LOS ANGELES — Tyler Woodward was a Star Wars fan long before his cancer diagnosis. His whole life, really. The 17-year-old says he was born “right when all the prequels were coming out” and grew up having lightsaber fights with his two older brothers.
So after chemo took his hair last year, he knew what he wanted from the Make-A-Wish Foundation: A trip to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” premiere.
A week ago, he learned his wish had been granted. And on Saturday, after flying out from Ohio, Tyler put on a blazer and his BB-8 tie for the film’s world premiere in Los Angeles. He was one of seven teens with life-threatening illnesses to attend the star-studded premiere and elaborate after-party with Make-A-Wish. While the organization couldn’t promise personal interactions with celebrities, the kids and their parents had a special spot on the red carpet where they could see the stars arrive.
“I’ve been telling people that like 50 per cent of the reason I wished for this is just so I could meet Daisy Ridley,” Tyler said before the premiere from beneath his floppy blond curls. But no matter what happened that night, he said, “I don’t really see myself being disappointed.”
Fourteen-year-old Olivia Sava, who, like Tyler, suffers from a form of leukemia, made a wish about “The Last Jedi” just after “The Force Awakens” came out in 2015. She said her dad got her into Star Wars when she was little.
“I’m most excited to see Daisy Ridley,” said soft-spoken Olivia of Woodmere, New York, who wore a purse to the premiere that looked like the Death Star. “She’s an amazing actress and I really want to meet her.”
Established in 1980, the non-profit Make-A-Wish Foundation aims to grant a wish to every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition. Disney, now the parent company of the Star Wars franchise, granted the very first wish: A trip to Disneyland. The company is now involved with almost half the wishes submitted each year, and is supporting the organization this month with a $5 donation for every photo of Mickey Mouse ears shared on social media with the hashtag .ShareYourEars.
The Make-A-Wish group posed at “The Last Jedi” premiere wearing Star Wars-themed Mickey ears. The kids also bonded during their red carpet experience. When one boy sat down during all the excitement, one of the girls checked to see if he was feeling OK. When another boy was trembling too much to take a photo, the boy next to him helped steady his hands. And when the group spotted Ridley arriving on the red carpet, a buzz of collective excitement overcame them.
“Daisy, I had cancer!” Tyler playfully shouted to the actress from too far away.
“I’ve had brain surgery!” added Chris Alegria, a gregarious 18-year-old from Pembroke Pines, Florida, whose head is scarred from having tumors removed. He wore his prom tuxedo to the premiere.
Both Tyler and Chris brought their moms along for the wish experience, which included a weekend in Hollywood and a trip to Universal Studios.
“My mom led me through this whole cancer fight,” Chris said before the premiere. “Cancer sucks, to say the least, and I could always count on her… She would always comfort me. She’s my best friend.”
Tyler’s mother, Karen Woodward, said she was just grateful to see her son so happy.
“He’s been through a lot the last year-and-a-half, with the chemo and losing all his hair and missing school and all that, so this has really been a great event… just to be able to give him something that’s exciting to look forward to and that he’s going to remember forever,” she said. “It’s so much fun to watch the excitement in your child. I get a lot out of that.”
The red carpet outside the Shrine Auditorium, where a giant Imperial Walker towered over guests, was crowded with stars. One by one — writer-director Rian Johnson, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, John Boyega and Adam Driver — came over to meet the Make-A-Wish group. And Ridley, too.
“Hi. You’re Daisy Ridley,” Tyler said, mostly to himself, when the actress approached. As she posed for a photo with Chris, Tyler fished a card from his mom’s purse that had Ridley, or Rey’s, face on it.
“Can you sign this?” he asked her.
“Sure,” Ridley said. “How are you guys doing?”
“Great now,” Tyler said.
It took him a second to snap a selfie because he was shaking, which he acknowledged aloud.
“Is it weird if I ask for a hug?” he said.
Ridley happily obliged. Then Chris wanted a hug, too. Olivia was content with a handshake and a selfie.
Tyler was breathless and shaking as the actress walked away.
“I just hugged Daisy Ridley,” he said. “That was Daisy Ridley.”
“We just hugged her. I can’t believe it,” Chris said.
“Daisy Ridley,” Tyler said.
After watching “The Last Jedi” alongside the cast, the group went to the after-party, which was modeled after a casino-like city in the Star Wars galaxy. Guests could play table games to win souvenir Star Wars pins and pose for photos with characters from the new film. And the Make-A-Wish kids could celebrate being among the first fans in the world to see the anticipated eighth chapter in the core Star Wars saga.
“I’m going to see it like hundreds of times before I’m dead, but it’s up there in terms of being not only the best Star Wars movie, but the best movie I’ve ever seen,” Tyler said. “Obviously, my experience is better than most, seeing the world premiere and getting to meet all the actors first, but it was amazing.”