The crew of the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford, operating at sea off Norfolk, Virginia, got a big surprise this morning when an announced training session turned into a special showing of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

Sailors were told to assemble for training at 8:30 a.m. in the hanger bay.

Rumors were circulating about the cause of the formation, but officials say no one was prepared for what was about to happen.

As the Ford’s commanding officer, Capt. Capt. Rick McCormack, greeted the crew, he acknowledged the speculation, and without giving anything away, introduced Ken Caldwell, a senior member of Disney Studios.

Caldwell spoke to the estimated thousand sailors about the latest Star Wars movie release, but only indicated that he’d brought along a special remastered copy of Mary Poppins to show.

After a short delay, he spilled the beans on why he showed up on the ship that, at the time, sat nearly 80 miles out at sea.

“This is a movie about heroes, but this is just a movie,” he told the crew. “When it comes to heroes, you are the real heroes and we appreciate your your service.”

Caldwell then spent a few minutes handing out Star Wars memorabilia to crew members before they rolled the film, projecting it on one of the Ford’s massive sets of hanger bay doors.

“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. This is awesome,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuels) Ashley Ortwig. “I had no idea and I’m such a Star Wars fan. I even have an entire Star Wars [tattoo] sleeve, I love Star Wars.”

Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Laura Nunley said that the much-anticipated movie was definitely on the minds of sailors before the screening.

“They kept asking us whether we could pull in so they could see the opening of this movie,” she said. “We kept telling them we’re not going to pull in early but they had no idea that this could be pulled off.

“The opportunity to bring something like this to the sailors and watch their faces light up was pretty amazing.”

The at-sea premiere of the movie was the brain child of the ship’s public affairs officer, Lt. Cmdr. Katie Cerezo, who, once receiving approval from Ford’s chain of command, enlisted the help of Naval Forces Atlantic to pull it off, according to Cmdr. Dave Hecht, AirLant spokesman who was on board for the screening.

Hecht said that once presented with the idea, Disney officials didn’t hesitate, and burned a specially encrypted DVD for Caldwell, who then flew to Norfolk. Caldwell and members of the local media flew out to the ship this morning.

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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