"Star Wars" is back, and it's never going away again.

When "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" was released, there was no way in hell I would have expected an invitation to their premiere. After all, I had spent the entire production of the film publishing spoilers, including a review of the script that was published in November of '98. I was The Mighty Moriarty, part of Ain't It Cool News, part of the new unstoppable culture of spoilers, and I knew Lucasfilm wanted nothing to do with me.

I had to sneak into the first press screening of the film with someone who had an official invitation. He was stressed the entire time that I was somehow going to get spotted or identified and that he'd get tossed out with me, but nothing happened. It was a press screening, though… not the premiere. The night of the actual premiere, I was nowhere near the theater where it took place. I'd already published my review and I was starting to realize just how weird things were going to get for fandom.

When the last of the prequels premiered in 2005, I had already settled into my identity as the guy who was Banned From The Ranch, and while I was still a big fan, I wasn't about to try to work my way into that premiere. I'm pretty sure I didn't even see press screenings for either "Clones" or "Sith." I just went to midnight openings with my friends.

Tonight, though, as I walked out of The Dolby Theater, still processing what I'd just seen, one of the first faces I saw was JJ Abrams. I walked up and said hi and told him a simple "Thank you."

Having lived and worked in LA for 25 years now, I've never seen anything on the scale of tonight's premiere. For about 12 years, I lived a few blocks from the Chinese Theater, right at the corner of Hollywood and Gardner, and I've been to dozens of premieres there for all sorts of films. And when I said thank you to JJ tonight, it's not only because of the film, but because of the experience itself.

The whole thing was surreal. Getting to the "will call" area was an adventure in and of itself, and then right before I went into the three-block-long tent that had been set up, I had my guest for tonight take a picture of me…

… yeah, that guy doesn't look happy at all, does he?

I'm not going to get into talking about the movie yet. For my review, be here Wednesday at 12:01 AM PST. Instead, I just want to talk about how the experience itself felt tonight. The inside of the tent was filled with costuming from the film as we walked in, along with Tattooine-style moisture vaporizers everywhere, and it was so big that I genuinely lost my sense of geography. Like I said… I lived on Hollywood, just a few blocks away, for over a decade. I've walked that section of the street more times than I can count. I've been to events there over and over. And yet the tent was so big, and the environment so immersive, that I couldn't recognize it at all.

They divided the audience of over 5000 people into three different theaters, the Dolby, the Chinese, and the El Capitan, with each of us getting a badge with a particular color. Mine was blue, so I was in the Dolby, which was the theater where the cast and Abrams and Bob Iger and Alan Horn and Kathleen Kennedy all appeared before the film. I will admit that when Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford all took the stage together, I got a little teary. I've had a special place in my heart for "Star Wars" since I was the age my youngest son is right now, and to be in a room with all of those people, celebrating their return to the series for the first time since 1983… it was powerful.

We gave George Lucas a standing ovation. That was pretty remarkable.

In general, the audience was very vocally with the movie tonight. Lots of laughter. Lots of cheering. Every time a familiar face showed up, there was applause. But I had a moment of pretty resounding embarrassment when Yayan Ruhian and Iko Uwais (from "The Raid" and "The Raid 2") showed up in the film. I've been very vocal about how much I love those movies, and those two performers are amazing. When they made their entrance, I let out a full-volume involuntary "OH YEAH," not realizing it would make me sound like the Kool-Aid Man because ABSOLUTELY NO ONE ELSE IN THE THEATER REACTED TO THEIR ENTRANCE.

I saw all sorts of familiar faces in the theater and at the party. One of the great random moments was walking past Donald Faison and Zach Braff together. I saw lots of great funny people like Ben Schwartz and Adam Scott and Jeff Garlin, and lots of press who I know like Anthony Breznican and Borys Kit and Grae Drake and Kris Tapley and Alonso Duralde. Some of my closest friends, Eric Vespe and Aaron Morgan, had flown in from Texas to be there, and running into them both before and after the film made the evening even better. I loved seeing publicists from other studios at the premiere, unabashedly celebrating the product of their direct competitor. Geena Davis looked amazing and I totally didn't expect to run into her. Gwendoline Christie and Lupita Nyong'o in person are both positively gob-smacking. And one of the best things about the evening was sharing it with my guest, Toshi's godfather, one of my dearest friends in LA. I met him at a premiere back in 1999 for "Detroit Rock City," and he's actually written episodes of "The Clone Wars." He was part of my Jedi Council back at AICN in the days of the prequels, and it just felt right to have him be the guy who I got to have the conversation with first as the film let out.

There is so much to discuss, so many things I want to say about the cast both new and returning. It feels great to be this excited about "Star Wars" again, so when I thanked Abrams face to face tonight, I was thanking him for setting the table for all the filmmakers who are going to get to play in this sandbox in the years ahead. More than that, though, I was thanking him for the experience I'm going to have tonight when I see the film with Toshi and Allen, my kids. I was thanking him because "Star Wars" is going to be part of the relationship I have with the boys in ways I didn't expect.

But the main reason I was thanking him?

Because "Star Wars" is back, and it's never going away again.

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is in theaters this week.

A respected critic and commentator for fifteen years, Drew McWeeny helped create the online film community as "Moriarty" at Ain't It Cool News, and now proudly leads two budding Film Nerds in their ongoing movie education.