Only Star Wars could trump Star Wars.
On a day when Disney showcased a lineup of would-be blockbusters — from Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie teasing Captain America: Civil War to a stumbly Johnny Depp in full Captain Jack mode out to hype Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales — to salivating fans gathered at the biennial D23 exposition across the street from Disneyland, the best was saved for last.
The climactic Lucasfilm portion of the program started off with some big news breaks, any of which would normally lead a story. Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan is teaming with son Jon to write a stand-alone film about a young Han Solo to be directed by The Lego Movie team of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord. The Untitled Han Solo Project (featuring Greedo on bass!) is slated for release May 25, 2018.
Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) checked in from the set of Rogue One, the anthology film coming in December 2016 about the Rebel Alliance spies who jacked the Death Star plans from the Empire. He introduced the full ensemble and shared the first cast shot, featuring geared-up stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, and Forest Whitaker.
But wait, there was more! Walt Disney Studios boss Alan Horn officially announced Rian Johnson (Looper) would write and direct Episode VIII for 2017; Horn then dropped a bigger bombshell: Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow has been tapped to helm Episode IX for 2019.
All that was prelude for The Force Awakens. Horn announced that Disney brass had screened the first cut of the film “and it was phenomenal.” J.J. Abrams arrived to thunderous applause and gave a status update with the film 124 days from its Dec. 18 release. “It’s more exciting than I can put in words,” said Abrams. “To see the thing come together is remarkable. To hear the music that John Williams is writing. I went to his house and played for me music on his piano that he was going to conduct and it was like hearing music from the gods.” Abrams says his current cut of the film runs 124 minutes.
Out came the new additions to the Star Wars universe: Force Awakens stars John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and Lupita Nyong’o. Boyega in turn unveiled an exclusive D23 poster designed by Drew Struzan, the artist who created several of the iconic original trilogy posters. The new artwork featured several mild spoilers, including Boyega’s Finn wielding a green lightsaber. It also featured Harrison Ford as Han Solo — and with that, everyone’s favorite scruffy nerf herder took the stage to the most raucous reaction of anyone over the past two days of D23. He gave a nod to George Lucas, who on Friday was enshrined as a “Disney Legend,” the Mouse House’s hall of fame equivalent. “Yesterday, following in the footsteps of George Lucas, the author of the early chapters of my story, I am delighted to be here now with J.J. and this wonderful cast… It’s a great thrill to be here with you, who helped make this whole thing happen. Thank you so much.”
And then came one more thing: Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger, the architect of the company’s acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, revealed plans to leverage its most popular property.
“We are bringing Star Wars to life in a big way,” Iger said, announcing a Star Wars-themed land that will be built concurrently at both the Orlando and Anheim parks, the resorts largest expansion ever.
The 14-acre, completely immersive parks will feature shops and eateries based (yes, there will be a cantina, presumably with a Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes cover band); alien species new and old; and two rides, including one that will put visitors behind the controls of the Millennium Falcon.
While the Star Wars segment provided genuine jaw-dropping moments Horn and his merry band of filmmakers packed much more into the two-hour presentation. Here are the other highlights.
A Civil War’s brewing.
Until Star Wars, the day’s most riotious ovation belonged to Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War. Cap himself, Chris Evans, was joined by fellow Avenger Anthony Mackie (The Falcon) to show off an epic teaser laying out the stakes in the May 2016 film, which is nearing completion in Germany. While there was no sign of our new Spider-Man, the jam-packed footage provided a first peek at Black Panther, the heavily weaponized villain Crossbones, a high-tech spin on Falcon’s pet raptor Redwing, and Paul Rudd’s ill-prepared Ant-Man joining the team. Other highlights included the repatriation of Bucky after his Winter Soldier interlude, the burgeoning feud between Cap and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.’s directs some haterade to Evans’s Steve Rogers: “Sometimes I want to punch you in your perfect teeth”), and the battle lines drawn between former allies (Black Widow: “We’re still friends, right?” Hawkeye: “Depends on how hard you hit me.”). The most ominous moment: a fleeting glimpse of a flag-draped coffin carried through a church, perhaps a nod to the Civil War comic book story that ends tragically for one of Marvel’s top do-gooders.
Marvel production president Kevin Feige also teased its next hero debut, Doctor Strange. The film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme comes out Oct. 26, 2016. With Cumberbatch in London doing Hamlet on stage (he appeared via video message, cheekily flashing the Vulcan sign) and the film not beginning production until November, Feige unspoiled a montage of concept art, featuring the caped magic man in a series of increasingly cosmic scenarios.
A little Depp will do you.
While light on footage (the film just wrapped), the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales portion of the presentation relied on Depp to carry the day. Depp, another newly minted Disney Legend, came out in full Jack Sparrow, all mumbles and mock (we think) confusion. “Where am I?” The crowd ate it up (literally; Depp was munching on some grapes which he gleefully tossed into the audience). We also got a preview of the plot: Captain Jack is pitted against the nefarious Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), an escapee from the Devil’s Triangle hellbent on murder. Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbossa, and the news broke that Orlando Bloom is returning to the franchise as Will Turner. The new Pirates , directed by Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning, will arrive July 7, 2017.
Tales as old as time, one more time.
Disney’s strategy of remaking its cartoon classics into live-action features is nothing new. But director Jon Favreau wowed the crowd with some teaser footage of The Jungle Book, featuring Shere Khan, Bagheera, Baloo, Kaa, and Louie as life-like creatures interacting with Mowgli (played by the delightful newcomer Neel Sethi, who pronounced, “This is awesome!”). Sethi was joined by his Oscar-owning co-stars Lupita Nyong’o and Ben Kingsley, who revealed the extent of his Disney fandom: “When I was boy, about Neel’s age, I heard ‘When You Wish Upon a Star,’ and something inside of me popped. Thank you [Disney] for helping a little boy’s dream come true.” Favreau also paid homage to Uncle Walt: “He was about taking the edge of technology and applying to the old formula. That’s what we aspire to do.”
With the old formula working remarkably well of late (see: Maleficent, Cinderella), Disney is sticking with it. Aside from The Jungle Book, which is slated for an April 2016 release, the studio also drew cheers with its preview of Alice Through the Looking Glass, a sequel to Tim Burton’s 2010 live-action remake Alice in Wonderland, which kickstarted the trend. Titular star Mia Wasikowska came out to introduce the eye-popping, time-hopping story, which reunites the full original cast along with Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays Time. While Burton is only producing this time around, director James Bobin (The Muppets) tries to keep the same vibe.
Another remake that Disney previewed: Pete’s Dragon. Bryce Dallas Howard trades Jurassic World dinos for a friendlier beastie in the update of the 1977 film, which combined live action and animation. While the new version, which also stars Robert Redford and is due out in August 2016, won’t have the whimsical soundtrack of its predecessor, the dragon (seen in a sketch) is much less cartoonish this time around. “I was hoping it would be a musical,” Howard told Yahoo Movies backstage. “I didn’t get a chance to sing [on screen], but I tried humming as much as possible.”
The last of the live-action revamps that Disney teased: Beauty and the Beast. Starring Emma Watson as Belle (who declared the role “a dream come true” in a videotaped message from the London set) and Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens as The Beast, the 2017 Bill Condon-directed film will be a full-blown musical, using the Oscar-winning songs from the original along with two new compositions from Alan Menken. Luke Evans (Gaston) and Josh Gad (Le Fou) even broke out a few lines of “Gaston” in lieu of any actual footage. It didn’t matter. This is D23 and the faithful went wild.