Live From the ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Comic-Con Panel
This is it. The moment fans were waiting overnight in a mile-and-a-half long line for: the Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel at San Diego Comic-Con. On hand for the festivities were director J.J. Abrams, producer Kathleen Kennedy, writer Lawrence Kasdan, plus members of the cast including John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Gwendoline Christie, and Carrie Fisher, along with 6500 of the most rabid fan in this galaxy or the one far, far away.
Even before the panel, the crowd was chanting and clapping up a storm. Things officially started off with host Chris Hardwicke introducing the first wave of guests: Kennedy, Abrams, and Kasdan. Kennedy talked about how Star Wars helped “usher in the Comic-Con age,” and how the success of the first Star Wars was greatly helped by Comic-Con. Abrams said there is a cut of the movie right now, and they’re “fine-tuning” things. Screens showed shots of Stormtroopers in formation, and using their blasters in front of a huge fire. Kasdan thanked “the genius” who brought them all together, George Lucas. Thirty years later, Kasdan got a call to return. “When we got J.J., I went berserk,” said Kasdan. Then they spent a year together writing the movie.
Abrams raved about getting to work with composer John Williams, and getting to show him new Star Wars scenes that he had never seen. Next he talked about the character design and brought out a new puppet character on the stage named “Baba Joe” (I’m guessing on the spelling). This is one of “hundreds” of puppets that they built for the film, according to Abrams. The benefit, he said, was that the actors had things to play with and react to on set. “All these creatures were built,” he added. As he walked around the stage, Baba Joe wiggled his nose and mouth in exceedingly lifelike fashion.
"There's a ton of effects. There will be CG,” Abrams admitted, but then repeated the word “Authenticity!” The first question came from Batman (or maybe a man dressed like Batman, I’m not sure), who asked what influences Abrams and Kasdan drew on when writing the script for Force Awakens. Abrams replied that “We tried to sit down and ask ourselves, ‘What feels right?’” Kasdan added that it’s sometimes about as things as small as feeling that the aliens and weapons cast shadows on wall, that they’re real. Months later, when they were on set, Kasdan looked at the Stormtroopers marching all around them and noted “Well, we got that right.”
Next, Abrams talked about directing scenes on the Millennium Falcon and how the location doesn’t necessarily make it good. “It’s literally Storytelling 101,” Abrams said. The stuff that has come before is powerful, but it needs to be supported now with new stories and excitement.
Kathleen Kennedy answered a question about the upcoming movies; Episodes XIII and IX are going to continue the story from Abrams’ Force Awakens, and then the Anthology Films will go off on their own. In fact, Kennedy said, Gareth Edwards starts shooting his Anthology Film, Star Wars: Rogue One, in three weeks.
Next, Abrams introduced a reel of behind-the-scenes footage. Simon Pegg made an appearance inside a massive creature suit (“I burn for Star Wars,” he said), and there was a heavy emphasis on “real sets” and practical effects, like flamethrowers that really shoot fire or massive alien suits and costumes. There were quick glimpses of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher in their costumes as Han Solo and Princess Leia.
After the lights came back up, the cast came out: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac. Boyega jokingly thanked Abrams for shooting in Abu Dhabi and making him dress like a Stormtrooper in the desert heat. Oscar Isaac talked to Harrison Ford for piloting tips for his character, Poe Dameron. “It’s fake,” he replied, “and also it’s in space.” He also talked about Poe living the events of the first movie from afar, and thinking he one day wanted to become a hero.
A question about diversity in the Star Wars casts, and bringing Asians into future Star Wars installments, Abrams says there are Asian actors in The Force Awakens. He also said he didn’t write Finn to be black or for Poe to be white, they just looked for the best actors to fit the parts. “I’m really proud of our cast,” said Abrams. “There is every intention to carry forward exactly what J.J. is talking about in [casting] future Star Wars film,” Kennedy added. Next, an audience member asked a question about transmedia and IP. “This is a story,” Abrams replied. “None of us are thinking about this like that.”
The next question referred to the “legends” of the original cast and what it was like working with them. “Harrison thought I was wearing a wig,” Oscar Isaac joked. “Working with ‘the legends’ was everything we could have hoped for and more,” added Ridley. John Boyega talked about taking Harrison Ford to a Nigerian restaurant in London; when the waiter asked “Are you Harrison Ford?” he joked, “I used to be.”
Next, Chris Hardwicke introduced the “Dark Side” of the cast: Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, and Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma. Asked about whether he could talk about his character’s connection to the Dark Side, Driver said “No.” Hardwicke tried again and Driver said “We didn’t have a lot of conversations about bad or evil. It was more about the difference between being bad and being right, which is a huge difference.”
Gleeson didn’t beat around the bush. “I am evil.” And Christie talked about acting beneath a giant suit of armor. “I found it exciting,” because not only was she a female Stormtrooper, but it was the opportunity to explore a female character who “is totally not about how she looks in flesh.” “I just found it very exciting that underneath that armor is a woman,” she added.
The next audience question was about how the Dark Side actors reacted to the news they were cast in Star Wars. In giving his response, Domhnall Gleeson then spoiled the name of the First Order base in the movie: Starkiller Base, named after the original last name for Luke Skywalker.
Carrie Fisher took the Hall H stage, and answered a question about what it was like to return to those famous sets and locations. “It was like a flashback,” she said. “I didn’t think it was going to happen again.” It was like before, she added, “But only we looked more melted. But in a good way!” Did it feel like a new experience or if they picked up where they left off? “It was a long leave off, and now we’re back,” she explained. She, Han, and Luke were referred to by the crew as the “Legacy People.”
On cue, Mark Hamill took the stage, and talked about attending comic conventions in the 1970s before Star Wars even came out. “I’m one of them,” Hamill said of the fans. “It’s hard to describe,” Hamill added about meeting Star Wars fans. “It’s such a personal connection. It’s very moving to me. It’s almost an out-of-body experience. I see it put together and it’s not me; it’s Luke.” On his honeymoon in Tahiti, a motorboat randomly found his hut, and when the captain made it ashore, he was dressed in a Dark Vader helmet. Marveling at fans knowledge of Star Wars canon, Hamill joked “I have now ceded ownership to the world at large.”
Last but not least, Harrison Ford took the stage, looking good with a big smile on his face. His first words: “I’m fine.” How did it feel going back on the set? “It should have felt ridiculous,” Ford said, then adding, “I will tell you: it felt great. I wasn’t so sure it would. But the company was great. The director was the right director. And I was proud to once again be involved.”
“The original Star Wars, that I was a part of,” Ford continued, “really was the beginning of my working life and I was very, very grateful of the opportunity I had in that film ... so it was great to be back.” Ford described The Force Awakens as “a development of theme, and a natural progression from the stories we told in the first three.” “I was just glad I didn’t have to go Toshi Station to pick up some power converters,” chimed in Hamill.
“I never thought that we would do another,” Ford said of coming back to the franchise so many years later. “I read something that I thought was really remarkable, really well-written, and with some very intriguing developments. So I was delighted to be involved.”
And with that, Abrams dropped another big surprise: The entire Hall H audience would be joining Abrams and company to experience a live concert of Star Wars music somewhere nearby. Can we live-blog from a concert? We’re going to try. Stay tuned.
Aaaaaaand we’re back, at “Star Wars: Concert For the Fans,” as it’s officially called. We’re at the San Diego Symphony’s outdoor space behind the convention center. Every single fan is here, and every single fan got a free lightsaber. They are not fooling around with this thing.