Friday night at Comic-Con came with perhaps the most anticipated presentation of the entire event: the Lucasfilm panel revolving around Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Not only did the assembled fans inside Hall H get to see some exclusive new footage of the upcoming film, but they also got to experience firsthand a very emotional reunion of both past and present Star Wars cast members. Starting things off was Chris Hardwick, who hosted the panel and introduced the first guests: writer/director J.J. Abrams, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, and producer Kathleen Kennedy.
Kennedy started things off by thanking all of the assembled fans, who likely had to wait for a very long time in line to try and get into the hall for the presentation. She said that the Star Wars franchise has been, “dependent on the fans in this room since 1976,” and thanked everyone for their continuing support. The first substantive news on the status of the film came from Abrams, who shared that a working cut of the film had been assembled, calling the editing experience “amazing.” He also expressed particular thanks towards Disney, who allowed him the time to make the movie he wanted. While Disney wanted to try and have the movie out this past May, Abrams fought for the eventual December release date.
Abrams’ fandom clearly shone through in his address to fans, geeking out about both writing a movie with Lawrence Kasdan, and for showing a cut of the film to composer John Williams. “There is nothing normal about this,” he said. Kasdan added to the feeling by crediting the “genius” of Star Wars creator George Lucas, and called the entire experience of returning to the Star Wars saga “a total gas!”
In his time, Abrams took the opportunity to talk about the film’s inclusion of practical effects. He and the other members of the creative team paid attention to general fan distatse for the heavy use of CGI effects in the prequel trilogy, and Abrams pointed out that almost every aspect of the movie was benefitted by the use of practical effects and physical puppets for creatures. Abrams was also asked about creating a balance between serving established Star Wars fans, while still aiming to bring new ones into the fold. He said,
Because we love it and care about it so much, we have to not be blinded by that. You can’t just be a fan. When you direct a scene on the Millenium Falcon, that doesn’t make it good. [...] You can’t be blinded by nostalgia.
Kathleen Kennedy was asked about the arc of the upcoming films, and revealed that Gareth Edwards will begin shooting the first Anthology spin-off, Star Wars: Rogue One, in three weeks. She then introduced some new, behind-the-scenes footage for the assembled fans. It showed the wide variety of sets, the Millennium Falcon, and a red-tinted TIE Fighter. Surprisingly, it also showed Simon Pegg on set in a costume, saying “My life is now complete.” Princess Leia was also shown in her new costume, looking like a true military commander. Stormtroopers get blown away on a lava-torn planet, and Daisy Ridley’s character Rey is seen in the gunner seat of the Millennium Falcon.
Oscar Isaac then shared what it was like working with Harrison Ford, and piloting the Falcon. “It’s fake,” Ford told him. “Plus it’s in space, so it doesn’t really work like that.” On first working with the actor who plays Han Solo, Isaac also shared, “Harrison thought I was wearing a wig. So that was fun; that was cool.”
After the floor was opened up for questions, two kids asked about diversity, and whether or not Abrams will have any Asians join the cast. “We didn’t write the character of Finn to be any color. We didn’t write the character of Rey to be any color,” he said. He continued that he sees diversity as a very important directive that can always be improved upon, with Kathleen Kennedy adding that any future Star Wars film they work on will continue that philosophy. At that point, Hardwick introduced “the Dark Side,” with Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson, and Gwendoline Christie joining the panel. Driver plays Dark Side wielder Kylo Ren, Christie plays a mysterious chrome-clad Stormtrooper, and Gleeson plays General Hux of the villainous First Order, who leads their primary headquarters, “Starkiller Base.”
On playing an antagonist in a Star Wars film, Driver shared that no conversations were had about being good or evil, but “bad or right.” A dark character may do bad things, but if they feel they’re morally right, then that’s almost “more evil.” Gleeson then added, bluntly that he’s evil. One reason? “I’m British!” Christie shared that she loved her Chrome Stormtrooper armor, because she liked that a female character’s effectiveness wasn’t based on how she looked.
It was at that point that the originals began to join, with Carrie Fisher being brought out to join the panel first. When asked what it was like to walk back on a Star Wars set, Fisher said,
It was like a flashback. They were right about the acid flashbacks. It was a little bit like before, but we looked more melted this time. There were certain times the three of us were standing together, and it was hard to be there and be observed. But we were the legacy players!
To a massive ovation, Mark Hamill then joins the panel, and talked about being a card-carrying geek ever since he saw King Kong when he was a kid. When asked about encountering fans around the world, Hamill said, “It’s very moving for me. It’s almost like an out-of-body experience. When I see it put together, it’s not me; it’s Luke. But I’ve never taken it for granted.” Hamill then made a confession to the assembled crowd: “I hate to tell you guys I took a Star Wars trivia contest, and I flunked. I can’t remember what Han Solo was smuggling. Was it jewels? No, it was spices!”
Then, dwarfing all of the other ovations received up to that point, Harrison Ford was introduced as the assembled Hall H crowd went nuts. Ford, who’s known for not showing a lot of emotion during press events, even flashed an uncharacteristic smile, with many on social media commenting that he appeared visibly choked up by the admiration of the packed Hall H. On returning to Star Wars, Ford said,”It should’ve felt ridiculous. It was 30 years ago and I grew up. But it felt great. [...] It’s an emotional rounding of the experience we had in the first films.” Hamill then playfully added, “I really just didn’t want to go to Toschi’s Station to pick up any power converters.”
Hamill thought Luke would’ve ended up a hermit after learning that the only woman he ever loved was his sister. “That must have been quite a traumatic experience. Cause we were both after her.” Ford then gives him a comforting pat on the shoulder, saying, “How many times can I say I’m sorry?” Ford also added,
I never thought it would come back to bless me instead of haunt me. [...]I was very gratified when I read the script, because I read something that I thought was really remarkable. Well-written, with some intriguing developments. So I was delighted to be involved.
The finale of the panel was something that nobody saw coming. Abrams then asked the entire assembled crowd, “Who wants to go see a live Star Wars concert right now? We only have room for all of you. We are literally all going to walk to a location together and experience a Star Wars concert tonight.” On the way out, attendees were handed special Star Wars lanyards guaranteeing their entry to the music event. Then, Kevin DOyle, the fan who walked hundreds of miles in honor of his departed wife, finished his walk in front of the panel. Force Awakens Stormtroopers then led a procession to the concert.
Overall, it was an emotional event for everyone, especially for massive Star Wars fans and the cast members. Star Wars: The Force Awakens will hit theaters on December 18th. If you want to watch the full panel, you can do so below!
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