The force is strong in San Diego
In a little over five months the first new Star Wars film in a decade opens in cinemas worldwide. The Force Awakens kicks off a whole new era of Star Wars movies. For an entire generation who only caught George Lucas's originals on video or TV, now's the chance to get enveloped in excitement right from the start - before a single ticket is sold or bucket of popcorn slathered in butter. When all the action is onstage at an event in Southern California.
As expected, Lucasfilm brought out the big guns for their presentation at San Diego Comic-Con 2015. Thousands of fans queued up overnight to secure a coveted spot inside the iconic Hall H, which was packed to the rafters with those hoping to witness cinema history. To be able to say "I was there when." Let's have a look at what they unveiled for us...
Fueled by fandom
Over the course of the hour, everyone involved spoke out about their own geek experiences. Director JJ Abrams described his memories of dressing like a Jawa for Halloween as a 13-year old kid, and discussed how surreal it was to now be shooting a Star Wars movie. The cherry atop the sundae was how exhilarating it felt to first show a print of the movie to legendary composer John Williams.
Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker, shared his youthful recollections with the crowd. He recalled the first time he caught the original King Kong on TV as the turning moment in his geekdom. "I think the fans understand that I'm one of them," he said.
Undoubtedly the biggest Star Wars nerd of the lot, Simon Pegg wasn't on the panel but he did appear onscreen. "My whole life has led to this moment," says a grinning Pegg in between takes. "I'm in heaven... It's Star Wars. I burn for Star Wars." We now know that he's likely playing a rotund alien of some description. Alas - no sign of the rumoured Daniel Craig.
Emphasis on practical effects
One criticism leveled at George Lucas' prequel movies was the tendency to rely heavily on CGI. Fans of the original trilogy delighted in the flawless transition between real-life actors and real-life actors in prosthetics. There was no comparison; and Abrams knew it too.
Oscar-winning animatronic and practical efforts guru Neil Scanlan came aboard with his team to conjure up over 100 physical creatures for The Force Awakens. "It helped the entire process look and feel like it was on the screen," said Abrams, "because it was." One of those puppetry designs was trotted out onto the stage - Bobbajo, the alien which featured in the Unicef campaign. Who requires five people to operate.
Inspiration and homage
The team tasked with reviving the beloved franchise were asked about their inspiration, their united purpose in telling another set of stories in the galaxy far, far away. The response? To continue what George Lucas started back in 1977.
We tried to ask ourselves what feels right," said Abrams. "What delights us. That doesnt mean it has to be silly, it just has to be compelling. To write a script with Larry Kasdan [who scripted the second two Star Wars movies], when you say what would Han say, hed go, Well, Ill tell you what Han would say
Abrams went on to discuss how they took time to ensure all the characters were three-dimensional, each with their own set of emotions and motivations. When youre directing a scene on the Millennium Falcon that doesnt make it automatically good. Its bitchin but it doesnt make it automatically good.
A brand new behind-the-scenes reel
After letting on that he's currently doing the fine-tuning on the final cut of the movie, Abrams confirmed the rumour that a third trailer for The Force Awakens won't land until the fall. But hey - this is Comic-Con! In a valiant effort to appease fans they unveiled a behind-the-scenes sizzle reel of various images and footage spliced together with a smidgen of commentary.
Among the tidbits spotted: miniature X-Wings, a crashed and smoking TIE fighter, Rey in hand-to-hand combat and not to mention a load of Stormstroopers getting into a blaze. It's all included in the reel, that you can check out in its entirety below.
Domhnall Gleeson is playing General Hux
At long last we know who Domhnall Gleeson is playing: General Hux. He is in command of the First Order headquarters - the new version of the Imperial Army - that's named Starkiller Base. Die-hards will recognise the name; it was Luke Skywalker's original surname in the first script for A New Hope.
Gleeson was sparse on details concerning the intricacies of his character, but one thing was made abundantly clear: he's evil. "Of course he is," said Gleeson, "He's British." However, the panel's moderator Chris Hardwick dropped a small enigmatic description, telling the crowd that Hux uses "a large machine to obtain something." Death Star reference, perhaps?
When asked about the inclusion of Asian characters in the movie, Abrams offered up insight into how he and Kasdan approached race while scripting. "We didn't write the character of Finn to be any color," he replied. "We didn't write the character of Rey to be any color." Lucasfilm president and The Force Awakens producer Katheeln Kennedy reiterated that the plan for future movies is to broaden those horizons, and expand their cast to reflect a wider diversity of residents within the Star Wars universe..
One cast member already excited by the expansion of female roles in the movie is Gwendoline Christie. Visibly gleeful at discussing the part, she insisted that being kitted out in a hulking chrome Stormtrooper outfit was a blast. I just found it exciting that underneath that armor is a woman," she said. "And I find that more relevant than ever.
The original cast loved production
As well as the new generation, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac, the original crowning trio of the franchise were in attendance; Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford.
"It was like a flashback," said Fisher of returning to the Star Wars universe. "They were right about the acid flashbacks. It was a little bit like before, but we looked more melted. In a good way!" By the sneak peek of Fisher onscreen we'd have to disagree - she looks pretty sharp in her Hoth-esque garb.
"What did it feel like to walk back onto the set?" said Ford, flashing a cheeky smile. "It should have felt ridiculous, but it felt great!... The company was the right company, the director was the right director, Larry wrote us a wonderful story. I was proud to be involved. It's an emotional rounding of the experience we had in the first films."
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens on December 18, 2015.
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