At Star Wars Celebration in April, director J.J. Abrams, flanked by nearly the entire cast, debuted a new teaser for The Force Awakens. The clip closed with Harrison Ford’s Han Solo declaring to his Wookiee sidekick, “Chewie, we’re home” — a phrase made bittersweet by the absence of Ford, who was just weeks from a frightening plane wreck. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy apologized on Ford’s behalf. Friday evening at San Diego’s Comic-Con International, Ford made amends.
Making his first official public appearance since smashing his plane on a golf course, Ford joined Abrams, Kennedy, original Star Wars cast mates Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher (Chewbacca alter ego Peter Mayhew, who uses a cane, was seated prominently in the audience), along with new Star Wars heroes Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac. But the dark side was in attendance, too, as the actors playing the film’s trio of new villains — Gwendoline Christie, Adam Driver, and Domhnall Gleeson — also showed up at the convention center’s Hall H presentations, where they did their best not to spill any secrets.
Still, even with so many new Star Wars faces on stage, all eyes were on Ford, who was greeted by warm embraces from Hamill and Fisher and thunderous applause from hundreds of fans who had camped out overnight to get into Comic-Con’s most-anticipated panel. After two standing ovations, Ford declared: “I’m fine… I walked here, so how bad can it be?”
Making his first official public appearance since smashing his plane on a golf course, Ford joined Abrams, Kennedy, original Star Wars cast mates Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher (Chewbacca alter ego Peter Mayhew, who uses a cane, was seated prominently in the audience), and newcomers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Gwendoline Christie, Adam Driver, and Domhnall Gleeson in the convention center’s Hall H to present The Force Awakens panel.
Ford was greeted by warm embraces from Hamill and Fisher and thunderous applause from hundreds of fans who had camped out overnight to get into Comic-Con’s most-anticipated panel. After two standing ovations, Ford declared: “I’m fine… I walked here, so how bad can it be?”
While Ford’s appearance generated the loudest reaction, it was one of just many highlights of the hour-plus session. Here are the key takeaways.
The Force Awakens is getting its final tune-up.
The film hits theaters Dec. 18, and Abrams gave an update on its progress:
“We’re editing. We have a cut of the movie. We’re in this extraordinary moment where we’re doing fine-tuning. And I say, ‘extraordinary,’ because… we have the time — Disney has given us the time — to do this right. We’re working hard to make the movie more of what it wants to be.”
The filmmakers are honoring the past.
“The guy who brought me in was the genius who brings us all here: George Lucas,” said screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who previously wrote the scripts for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. “Thirty years passed and those movies never went out of my life. And then a call came again and said, 'Will you come back and meet these characters again?’ And when we got J.J., and found out he would do this, I went berserk. I though the was the funniest, most talented, most perfect person to do this movie.”
Abrams, who was 11 years old when the first Star Wars film was released in 1977, was equally adamant about respecting the franchise’s past. “Star Wars is something that is so deeply ingrained, so important to so many people — I asked my mom to make me a Jawa costume for my 13th Halloween — I’ve been a fan since I was a little kid,” said Abrams.
He also reiterated, to wild applause, that he considered only the first three films that George Lucas made — 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, and 1983’s Return of the Jedi — as canon. Much of what is seen in The Force Awakens was built, including ships (like the new X-wings and Millennium Falcon) and hundreds of robotic creatures (like the alien Babajo, who meandered around the stage on Friday). “It gives the actors who are in scenes things to deal with, play with, respond to,” explained Abrams.
Babajo takes the stage at Comic-Con
“We tried to sit down and ask ourselves, 'What feels right?’ The only mandate we had was what delights us,” said Abrams. “We wanted to tell a story that would make us feel. And be something that would feel like a continuum of what George Lucas started.”
But they’re not stuck in the past.
“Because we love it and care about it so much, our job is to not be blinded by that. You can’t be a fan and say you’re going to make a good movie because you’re a fan,” Abrams said. “That’s not enough. I’ll tell you from personal experience, when you’re directing a scene on the Millennium Falcon, it doesn’t make the scene good. Now it’s bitchin’ that it’s on the Millennium Falcon, but it doesn’t make the scene automatically good.
“It has to be fun, it has to be scary. The power of what has come before is so fun, is so deep, but you can’t be blinded by it. You have to parse it. But we needed to know what it means and why we were doing it.”
The first stand-alone movie is almost ready to go.
The first anthology film, Star Wars: Rogue One, which will focus on the band of rebels seeking to capture the Death Star plans and will be directed by Gareth Edwards, will begin shooting in three weeks, according to Kennedy. It’s set for a December 2016 release.
They lifted up the curtain again.
Weeks ago Abrams disappointed die-hards by stating that he wouldn’t be screening a new trailer at Comic-Con. He reiterated during Friday’s panel that a new trailer was still not in the offing. “But we knew this was too important coming to you, who care about this and love it so much, that we wanted to bring something that was as unique and unexpected as we could.” He then screened a three-minute video of behind-the-scenes footage, featuring glimpses of returning characters, an array of ships, some new creatures and creations (including a giddy Simon Pegg in a still-unknown role), and plenty of First Order Stormtroopers, including Flametroopers and lots of blown-up troopers.
The newbies were embraced by the veterans.
At Celebration, Isaac pronounced his character, Poe Dameron, “the best friggin’ pilot in the galaxy.’ He revealed how he prepared for the role. "As an excited eager actor, I wanted to talk to Harrison about piloting. How should I do it? Is there any special thing I should do with the controls? And he said, 'It’s fake. And it’s in space. So the plane stuff doesn’t apply.’”
Ridley said that that meeting the “legends” was everything she hoped it would be. “They’re funny and warm and made us feel as part of the universe as they already are.”
Boyega had another Ford story, saying his greatest memory was taking the actor to a Nigerian restaurant in London. “This guy comes up to him and says, 'Are you Harrison Ford?’ And Harrison Ford goes, 'I used to be.’
The old-timers slipped right back into character.
Asked what it was like when she stepped on the set, Fisher quipped: "It was like a flashback. They were right about acid flashbacks… It was a little bit like before, but we looked more melted this time. But in a good way. That kind of Force melted.
"It was sort of like we picked up where we left off, but we left off a while ago,” she said, adding that they’re known as the Legacy Players, “which sounds like a bunch of tap dancers.”
Hamill said he was “moved” by the whole experience, but admitted he didn’t remember the minutia. “I don’t know what Han Solo smuggled — was it jewels? spices? — I’m the worst at Star Wars trivia.”
““It should have felt ridiculous…. It was 30-plus years ago and I sort of grew up,” said Ford of getting back into Han Solo’s skin. “Yet here I was. I will tell you that it felt great.”
Evil has a new name.
While we were introduced to the three new heroes — Finn (Boyega), Rey (Ridley), and Poe (Isaac) — at Star Wars Celebration, Friday’s panel was the first public introduction of the three chief antagonists and their alter egos: Kylo Ren (Driver), General Hux (Gleeson), and Captain Phasma (Christie).
The Dark Siders sought to humanize their characters. Driver said his character wasn’t necessary evil, just convinced that what he was doing was “right.” While Gleeson admitted General Hux was “evil,” citing the longstanding Lucas tradition of casting British-accented actors as the baddies.
Driver, Gleeson and Christie (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
The galaxy far, far away is all-inclusive.
Whereas Lucas took flak for his vanilla casting early on in the saga, Abrams and Kennedy said their universe is much more diverse. Asked by a fan if he planned to cast any Asians in upcoming films, Abrams playfully replied, “If I had my way, I’d cast only Asians… But I think when you see this film there are Asians in this film.
"We didn’t write the character of Finn to be any color. We didn’t write the character of Rey to be any color. We just cast this movie. We wanted the movie to look the way the world looks, and I think it’s important that people see themselves represented… I’m really proud of the cast we wound up with.”
Kennedy seconded that, saying the producers would carry on the colorblind casting for all upcoming Star Wars films.
Later, Christie explained why she was drawn to the character of Captain Phasma, a ferocious soldier sheathed in chrome armor. “I found it exciting that underneath that armor was a woman. And I think that makes it more relevant than ever.”
The Force Awakens will have Easter eggs (and Gleeson has loose lips).
Gleeson accidentally let slip that the headquarters for the First Order that he commands has a name that serious Star Wars fans will immediately recognize: Starkiller Base. Starkiller was the original surname for the Skywalkers in Lucas’s early story treatments.
Gleeson was then mock-chastised by Abrams, who has fought hard to avoid leaks and spoilers, for making the revelation.
The filmmakers like to keep the fans happy.
As they did at Star Wars Celebration, Abrams and Kennedy fed the Force fanatics who spent the night waiting to get into Hall H. They had donuts and coffee delivered in the wee hours. Then, as the panel wound down, Abrams announced, “Let’s do something insane.” He proceeded to invite all the attendees to a live concert of Star Wars music at the San Diego Symphony’s bayfront concert shell. Fans marched from the convention center to the venue, where everyone received a free lightsaber in the color of their choice. The cast made a riotous encore appearance, including Ford pretending to use a lightsaber as a crutch.
And then Oscar-winning maestro John Williams appeared in a videotaped message introducing some of his favorite music from the saga. The 90-minute concert was capped with the “Star Wars Theme” accompanied by fireworks over Mission Bay.