Live reactions from the 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' panel at Celebration
Right now, if you'd like, you can tune into the live stream broadcast of the panel where I'm currently seated at the Anaheim Convention Center.
As a result, this isn't going to be a conventional live-blog. If you want to watch every second, you can. Instead, what I'm going to do here is try to offer some perspective on what's happening in this room. You don't really care that they're firing t-shirt cannons into the crowd right now to keep them happy while we wait for the panel to start, do you? You want something more.
I've been covering "Star Wars" as long as I've been writing about films online. I honestly think part of the reason movie news sites caught on when they did was because we ended up coming online around the same time development began on the "Star Wars" prequels, and it felt like fandom connected in a huge way around that event.
Now here we are, starting the final countdown to a new era of "Star Wars," and while I thought I had gotten over the excitement, I find myself genuinely buzzed about being here this morning. I'm curious about footage. I'm curious about guests. Right now, I'm just plain curious.
The lights are dim, lightsabers are lit, and we're about to get our first guests onstage as the remixed dance version of the Imperial March plays.
I'm not really sold on the hype man they've got onstage telling people to wave their hands and telling them that they have to cheer. It's actually a relief when Anthony Breznican walks out to moderate the event. Breznican's a good guy, an ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY reporter and a novelist, and he's good at doing what a moderator should do... making sure the attention is on the panel, not on him.
There are evidently special Twitter emojis. Try it. Type #Stormtrooper, #CP30 or #BB8. (Note... it actually says #CP30 on the screen. Not sure that's right.)
I like that Anthony started the panel with a personal story about seeing the first film for the time. While I feel like people aren't here to see him, they are here for that connection, and that's what fandom is really about in the end: shared experience. His story about his first viewing of "Star Wars" is similar to mine, but not exactly, and it's that similarity and those differences that have made thousands of conversations about these films so much fun over the years as I've met new fans.
It is loud in here. Just saying.
It probably helps that Kathleen Kennedy and JJ Abrams just walked out onstage. Kennedy just showed off her new "Star Wars" t-shirt that she bought last night, and then Breznican immediately starts to steer them on topic, asking Abrams about how the original films shaped his world and what it means to be part of them now.
I remember when Abrams was gearing up on "Star Trek" and we had our first conversation. It was clear that as much as he was happy to be doing "Star Trek," he was first and foremost a "Star Wars" fan. That always stuck with me, and you can see how much he brought the spirit of "Wars" to the world of "Trek" when he made his movie. I have a feeling we're never going to see something as deeply felt from Abrams again.
Kennedy is the one who I'm most curious about these days, because she's been part of this scene, dealing with the iconic filmmakers of the '70s since the actual '70s. She has been a key player in many of the films that we all love and adore. I think she's a smart fit as the president of Lucasfilm, and everything I've heard from everyone working on these films would indicate that she is very hands-on and very focused.
Breznican just lobbed a softball at Abrams with the question about the approach to the effects in the film. This led to a stream of photos taken on-set, and part of the pleasure is seeing how much of the world was there.
Also, for all of those who were convinced that they've been looking at Tattooine, Abrams revealed that Jakoo is the actual name of the desert planet.
They took a few minutes to talk about "Force For Change," the charitable program that they started, with over $6 million raised for UNICEF so far. That's pretty stupendous. They're gearing up to join with another organization called Kid Power. Basically, it's a FitBit band that allows you to turn the steps you take into food for malnourished children. Not sure how that works, but it's a hell of an idea.
A lot of the panel so far feels like Kennedy and Abrams talking about how important the fandom is, and that's ultimately the point of an event like this. If they wanted to, Disney easily could have rolled the trailer out online and released a few featurettes of behind-the-scenes stuff, and fans would have worked themselves into a huge frenzy.
They told the story of how the guys who build the droids for the new film began as fans, who met Kennedy originally at Star Wars Celebration in Germany. Not only did they get to build the R2D2s we see in the film, but they also got to design new droids. That's what is going to help keep these films going, that joy that people feel when they join the team, finally able to add some small piece to this gigantic canvass that they love.
Watching BB8 move is insane. I honestly don't get completely how he works. It's an amazing design, and I suspect he's going to be one of hte breakout stars of the film. You should hear the response he got when he rolled in. It is one of the strangest practical robots I've ever seen.
They mention Harrison first and explain that because of the plane wreck, he's still on the mend. It was definitely a plan to have him here for this, and Kennedy promised that he will be up and around and helping to sell the film by the end of the year.
A huge greeting for Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, and John Boyega. These are truly the stars of this movie, the characters who we will spend the most time with in the films. They start by talking about the way they can still be somewhat anonymous in public, and then describing their characters a bit.
Rey and Finn are the first two characters we meet. Rey is Ridley's character, a scavenger who lives on Jakoo, and Finn is a character who "makes a choice and then is launched into the story in a very particular way." The interplay between Abrams and Boyega about what he's allowed to say is charming.
And Poe Dameron is Oscar Isaac's character, "the best freaking pilot in the galaxy." He's been sent on a mission by a princess... nudge, nudge. Breznican talks about how it's fun to see an X-wing pilot, a stormtrooper, and a scavenger as the main trio.
Today, these are the three they're emphasizing, and it makes perfect sense. You want fans to get their first look at the heroes and start to connect to them. The first question is about how it feels to be a "Star Wars" fan who gets to be in the film, and Boyega speaks quite eloquently for a young generation getting to step into their own dreams. His Harrison Ford impression was particularly funny, because you know he would never do it with Harrison in the room.
Kennedy made a comment about how there will be plenty of female characters in the new films so young female fans won't just be stuck playing "the princess." It sounds like diversity is a major part of the plan, not just for the main movies but also for the spin-offs.
One of the big boosts that JJ got in terms of making this feel like real "Star Wars" is that it's set after the original trilogy. That sense of wear and tear is a big part of the appeal of the world, and when they made the prequels, many fans simply disliked the aesthetic because it felt so different. I think many fans believe that it would be scary to shoulder the responsibility of making a film set in a world so beloved, but Abrams has his head on straight about it, saying the opportunity is more important than the fear.
The Q&A stuff is fine, but these are all softballs for the most part. It's clear that we're going to get wee tiny little drips of info in this, but they're talking around things. It still feels like they're not quite ready to start telling people much. I liked Oscar Isaac's story about taking a shampoo bottle out for a spin when he got the role, and Boyega's story about not telling his parents he got the part until that first cast photo was released.
And now the big tease...
First the new Stormtroopers. Then Anthony Daniels. Then Carrie Freaking Fisher. Then Peter Mayhew, led onstage by Mark Hamill. And at that point, my seven-year-old self takes over and I am on my feet and OH MY GOD THAT IS LUKE SKYWALKER ONSTAGE WITH PRINCESS LEIA AND THIS IS REAL THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING.
I honestly thought I was incapable of that feeling at this point, but it is real magic. You know what really gets me? Watching the faces of Boyega, Ridley, and Isaac, who have moved off to the side of the stage. As they look at the veterans, they are glowing, and it strikes me that this is something that is going to be generational, and not just once. My kids will share it with theirs just like I shared it with them, and they'll have their own "Star Wars," just as I had mine. It's a remarkable feeling, knowing that this is our shared mythology, and for the first time since I've been an adult, I truly believe that "Star Wars" is permanent and will live well after those of us who made the first one a hit are long gone.
Carrie Fisher just promised us that she will not wear the metal bikini this time. God bless her.
It also makes me feel insanely old to see Hamill and Fisher onstage together. They were kids in "Star Wars," a mere 12 years older than me, and now looking at them, time has definitely had its way with all of us. I love that, though, and I can honestly say that's part of the pleasure of this, too. Time passes, but here we all are again, worn but intact.
As you know if you've been watching the live-stream, they did not show the new trailer via the stream. Instead, they posted it separately, at which point the entire geek world seemed to lose its mind. I'll write up my thoughts on that and share it in a few. For now, though, I think it's safe to say we're in very, very good hands.
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is in theaters December 18, 2015.