Today, as fans flock to local multiplexes to watch “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” they’ll bid farewell to a familiar friend.
The movie, which premiered at midnight Thursday in theaters everywhere, marks the final chapter in the popular film franchise based on J.K. Rowling’s best-selling books.
“I’m so happy and excited and sad,” said Micayla Rennick, an incoming junior at San Luis Obispo High School.
Local fans first encountered Harry Potter in print in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” published in the United States in 1998. The big-screen adaptation, starring Daniel Radcliffe as the bespectacled boy wizard, came out in 2001.
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Over the years, the wand-waving hero has become a pop culture icon — appearing in seven novels, eight films and eight video games, as well as countless other media.
Here on the Central Coast, fans have flaunted their love of the fantasy franchise by attending book release parties, standing in line for hours for midnight movie screenings and dressing as their favorite characters each Halloween.
When “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” premiered in November, for instance, Casey Blauer and his friends wore their robes to school.
“Kids would come up to us and go, ‘What are you supposed to be, Harry Potter wannabes?’ ” Blauer, 17, said with a chuckle. “We’d say, ‘You don’t understand. We go to Hogwarts.’ ”
Some local fans spent their summers attending Harry Potter classes via the Cuesta College for Kids program. A few have even visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new Orlando, Fla., theme park.
Rita Preciado’s introduction to Harry Potter coincided with the release of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” in theaters in 2004.
The incoming Mission Prep senior said she was instantly captivated by “the adventure and the complexity of the plots.”
“When I was 11 or 12, it was like, ‘Wow, where did my Hogwarts letter go? Did it get lost in the mail?’ ” joked the 17-year-old Cambria resident, referring to the fictional note that announces Harry’s enrollment at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Arroyo Grande resident Aubrey Hutt, meanwhile, remembers crawling into a cupboard under the stairs to read the latest Harry Potter book.
“I was bugging my mom for a (pet) owl for the longest time,” Hutt recalled with a chuckle. She got a stuffed animal instead.
“Harry Potter rescued my life,” said the 21-year-old, who’s been battling chronic illness her entire life. “It was really my best escape from my reality, from going from hospital to hospital. It really changed me.”
Rennick, who lives in San Luis Obispo, said that Harry’s fictional journey from timid kid to confident, courageous adult has mirrored her own at times.
“It’s like I’ve grown up with him in a way,” Rennick said. “I definitely overcame my own challenges. Like when Harry went through this whole angsty thing at age 13? I went through that.”
Blauer said he has related to Harry’s struggles to coach quidditch, a magical sport involving flying broomsticks.
“I know what he goes through when he has to deal with kids who aren’t listening,” explained the San Luis Obispo teen, who captains the water polo team at San Luis Obispo High.
Like his fellow fans, Blauer said he is sorry to see the Harry Potter film series end.
“It’s a very happy but sad feeling knowing it’s over,” he said.
“It is very hard to see it go because it’s been part of my life for so long,” Hutt said of the fantasy franchise. “It’s heartbreaking but it’s time.”