The Force Awakens at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim
J.J. Abrams has proven to be very talented in running a tight ship (possibly a Star Destroyer) when it comes to the Star Wars set. Other than the first teaser trailer and some leaked concept art, we haven’t had a whole lot to go on when speculating about the upcoming film.
However, that has all changed after the opening panel at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, which was streamed live on YouTube and beyond. Now there’s a whole lot more to be excited about. Read on to discover everything we now know about The Force Awakens.
The Celebration Begins
Anthony Breznican, a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly, hosted the panel and kicked it off with some reflections on the importance of stories; he mused that Star Wars and other movies can be “landmarks in our lives” that we share with family and friends. The Force Awakens is sure to be one of those landmarks.
Breznican quickly got down to business, introducing director J.J. Abrams and producer (and head of Lucasfilm) Kathy Kennedy to raucous applause. After taking a quick iPhone video , Abrams took a seat and thoughtfully answered a question about why he initially said “No” when asked if he wanted to be a part of the next phase of Star Wars.
Despite it getting in the way of the plans that he had made for his family and career, and a feeling that all he’s been doing lately are sequels, it was ultimately “impossible to say No.”
The Importance of Practical Effects
One thing that has a lot of Star Wars fans excited is Abrams’ insistence on using practical effects, as opposed special effects created digitally, for much of the movie. When asked why this was so important to him, the crowd burst into applause before he even had a chance to answer, vociferously communicating their agreement with this decision.
Once the applause had died down, Abrams emphasized the feeling of reality that the old movies generated; the way the light hit the sets, for example, pulls viewers into the movie and contributes to the feeling of “realness” in the films. If you haven’t seen the first teaser trailer yet, give it a watch and you’ll see what he means.
This point was emphasized by the appearance of both R2-D2 and BB-8, the latter being a very talkative new droid from The Force Awakens, on set. They were accompanied by Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples, the “droid mechanics” for the film. Interestingly, Kathy Kennedy shared the story of their hiring: they had made an R2-D2 for one of the previous Star Wars Celebrations, held in Germany, and she was so impressed that she offered them jobs at Lucasfilm. Proving dreams can come true.
Towersey and Steeples showed off some R-droid domes that they had designed for the film—though they wouldn’t say which droids belonged to which X-wing pilots. They did note, however, that one of the droids is called RO-LO (“Rolo”), and that the “LO” stands for Lee and Oliver. Nice to see people getting their personal touches into the movie!
I have to say, seeing BB-8 out on the stage was pretty impressive. It looks exactly like it does in the trailer; a rolling ball with a dome floating above and moving independently of the body. Evidently Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, found the company that had the technology to make it possible. It’s pretty high-tech stuff .
Welcome the New Cast
After Towersey and Steeples left the stage, a few familiar faces made an appearance: Oscar Isaac (who plays Poe Dameron), Daisy Ridley (Rey), and John Boyega (Finn, the stormtrooper from the very beginning of the first teaser trailer).
When asked by Breznican where the fans would meet their characters in The Force Awakens, they revealed some interesting plot information. Rey lives on Jakku, the desert planet seen in the trailer, and is a scavenger in a ship graveyard. She’s a loner, but when she meets “another character”, adventure follows.
Finn begins the movie in grave danger, and his reaction to that danger changes his life and launches him into the Star Wars universe “in a unique way.” Boyega wouldn’t give away too many details, but strongly implied that his character is, in fact, a stormtrooper, and not someone in disguise. Whether he’ll be a force for good or evil remains to be seen.
Poe Dameron, “the best frickin’ pilot in the galaxy,” according to Isaac, is sent on a mission by Princess Leia and comes across Finn. From there, they begin their story.
Although there weren’t any other revelations about specific characters in the film, J.J. Abrams stated that the next seven months would see information on a number of new characters coming out. Hopefully we’ll be getting more information on the characters played by Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o, and Maisie Richardson-Sellers in the near future.
Throughout the discussion, it was easy to see the glee on the three actors’ faces. Ridley stated that they’re very excited for the fans to see what they’ve created, and all three of them looked amazed to be on a stage in front of thousands of Star Wars fans.
Boyega talked about his own Star Wars fandom, saying that he’s played all the Star Wars video games on his PlayStation 3, and that he even got a large Han Solo doll signed by Harrison Ford on the set (Ford’s reported response of “this is weird… but I’ll do it” got some laughs).
After the three had been on stage for a while, a new group came out and joined them: a contingent of stormtroopers. Looking very recognizable as the shock troops of the Empire, their new armor is a bit sleeker than we’ve seen in the past, but still as imposing and faceless as ever. They’re also packing new black-and-white blaster rifles that are super-cool.
Welcome Back the Old Cast
The stormtroopers weren’t the only ones to hit the stage. Anthony Daniels (the only actor to appear in all seven films), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) all joined the other cast members to resounding cheers. Fisher’s now-famous sense of humor was on display with her quick-witted responses; we won’t be seeing the signature Princess Leia buns, she said, but we can expect something else that “you’ll be into”… before adding that it won’t be a metal bikini.
All of the actors were very gracious, and seemed truly appreciative of the love that they received at the Celebration. “You’re more than just fans; you’re family,” said Hamill. While staying mum about The Force Awakens, there were many expressions of gratitude from the veterans, who posed for a massive group photo with the new actors, plus J.J. Abrams, Kathy Kennedy, and the stormtroopers. At which point thousands of cell phone cameras went off immediately.
As the cast and crew filed off the stage, Kennedy channeled Steve Jobs and spoke the words that everyone had been waiting for: “Don’t worry; we have one more thing.” It was trailer time. New trailer time. And here it is in full for your viewing pleasure:
A crashed X-wing and Star Destroyer in the sands of Jakku, Vader’s destroyed helmet, Kylo Ren’s menacing mask, new TIE fighters, the chrome trooper, TIE fighters and the Millenium Falcon racing through the wreckage of a giant downed ship… the trailer is packed from beginning to end with great stuff.
Luke Skywalker narrates the trailer, saying:
“The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power too.”
Who is he talking to? Han and Leia’s kids? His own child? Is one of the three main characters related to the Skywalker family? Or is it someone else?
The end of the trailer leaves us with a shot that we’ve been waiting for for a very long time : our first glimpse of Han and Chewie.
“Chewie, we’re home.”
Which says it all, really.
What Do You Think of the New Star Wars?
Now that you have watched the second teaser trailer, and heard from the cast and crew who have labored on the film for years, what are your thoughts on The Force Awakens?
Is this the Star Wars movie you have been longing to see for many years? Will you be heading to your local movie theater to see the film on opening day? What plot twists, cameos, and surprises are you hoping for? Let us know in the comments section below.