Today marked the start of Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California, which got under way with an epic one-hour panel for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, that concluded with the release of the new full-length trailer. There was a lot of information about the cast and the production revealed during the panel, so we're providing a handy guide for you right here, breaking down the 19 most important and/or interesting tidbits uncovered during this epic presentation. On hand to talk about the sequel were director J.J. Abrams, producer Kathleen Kennedy and a number of surprise guests that included new cast members John Boyega (Finn), Daisy Ridley (Rey) and Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), along with beloved fan favorites Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca).
Of the information revealed, probably the most interesting was the fact that a great deal of the action takes place on a new desert planet that is not Tatooine. No, this world is referred to as Jakku, and is home to scavenger Rey. We also learned that the droid BB-8, who has already proven to be a hit with fans, is a fully functioning robot and practical effect, not CGI. To prove it, J.J. Abrams brought the little guy out on stage, where he was met with copious amounts of applause.
J.J. Abrams spent some time discussing why he originally said 'No' to directing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Fans knew he was hesitant, but he finally let everyone in on the real story and the pressures that come with taking on such an epic feat of strength. He even went back through his own personal history with the franchise, and reveals that he once dressed up as a character from the movies. You'll have to keep reading to find out which one, but it's probably not who you expect. During the two hour presentation, we also got to hear just how incredibly important the practical sets are.
By now, we've all heard about the Force for Change campaign. J.J. Abrams used Star Wars Celebration as a chance to further champion the cause, and revealed just how much the organization has raised thus far. We also got a look at some of the new droids that will be on display when Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrives on screens worldwide this December. Some of them even tie back into Rey's time spent on Jakku. Though, it's unclear how any of these new robots will help Rey and Finn when they come under attack from the First Order, a splintered off group of the Empire that rose from the ashes of the defeated Death Star. One person who will serve in helping complete their mission is X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron, who we discovered at the panel is hands down the best fighter pilot in the galaxy. Perhaps even better than Han Solo and Luke Skywalker! Along with new insight into his character, Oscar Isaac also revealed his reaction to hearing he'd been cast for the first time.
The rest of the new actors who took to the stage also told tales of their casting announcements, and how they dealt with family and friends. This was followed by whispers that Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia will be sporting a new look. We didn't get to see a photo or footage of her, but we did get to hear about her return in greater detail. This also came with the news that there will be more female actors in the upcoming franchise. Some of whom have not been announced just yet.
Following the Star Wars Celebration presentation, we learned even more new details about the movie from Entertainment Weekly. The main question that the film will ask is: Who is Luke Skywalker? We'll also know the full backstory behind Kylo Ren when all is said and done. As it turns out, this bad guy is not a member of the Sith. He is actually part of a group that is known as The Knights of Ren. Who are they and what is their place in the universe? We don't know that yet!
Other aspects touched upon are how the new Star Wars characters got their names, what it was like to have Harrison Ford back on set that first day, in costume as Han Solo, and who, exactly, is Simon Pegg playing in the movie? There is plenty of new secrets and details to discover in this latest sneak peek at Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But rest assured, the biggest mysteries won't get solved in theaters until this December. For now, take a look at everything we've learned.
1 The Desert Planet of Jakku
Production on Star Wars: The Force Awakens started last April, with the first 10 days of filming taking place in Abu Dhabi. Given the fact that Abu Dhabi is a desert country, many fans thought the sequel was heading back to Tatooine from the original trilogy. J.J. Abrams himself revealed that the planet, where we first caught a glimpse of Finn in the first teaser from November, is actually called Jakku, although the director stopped short of revealing anything else about the planet. We did learn later on that Daisy Ridley's Rey is also from Jakku, but we'll get back to her in a bit.
2 BB-8 Is An Actual, Physical Droid
The teaser from November gave us our first look at BB-8, a lovable ball droid that could very well be just as beloved by this generation as R2D2 was to my generation. Given the sheer mechanics of the droid, which has a small robotic head atop a rolling ball, many thought BB-8 was a complete digital creation, but fans learned that was not the case when BB-8 literally rolled out onto the Star Wars Celebration stage. J.J. Abrams explained that there were conversations about making BB-8 a CGI character, but they ultimately decided it would be better for the film if it was practical. Unfortunately, we didn't learn anything else about BB-8's place in the story, or how it actually works (the head appears to be connected to the ball... but how COULD it be?) but seeing this ball droid coming onto the stage, live, was quite a wonderful sight.
3 Why J.J. Abrams Originally Said No
It seems like a lifetime ago, but just a few years back, Disney and LucasFilm were aggressively trying to find the right director to take the helm on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Practically every A-list filmmaker in Hollywood was mentioned for the job at one point, but J.J. Abrams actually turned down the job when it was first offered to him. The filmmaker revealed that he originally declined the offer, partially because of how "daunting" the project seemed, and that he had a plan in place for the following year with his family, not to mention the fact that he didn't want to make another sequel. But after he talked with Kathleen Kennedy about the direction they were taking with the franchise, the director said, "it was impossible to say no."
4J.J. Abrams Dressed Up As a Jawa
Early on in the panel, J.J. Abrams revealed memories of seeing Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope for the first time when he was just 11 years old, and the impact it had on him. When asked if he collected the toys or ever dressed up for Halloween as a Star Wars character, the filmmaker revealed that he went as a Jawa for one Halloween, but he would not say how old he was at the time.
5 Practical Sets Were Incredibly Important
One of the many reasons why fans dismiss the prequel trilogy was due to George Lucas' insistence of largely depending on CGI imagery to build the universe. One of the biggest ovations at the panel was when moderator Anthony Breznican mentioned that J.J. Abrams is using practical sets on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The director revealed that building as many sets as possible was an early "mandate," since he wanted the look of his film to be as authentic as possible.
6 Force For Change Has Raised $6 Million
One of the first videos we saw from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens featured J.J. Abrams announcing the Force for Change campaign, encouraging fans to donate money to UNICEF, which also gave fans the chance to actually be in the movie by donating. The director revealed that the campaign raised $6 million for UNICEF, which he says is being put to use right now in helping thousands of children throughout the world. Kathleen Kennedy also revealed that there will be a new Force for Change initiative coming as we get closer to the release, with a charity called Kid Power.
7 More New Droids Are Revealed
While R2D2, C-3PO and newcomer BB-8 will be prominently featured in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there will be other new droids as well, with each pilot getting his own droid. The photo above showcases just a few of these new droids that were revealed during the Celebration. Hopefully we'll get to see more of these friendly bots as we get closer to the December 18 release.
8 Rey Is a Scavenger From Jakku
When the panel was first announced, it was revealed that there will be "surprise guests," three of which were new stars John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac. Each actor shared a brief tidbit of new information about their character, with Daisy Ridley revealing that she is a scavenger from the desert planet of Jakku. The actress also described her character as "very self-sufficient" and "solitary," until she meets "another character" (presumably Finn) and goes on an adventure.
9 Finn Is In Great Danger
The first shot of Finn in the first teaser showed him wearing an iconic Stormtrooper outfit, which falls in line with rumors we had heard about him being a Stormtrooper that goes AWOL. While he wouldn't exactly confirm if he is a Stormtrooper or not, we did see him wearing that iconic white outfit in the new trailer as well. John Boyega did reveal that Finn is "in great danger" and that he makes a choice that "thrusts him into the Star Wars universe."
10 Poe Is The Best Pilot In the Galaxy
While BB-8 is to this generation what R2D2 was to ours, Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron certainly seems to be the new "Han Solo," as it were. The actor revealed that his character is "the best friggin pilot in the galaxy," the kind of bold statement we're used to someone like Han Solo making. He also said that Poe has been sent on a mission by "a certain princess" (i.e. Leia), where he meets Finn and their "fates are intertwined."
11Harrison Ford Signed John Boyega's Doll
While expressing how excited he was to join the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Boyega revealed that he actually brought a Han Solo doll to the set, and had Harrison Ford actually sign it for him. According to John Boyega, his co-star thought it was "weird," but signed the doll for him anyway.
12Oscar Isaac Reveals Casting Reaction
Oscar Isaac revealed he only found out a day before the first table read, where that iconic cast photo was taken, that he had won the role of Poe Dameron. He was actually at a hotel, wondering if he would need to spend another night in town for the table read, when he found out that he had been cast. Originally, the actor was worried that he couldn't tap back into his excitement for the role, so he "blasted" the iconic Star Wars theme and pretended his hotel shampoo bottle was a light saber, to try and get back into the Star Wars spirit.
13John Boyega Didn't Tell His Parents
John Boyega said he actually waited until the now-iconic table read photo was released before telling his parents he will be in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, because he thought his parents wouldn't believe him. Before that, though, when his father would ask what he was doing with script sides, he would tell him that he is shooting 24.
14 Leia Will Have a New Look
While the new trailer gave us our first look at Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill's voice can be heard in the opening voiceover, Carrie Fisher is nowhere to be seen or heard from yet. The actress did tease that she will have a new look that fans will "be into," while promising that it is not the cinnamon bun hairstyle or the metal bikini.
15 More Female Characters Are Coming
When the cast was finally unveiled last year, many fans criticized the sequel for only having one new female character, Daisy Ridley's Rey. Since then, more actresses have signed on, including Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o and Gwendoline Christie, but producer Kathleen Kennedy promised fans that there will be many more female characters introduced as the trilogy continues.
16 Fan Droid Builders Join the Production
Kathleen Kennedy revealed that two fans and droid builders who she met at a previous Star Wars Celebration, Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples, were actually hired to work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. J.J. Abrams added that they did an amazing job on the production, and there was never a "costly droid delay."
17 Fans Can Get New Emojis
At the start of the panel, it was announced that fans who tweet using certain hashtags will receive new Star Wars emojis. Fans can tweet #stormtrooper #C3PO or #BB8 to receive emojis for each of these characters. We'll keep you posted if more emojis are released.
18 The Force Awakens Will Please EVERY Fan
A fan asked J.J. Abrams how he can guarantee that every fan will be pleased with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The director's response? "We just will," after which, the crowd erupted with applause. Of course, the director added that he knows all too well about the pressures a project like this can bring, but he added that he has "never had more fun working on anything in my entire life."
19Kathleen Kennedy Listens To the Fans
There aren't many franchises that have such a massive gathering like Star Wars Celebration, something that is certainly not lost on Kathleen Kennedy. The producer revealed that there isn't anything more important in the Star Wars universe than the fans, and that the filmmaker team takes everything they say very seriously. Naturally, not every suggestion can be addressed, but the filmmakers are certainly well in tune with their immense fan base.