By Piya Sinha-Roy
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Paul Walker's final appearance in the street-racing franchise "Fast & Furious" left a preview audience teary-eyed at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival for the first public screening of the last film the actor made before he died in a car crash.
In the film, Vin Diesel's character says "those who are lost go on in the hearts of the living" and that was how it felt for many fans attending the midnight screening on Sunday.
"Furious 7", out in theaters on April 7, is Walker's last appearance as law-enforcement officer Brian O'Connor. The 40-year-old died as a passenger in a one-car crash in Malibu, California, in November 2013.
Before the screening, the film's producer Neal Moritz appealed to viewers not to reveal what becomes of Walker's character in the franchise, which has grossed more than $2 billion globally.
"We honestly lost a dear friend, brother, comrade, while we were making this movie," Moritz said. "When we decided we were going to continue this movie, we were determined to honor his legacy and our love for him."
Walker had completed most of his scenes before his death, but Comcast Corp-owned Universal Pictures was forced to put production on hold to figure out how to continue filming without him.
Walker's brothers stepped in for a few remaining scenes, which make a seamless transition in the completed film.
Walker's character Brian appears within the first 15 minutes as a settled family man, but he's restless for the underworld of crime, illegal street racing and heists led by Diesel's Dominic.
The plot, filled with one-liners, sees Diesel, Walker and co-stars Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris and Michelle Rodriguez take on a villain (Jason Statham) in cities across the world.
Despite Walker's death, filmmakers did not shy away from the turbulent storyline of "Furious 7" in which his character, along with the rest of the cast, are thrown into high-octane, life-threatening situations.
In one scene, all five drive cars out of an airplane and parachute into a mountain-top race.
The film ended with a tribute to Walker, closing with the words "For Paul" written in black against a white backdrop.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Michael Roddy and Gareth Jones)