The director and producer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy, took the Star Wars Celebration stage along with their new cast, the original Star Wars cast, and a brand new droid. We were there, in the thick of it, and here’s what we learned.
Real talk — I was feeling very over-marketed, over-stimulated and very “this is just Disney trying to sell Star Wars” while walking into this massive arena filled with t-shirt cannons and people blasting Weird Al Star Wars jams. Then BB- 8 rolled out, and everything changed. Watch:
And that was that, this was the real deal. Here was a tangible, real life droid. BB-8 was real, and he looked amazing. This was what was missing from the dreaded prequels: something tangible, something magical. This was an actual droid scooting around, circling R2-D2. It is absolutely fantastic. It felt like a return to the kind of film-making that made the original movies work (puppets, models, practical elements).
Also on a fun additional droid note, the new R2-D2 was actually created by fans. Lucasfilm brought on a pair of droid building fans who had their R2-D2 at an earlier Celebration (and varius other convention events) to make the “new” R2-D2 for Episode VII. And they were here, on stage.
BB-8 is real, and this is important to Abrams. Really important. If there was one takeaway from the whole panel, it should be that Abrams wants to return to the old ways of the Star Wars films. And he spoke about this pretty passionately:
“When we started talking about the story and how to make it happen, the thing that struck me, that wouldn’t get out of my head, is just how real you knew and felt Star Wars was when you first saw A New Hope, You couldn’t deny it. It’s Star Wars... Building as much as you could was a mandate. There will be an endless number of effects. We needed a standard. You want it to be legitimate and authentic. The way the light interacts with the set building as much as we possibly could. As we’re working out and the editing of the film. It’s an amazing thing to be able to watch the movie and see what it is and not have to use your imagination. We actually had those sets there and it was great for the actors too.”
Kathleen Kennedy addressed the loud concerns that many fans voiced after that first cast image was released with at startling lack of female characters.
Well, she sort of addressed the concerns. Kennedy admitted that there weren’t a lot of heroines in the first film but, the new women characters that are already cast (like Daisy Ridley’s Rey) are really strong women/characters. She then promised more female roles, “Not only in Episode 7, but in the conversations we’re having moving forward.”
And she added, “There are going to be a lot of new wonderful characters.” Hopefully the new wonderful characters will be women — Kennedy didn’t offer up any real evidence of new female characters (which would have been ideal) but at least they’re talking about it fairly openly. However she did admit to having an emotional stake in this discussion because she too has two daughters.
When the beans were spilled that Star Wars: Episode 7 would be filming in Abu Dhabi a lot of folks assumed that J.J. Abrams would be bringing the cast back to Tatooine. Not true — the rumors of the new desert planet with new desert creatures and giant space pigs turned out to be true the new world is called Jakku. And thanks to the Star Wars official twitter, we actually know how to spell it.
Abrams elaborated on filming in the 128-degree weather and what that added to the set: “Star Wars is as much a western as it is a fairy tale.” He went on to say that the sand landscape was similar to something you would expect from a John Ford film. And the beautiful landscapes and the large skies, “shooting in Abu Dhabi is just that.” So even though we’re going to a different desert planet, it would appear that Abrams is still hell bent on returning to the Western feel of the original first two films.
The first teaser trailer revealed the new look of the Stormtroopers but on stage we finally got to see them live and in action. Here’s a look at when they marched in.
We’ve seen John Boyega (Finn) in a Stormtrooper ensemble before, but it was never confirmed if he was a legit, empire official Stormtrooper. This was confirmed today. When asked if he the real deal Stormtrooper, Boyega nodded. But that doesn’t mean he’s a “bad” Stormtrooper. He could defect, or learn a valuable lesson about what he signed up to become, anything is possible.
Boyega also talked about getting Harrison Ford’s signature on set, working with Ford (thus confirming that the two will have scenes together) and does a wonderful, slightly “over it,” Ford voice.
Also Boyega was too terrified to tell his parents he got the role on Star Wars, so he just told them he was shooting for 24. They didn’t find out until the official photo was released.
Long has it been speculated that Oscar Isaac would be the next sassy, red-stripe pants Han Solo-type character. And when asked what he could reveal about his Star Wars character, Poe Dameron, Isaac said, “He’s the best freakin’ pilot in the galaxy, that’s who he is.”
So, yeah, sounds like he’s swinging for the “that guy” fences. This is great — for every blue eyed believer like Luke (and possibly Daisy and Finn) there has to be an asshole. As for what he’s going to do in the film, the details were scarce by Isaac gave a little spoiler, “He’s been sent on a mission by a certain princess. And ends up coming across Finn, and their fates are forever intertwined.”
Later on in the panel, Isaac talked about the weight of acting in a Star Wars movie: “And when I finally was going to play Poe Dameron I was so excited/nervous.” And while he was grappling with whether or not he could take on this task he worked out his trepidation in the most delightfully fannish way possible, “I blasted the Star Wars theme and I grabbed a shampoo bottle and went *makes lightsaber noises.*” It was then that he realized that he could do this. Also this might be vaguely hinting at the fact that Poe Dameron may not be just a pilot, he may also get his chance to wield a lightsaber. Maybe.... probably not, though.
After the new Stormtroopers marched out the original cast (sans Harrison Ford due to his plane crash injury) or Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Peter Mayhew took the stage. Fisher revealed the most pressing details, specifically about her buns. Turns out, the buns are over. “The buns are tired,” Fisher said, “But we have an alternate thing that people will be into. Which is not the metal bikini.” I’m already speculating what sort of bun-like hair style they forced Fisher into. Queen Amidala took Star Wars hair to an insane level, is there anywhere to go from there. Also not sad to see the metal bikini go, bye bikini.
When asked “How will you please every last Star Wars fan?” Abrams responded. “Well, we just will.” That got a huge laugh. But he continued on admitting that this is a really scary undertaking and discussing the weight and responsibility of revitalizing this franchise.
“Obviously you can’t please everybody,” said Abrams. Honoring the legacy using the legacy, making the fans proud, it’s the most important thing that we’re all working on. Though there are moments of sheer horror, the reality is I’ve never had more fun in my life working on anything. The opportunity far outweighs the risk.
It’s not like Abrams is going to stand up at Celebration and say “I got this,” but it was relieving to know that he was nervous. Because so is everyone. Please do not fuck this up.