at 96

His daughter, Lynn James, said he died Saturday at another daughter's home in Gladstone, Oregon, due to complications from diabetes.

"He was the most outgoing person, beloved by everybody," Lynn James said. "I don't think the man had an enemy. We were incredibly blessed to have had him in our lives."

James often played a convincing southerner but loved working on the stage in New York during the prime of his career.

One of his first significant roles playing a southerner was as a cigar-chomping, prison floor-walker in the 1967 classic "Cool Hand Luke."

His long list of roles also includes swaggering, tobacco-spitting Louisiana Sheriff J.W. Pepper in the Bond films.

His portrayal of the redneck sheriff in "Live and Let Die" in 1973 more than held its own with sophisticated English actor Roger Moore's portrayal of Bond.

James was such a hit that writers carved a role for him in the next Bond film, "The Man with the Golden Gun," in 1974. James, this time playing the same sheriff on vacation in Thailand and the epitome of the ugly American abroad, gets pushed into the water by a baby elephant.

"He wasn't supposed to actually go in," said his daughter. "They gave him sugar in his pocket to feed the elephant. But he wasn't giving it to the elephant fast enough."

She said her father met with real southern sheriffs to prepare for his role as Pepper. Of his hundreds of roles, it was the Louisiana sheriff that people most often recognized and approached him about.

His daughter noted that her father sometimes said actors get remembered for one particular role out of hundreds.

"His is the sheriff's, but he said he would have never picked that one," she said.

George Clifton James was born May 29, 1920, in Spokane, Washington, the oldest of five siblings and the only boy. The family lost all its money at the start of the Great Depression and moved to Gladstone, just outside Portland, Oregon, where James' maternal grandparents lived.

In the 1930s, James got work with the Civilian Conservation Corps and then entered World War II in 1942 as a soldier with the U.S. Army in the South Pacific, receiving two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star.

Lynn James said one of the Purple Hearts came when a bullet pierced his helmet and zipped around the inside to come out and split his nose. The second Purple Heart, she said, came from shrapnel that knocked out many of his teeth.

She said her father rarely spoke about the war and never described events leading to his receiving the Silver Star.

"He lost too many friends," she said.

After the war, James took classes at the University of Oregon and acted in plays. Inspired, he moved to New York and launched his acting career.

Later in life, he spent the fall and spring of each year in New York. In the winter, he lived in a condo in Delray Beach, Florida. During the summer he lived in Oregon.

James' wife, Laurie, died in 2015. He is survived by two sisters, five children, 14 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Lynn James said a celebration of her father's life will be held in Gladstone in August, but there are no other plans so far. She said some of his ashes will likely be spread in the Clackamas River in Oregon, in which he swam as a boy, and in New York Harbor, where some of his wife's ashes were spread.

Mark Hamill: Carrie Fisher Star Wars tribute is 'therapy'

Hamill led an hourlong tribute to Fisher on Friday evening at the event in Orlando, Florida.

"I'm trying to use you as therapy to get through this together," the actor said. He called Fisher "my beloved space twin" and said they were also great friends off-screen.

They even shared a steamy make-out session once, he said.

"As attracted as I was to her, I thought I couldn't handle her as a girlfriend. She's too much," Hamill said. "Part of me did fall in love with her. I think every guy... She had you under her spell."

Hamill told stories of visiting with Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, in New York and attending incredible parties at their homes in Los Angeles. He also introduced video clips of George Lucas and "The Last Jedi" director Rian Johnson in which they share anecdotes about working with Fisher.

"Wait until you see her in 'The Last Jedi,' " Hamill added. "You're going to love her."

His voice cracked as he read a letter he had written shortly after Fisher died in December. He spoke of how he admired her intellect, attitude and sense of humor. Hamill said his personal and professional life would have been diminished had she not been part of them.

He said that while he's still in mourning, he's focusing on her legacy.

"When I think of her, she's looking down from the celestial stratosphere with those big brown eyes, that sly smile on her face, as she lovingly extends me the middle finger," Hamill said. "And that's how I want you to think of her. That was Carrie."

Navy investigating California SEAL's porn-movie moonlighting

The Navy is investigating a decorated SEAL who moonlights as a porn actor.

The Naval Special Warfare Command wants to know whether Chief Special Warfare Officer Joseph Schmidt III properly obtained permission from his commanders for outside work and whether they condoned his acting career, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Friday (http://bit.ly/2ozyWLt).

"There are very clear regulations which govern outside employment ... as well as prohibitions on behavior that is discrediting to the service," said Capt. Jason Salata, a SEALs spokesman.

Schmidt, 42, has spent 23 years in the military and holds numerous medals, including a citation of valor for combat overseas. He has appeared in recruiting campaigns, even serving as the face of the SEAL program on its website, the Union-Tribune said.

He has appeared under the name Jay Voom in at least 29 sex films over seven years with titles such as "Apple Smashing Lap Dance" to "Strippers Come Home Horny from the Club," the paper said.

Many feature his wife, porn star Jewels Jade.

Schmidt declined to comment to the newspaper, but his wife said many of his fellow SEALs at the Coronado base in Southern California watched the videos online.

"They knew about it at work," Jade said. "He got called in and they said, 'Look, keep it on the low, don't mention the SEAL name and blah, blah, blah.' "

"He was always pretty open about it with the command," she said. "I mean, honestly, all of his buddies knew about it. Everybody knew about it."

Jade first appeared in porn films in 2001, but she left the industry by 2003 to become a wife and mother and help run a real estate firm the couple founded in 2005 while Schmidt was assigned to Virginia.

The business foundered, and the couple filed for bankruptcy after running up nearly $2 million in debt, the Union-Tribune said.

As business losses deepened, Jade turned to stripping to make ends meet and then returned to making porn films.

"It's helped our family. It got us out of a lot of financial issues we were going through," Jade said. "I could take care of the child. I could try to get us out of financial debt."

Jade said she has tried to obtain other work. But her fame, with millions of fans worldwide, made it difficult.

She sought a management job at a San Diego luxury hotel last year but was recognized before she finished her employment interview. "Once you're recognized and you build a brand and you've got your fans who know who you are, when you go to try to find a job, you can't get another job," she said.

Schmidt was transferred to Coronado in 2009. Jade said she recruited her husband as an unpaid performer to cut the costs of making films for her website and film-distribution service.

The military has taken a dim view of its members engaging in racy pursuits.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michelle Manhart, a training instructor, was reprimanded and demoted after she posed nude for Playboy in 2007. The Navy discharged or otherwise disciplined about a dozen servicemen and servicewomen in 1980 for posing in Playboy or Playgirl.

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Information from: The San Diego Union-Tribune, http://www.utsandiego.com

Alex Gibney doc 'No Stone Unturned' pulled from Tribeca

Producers of Alex Gibney's "No Stone Unturned" have pulled the documentary about the 1994 murder of six men in Northern Ireland from the Tribeca Film Festival over legal issues.

The film was to premiere April 23 at the festival, where "No Stone Unturned" would have been one of the more high-profile documentaries debuting. Producer Trevor Birney said in a statement he was "bitterly disappointed" to withdraw the film because of "ongoing legal issues relating to the subject matter of the film."

Birney said most disappointed are the families at the center of the film "whose quest for justice has been both inspiring and unstinting these last 23 years."

The New York festival said it was notified Friday and that it shared in the disappointment of the film's producers and Gibney.

Rian Johnson debuts teaser trailer for 'The Last Jedi'

Is the Force still strong with Luke Skywalker?

The first trailer for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" dropped on Friday, showcasing a morose and withdrawn Skywalker. The two-minute teaser , unveiled by director Rian Johnson at the "Star Wars Celebration" fan event in Orlando, Florida, offered few clues to the film. But it notably includes Mark Hamill's iconic hero gravely intoning, "It's time for the Jedi to end," from a dark cave.

The trailer whetted the appetites of ravenous "Star Wars" fans who turned out in droves in Orlando and online, where the event was streamed live. Actor Josh Gad, a Disney star from another universe ("Frozen," ''Beauty and the Beast"), hosted a panel including Johnson, producer Kathleen Kennedy and cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and a new addition, Kelly Marie Tran.

"The Last Jedi" picks off where "The Force Awakens" left off, with Rey (Ridley) meeting Luke on a remote island, filmed off the coast of Ireland. Some shots in the trailer also suggested Skywalker training Rey on the island. In "The Force Awakens," Adam Driver's Kylo Ren has turned to the dark side after being tutored by Luke.

The presentation was mostly a game of teasing hints about the film while revealing very little about it.

"I actually can tell you some things. A small amount," said Ridley, laughing. She said the film will go "deep" into Rey's story and reveal how it can be difficult meeting your heroes — presumably alluding to a cranky Skywalker. "They may not be what you expect," said Ridley to knowing groans in the crowd.

"The Force Awakens" director and "Last Jedi" producer J.J. Abrams has previously hailed Hamill's performance in the film, suggesting it could land him an Oscar nomination. Hamill, the most raucously received star on Friday, said he drew on his own experiences for this new chapter in Luke's life.

"I said: I have to relate to things that are real in my own life to understand where Luke is at this point in his life," Hamill said.

"The Last Jedi" is due in theaters Dec. 15.

It will be Carrie Fisher's last appearance in the core "Star Wars" films that follow the saga of the Skywalker family. Kennedy told ABC News Friday that Fisher, who died in December, will not appear in the planned ninth "Star Wars" film.

"Sadly, Carrie will not be in (Episode) Nine," Kennedy said. "We'll see a lot of her in VIII, which is great."

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Online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zB4I68XVPzQ

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