Star Wars Celebration kicked off this morning at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California in grand fashion, with the long-awaited panel for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and it surely didn't disappoint, with plenty of surprise appearances and, as expected the debut of the first full-length trailer. The panel kicked off with moderator Anthony Breznican introducing director J.J. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy (who was wearing a Star Wars shirt she actually purchased from Celebration last night). They were met with raucous applause. The panel started with J.J. Abrams discussing how important the franchise was to him, after he saw Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope when he was just 11 years old.
"I'm sure, like many of you, the experience I had seeing Star Wars for the first time was mind-blowing. I was 11 years old when it came out, and 11 is a great age to have your mind blown. I'll never forget that feeling of seeing 'A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" fade out and those words hit the screen with that incredible music, and it was from that moment on that just transported me. It was the first time a movie made me feel that way and made me believe in another world that way. It was really George Lucas' brilliance, not only creating these incredible characters and this amazing universe, but it had such heart, and the biggest thing for me, it had such hope, and that, to me, is incredibly powerful, at 11 years old."
When asked if he collected the toys or if he ever dressed up as a character for Halloween, the director had this to say.
"It sounds like someone must have told you something. I did, one year for Halloween, dress up as a Jawa, but I don't want to tell you what year it was..."
Kathleen Kennedy was a beloved producer for many years, before she was asked by George Lucas to take over as head of LucasFilm. The producer/executive revealed how that fateful lunch with George Lucas came to be.
"I have to say that, when George asked me to have lunch with him, and it was almost three years to the day, that I sat down with George in a small restaurant in New York, he said, 'I'm retiring and I'm thinking about moving on, and I'd like somebody to come in and carry on this legacy. I thought he was going to ask me for recommendations on who might do that. I asked, 'Who are you thinking about?' And he said, 'I was thinking about you.' As any of you can imagine, it's an incredibly daunting task."
Kathleen Kennedy also mentioned that J.J. Abrams initially turned down her offer to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as the director went on to explain why he did so, before ultimately changing his mind.
"I said no, partly because it's an incredibly daunting thing, partly because my family and I had this plan of what we're doing in the next year, partly because I had been doing sequels and things like that in the past, and I wanted to break away from that. But, when I sat down with you (Kathleen Kennedy) to have this conversation, when we were actually sitting there talking about what could come next and what it could be, I thought I would say no, but I was having this conversation with you, and it was impossible to say no."
The director also addressed the fact that there are physical, tangible sets that these actors inhabited, unlike the prequel trilogy which was largely a CGI-created world. The fans reacted with a huge ovation at the mention of practical sets and effects, which the director addressed, while the big screen showed a picture of the director and producer actually sitting in the Millennium Falcon cockpit.
"That's an awesome reaction. I will say when we started talking about what the story would be, and how to make it happen, the thing that struck me, and it wouldn't get out of my head, was how real it felt Star Wars was, when you first saw A New Hope. When they were shooting in Tunisia and on various practical sets, you couldn't deny it. Look, it's Star Wars, and there are going to be an endless number of effects and CG, of course, but we needed a standard. You needed to know people are in those places, you want it to be legitimate, you want it to be authentic. Building as much as we possibly could was a really a mandate. You can see what it is. You don't need to use your imagination."
Production started around this time last year, with the first 10 days of shooting taking place inAbu Dhabi. Here's what the director had to say, teasing that the desert environment is not actually Tatooine, as previously thought, but a new planet known as Jakku.
"It was an incredible thing to shoot there. It was 128 degrees. Star Wars is as much a western and a fairy tale as it is anything else, and one thing you expect to see is real, incredible, John Ford, beautiful landscapes, and Abu Dhabi provided that. It was an incredible thing to be there. And, the location is a desert planet called Jakku. People have thought it was Tattooine, but it's a planet called Jakku, and you'll learn a lot more about Jakku, maybe even today."
The first surprise guests at the panel were Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples, two guys who were fans and amateur droid builders, who were actually hired by Kathleen Kennedy to work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We also got a new look at the beloved ball droid BB-8, which actually came out onto the stage, dispelling notions that this was a complete CGI creation. How exactly the ball droid works is uncertain, but it was quite amazing seeing this little droid literally roll out onto the stage. Here's what the director had to say about BB-8.
"We talked originally about how to have BB-8 in the film, and there were a lot of discussions about how having a CG BB-8 would be so much easier, but we also knew it would be better for the film, for the actors, for the sets, for the look of it, if it were performed Neil Scanlon and his unbelievable team built and puppettered BB-8 in the movie, and they did an extraordinary job. It was better for the actors, it was better for the film itself. It was amazing."
"The amazing thing about Harrison, is he's the only person who can make an emergency landing on a golf course in front of two doctors. He's home, and getting well, and resting, and I can't tell you how much he wanted to be here, but maybe next year. By the time we open this movie, I know Han Solo will be very actively involved in what we're doing."
When asked if he had spoken with the actor recently, J.J. Abrams had this to say.
"I was texting with him yesterday, and I was going to go over and see him, but he didn't have time for me, because his friend was coming over for lunch. He said, 'Not today,' and I said, 'OK, whatever.' But, he sends his best, and he's doing great and working hard. I've had respect for him all my life, but I've never had more respect for him than after I saw how he landed that plane. That was an amazing thing that he did. He's more of a hero in that move than he's been in all of the movies he's been in. It was an incredible thing he did."
While Harrison Ford was not in attendance, the three new stars of Star Wars: The Force Awakens took the stage next, Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn) and Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron). We also got some new insight into these characters, starting with Daisy Ridley revealing that Rey is from this new mystery planet Jakku.
"We discover Rey on the desert planet Jakku. She is a scavenger in, like, a ship graveyard, and she is completely self-sufficient. She does everything for herself, very solitary, until she meets another character, and an adventure begins."
While she wouldn't say it outright, the character she meets is likely Finn, who was literally the first face fans saw when the teaser trailer debuted in late November. When asked how we first meet Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Boyega had this to say.
"We find Finn, he's in incredible danger, and the way in which he decides to react to this danger, changes his life, number one, and launches him into the Star Wars universe in a very unique way. I can't wait for you guys to see it."
When asked if he could confirm if he was an actual Stormtrooper or not, the actor clammed up, with director J.J. Abrams sitting right next to him. While he seemed to confirm he was a Stormtrooper, the director motioned for him to silence himself, which brought a great response from the crowd. When asked if he is a "good guy or bad guy," the actor revealed, "My memory is completely gone."
Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron was only shown briefly in the first teaser trailer, but we know he is an X-Wing fighter pilot. When asked for more on his character, the actor had this to say.
"He's the best friggin pilot in the galaxy, that's who he is. He's been sent on a mission by a certain princess, and he ends up coming across Mr. John Boyega's character, and their fates are forever intertwined."
"I cant tell you how many times I've played the games on my PS3. Obviously, as a fan coming on set, I freak out a bit, seeing Harrison Ford in front of you, but, at the same time, you do get cast members to sign your merchandise after the wrap. I had a Han Solo in Stormtrooper gear, and I went over to Harrison and asked, 'Can you sign my doll?' He said "This is weird, but I'll sign it for you.' And I got it signed on set."
When the cast was first announced, many criticized the sequel for only having one main female character, in Daisy Ridley's Rey. Kathleen Kennedy revealed that aspect of the movies will be changing in the years to come.
"That will change. There are really strong women, not only in Episode 7, but in the conversations we're having moving forward, there are going to be a lot of wonderful new (female) characters."
Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, and in the original trilogy, fans saw quite a "battered world,' as moderator Anthony Breznican put it. When asked if this universe will still look just as weathered as before, J.J. Abrams had this to say.
"One of the things I loved so much about the original trilogy, was that sense of everything being real and weathered and lived in and used. It was a world of underdogs and you felt like you were fighting against an enemy that was bigger and larger, so, for me, the look and feel of that technology being anything but brand new and pristine, was really important. This movie takes place decades after Jedi, so it has to follow suit, and in that regard, that's what you'll see.."
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is easily the most anticipated movie of 2015, and with that level of anticipation comes incredible expectations from the fans. When asked how he can guarantee that this movie will please every fan, J.J. Abrams offered a confident response.
"Well, we just will. Obviously, you cant please everybody, but we're trying very hard to do just that. I will say that, 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 of this, and I cant wait for you to see the movie."
Kathleen Kennedy also addressed how important the "fan perspective" is, when crafting these new stories.
"I don't think there's anything more important, in the Star Wars universe, than the fans. You guys talk to us all the time about everything, and we take that really seriously. It doesn't mean, for obvious reasons, we can do every single thing that is dictated by the fans, but we're fans too. Everyone inside the LucasFilm organization are fans. Many, many fans are inside The Walt Disney Company. I've been amazed, since we've been a partner of The Walt Disney Company, that everybody is a fan. Everybody has a Star Wars story. That generational experience is something that's really important and it's everything, in terms of the future of Star Wars. You guys, you energize us, so thank you."
Oscar Isaac also shared a humorous story about how he reacted to the news that he had been cast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
"I was in my hotel room, waiting to find out if I had been cast, and if i needed to stay for that reading, that picture you guys saw, that iconic one. When I finally got the call that I had was officially going to play Poe Dameron, I was so excited/nervous to try to tap back into that. I was like, 'I don't know if I can do that.' So I blasted the Star Wars theme as loud as i could, and i grabbed my shampoo bottle (he starts making lightsaber sounds), and I was like, 'No, I can do this.' That's how I dealt with it."
John Boyega added that he actually didn't tell his parents until the first cast photo from the table read was released, because he didn't think his parents would believe him.
"I was scared to tell my parents that I got the part of Finn in Star Wars, in case they didn't believe me. So I waited until that cast photo was released before I told my parents. All that time, my dad saw me leaving to this place, and I was reading all these red sides. He was like, 'What is going on?' I just told him I was filming 24."
After the Q&A, the new Stormtroopers came out onto the stage, wearing the new uniforms, followed shortly thereafter by Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker). As you may or may not know, Anthony Daniels is the only actor to appear in every Star Wars movie, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens. When asked about this momentous feat, the actor had this to say.
"It is quite amazing, because it's been 40 years since I first met George Lucas. I quickly became a part of a team that got involved in making this crazy little film that none of us first thought that any of you people would ever come to see. How wrong were we? We were totally wrong, because you did come, and you kept coming. You stayed with us all the way, and it is quite extraordinary. Now there are more of you joined in the fun, because there are three generations who love this story."
Mayhew "It's kind of nice to get back into that furry suit, because I can go anywhere in the world and still be comfortable. I wouldn't have met any of these people if I hadn't worn that walking carpet, as this lady calls me."
Carrie Fisher did tease that fans will get to see a new look for Princess Leia, and past styles such as the cinnamon bun hairstyle and the metal bikini will not be seen.
"The buns are, you know, tired know, but I think we'll have a future thing you'll be into, which is not the metal bikini, I promise."
Mark Hamill talked about the first time he met George Lucas, while calling the fans his family.
"I remember George called the original film the most expensive low-budget movie ever made. I remember saying to him, no, I think it will be a winner. I think it will out gross Planet of the Apes. I want to say thank you because if it wasn't for the UPF's, Ultra-passionate fans, we wouldn't be here. It never ceases to amaze me. Over the years, my entire adult life, I've felt so much love from you're. You're more than just fans, you're family."
Carrie Fisher added that it was amazing to be a part of so many people's childhoods, while adding an amusing joke to bring the panel to a close.
"You grew up with us. We're still growing up too, but it's an amazing thing to be a part of so many people's childhood, and to be a toy at the same time, so thank you for playing with me."\
That about wraps it up for the Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel at Star Wars Celebration earlier today. Disney and LucasFilm have provided us with a slew of photos from the event, and you can check out our whole gallery below. What do you think about this slew of new information? Let us know what you think below.