Star Wars Celebration, an annual convention for all things Star Wars being held this year in Anaheim, CA, kicked off with an hourlong panel that started as an interview between Entertainment Weekly’s Anthony Breznican, writer/director J.J. Abrams, and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, then expanded to include cast members, droids, and stormtroopers. Speaking to an arena-sized crowd, many of whom had camped out all night to see the event in person, Abrams and Kennedy recalled their first Star Wars memories, said nice things about UNICEF, and spoke of their unexpected ascents within the Star Wars universe, Kennedy having been asked to take over by a retiring George Lucas and Abrams hesitating before taking on the huge project.
Then the droids started arriving.
While the panel was short on hard details about what Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens is actually about, it was long on spectacle and new images to scrutinize even before unveiling the film’s second teaser, this one running a little less than two minutes. The sights started with the arrival of R2-D2, a droid veteran of all six previous installments, and BB-8, a new droid that’s essentially a dome sitting on top of a large ball. Joined by droid creators Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples, Abrams kept emphasizing the importance of using a practical effect for BB-8 rather than realizing it (him? her?) digitally. It’s a point Abrams hit a lot during the panel, stressing, “Building as much as possible was really the mandate” and a desire to create a tangible experience filmed on real sets. Each such mention went over well with a crowd that seemed eager for a back-to-basics experience rather than the CGI-intensive filmmaking of the prequels. (And, apart from a few worlds of praise about the gleaming qualities of the Imperial world in the prequels, kind words about Episodes 1-3 were at a minimum.)
The cast members then took the stage in waves. Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley arrived first, each revealing a little more about their characters and the world of the film. Ridley’s Rey is a “scavenger” until she meets “another character.” Isaac’s Poe Dameron is, in the actor’s words, “the best frickin’ pilot in the galaxy, that’s who he is,” who then receives an assignment from “a certain princess.” Boyega’s Finn is a stormtrooper. That desert planet isn’t Tatooine; it’s Jakku.
And speaking of stormtroopers: Out came a wave of them in new, more streamlined uniforms very much in the tradition of those seen in the original trilogy. They were followed by Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Peter Mayhew, the lattermost walking with assistance from a cane and Hamill. Everyone seemed in great spirits, with Fisher getting off the best lines. Then, after a few softball questions about hairbuns and the increased prominence of female characters in the Star Wars universe, a talking point hit on several times throughout the panel, everyone went their separate ways and it was all over.
Except for a new two-minute teaser narrated by Luke Skywalker.
If you’re a Star Wars fan, there’s a lot to talk about here. So let’s dig in in the comments section below. I’ll leave with this, however: It ends with Han Solo and Chewbacca, and is our first glimpses of the old characters, saying, “We’re home.” And while it’s hard, if you’re a fan, not to share that sentiment, or to feel a little chill at that moment, isn’t it a little worrying how tailor-made to what fans claim to want from Star Wars this whole roll-out has been? “I don’t think there’s anything more important in the Star Wars universe than the fans,” Kennedy stated at one point. Let’s hope there’s more to the movie than just pushing fans’ buttons.