The Force brought the San Diego Convention Center’s Hall H to its knees Friday evening, as the all-star cast and filmmakers revealed the most complete glimpse yet at the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Comedy Central host Chris Hardwick moderated a panel that included director J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm honcho Kathleen Kennedy and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan.
In terms of cast, new blood John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson and Gwendoline Christie joined veterans Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and a show-stopping Harrison Ford on stage.
“I’m just fine, thanks,” Ford told a cheering crowd when Hardwick and several in the audience inquired about his health after surviving a plane crash in March.
Abrams showed a behind-the-scenes package that included glimpses of the original trilogy’s most beloved characters, Luke Skywalker (Hamill), Han Solo (Ford), Princess Leia (Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and more.
“You’ve been here before but you don’t know this story,” Hamill said over shots of stunning practical sets.
Talk was relaxed but reverent during the affair, which ended in a major musical surprise — the entire room was escorted by an army of Storm Trooper-costumed guards to a nearby outdoor space for an hour-long concert by the San Diego Symphony featuring the music of “Star Wars.”
Disney will release “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on Dec. 18.
A few key things TheWrap learned from the “Star Wars” presentation in Hall H:
1. Abrams Applauds Disney’s Patience
“These days movies have release dates before they have scripts,” said Abrams. He credited the studio for giving the production team time to “do it right.” Abrams confirmed they have a rough cut of the film and are “in editing, sort of fine-tuning, letting the movie become what it wants to become.”
2. Practical Effects Are King
Abrams trotted out a creature named Baba Joe, a futuristic bagman of sorts, to trumpet the film’s commitment to practical effects over computer-generated graphics. “Of course it’s ‘Star Wars,'” he said. “There will be a ton of visual effects, you can’t avoid it. But we wanted it to be authentic — sets, props, creatures. It helped make it look authentic because it was.”
3. J.J. Abrams Is Really Selling the Story
When Disney acquired the rights to the beloved franchise from creator and original director George Lucas, many detractors saw it as a financial ploy to milk box office and merchandising dollars out of devotees. Abrams seemed hellbent on proving his own devotion, starting with the script, which he co-wrote with Kasdan.
“We wanted to tell a story that would make us feel, and the movie feel, like a continuum of what George started,” he told one fan in the audience.
4. Save the Bad for Last
We now know who the bad guys are. Hardwick introduced Driver, Gleeson and Christie as “the dark side,” to much fanfare. While the actors were vague about their exact mission, Driver gave some insight as to what motivates the three. “There’s a huge difference between someone who thinks they’re bad — it’s a selfish thing, it’s about hurting someone else,” he said. “But thinking you’re right about something is almost more evil. A group of people who have decided that they’re morally justified in behaving a certain way.”
5. The Bad Guys Have a Hangout
“I’m evil,” Gleeson said of his character, General Hux. “I’m British, so yeah.” The actor also let slip that an enemy compound was named “Starkiller Base,” which seems to call back to the original name for Luke Skywalker’s character in the first draft of Lucas’ “Star Wars” script — Annikin Starkiller.
In another reveal, British actor Simon Pegg — Scotty in Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboots — popped up in the behind-the-scenes video dressed as some sort of alien creature.
6. A Note on Diversity
One fan duo applauded Abrams’ use of a diverse cast in his reboot of “Star Trek,” and inquired about his plans to increase diversity in the “Star Wars” films; “The Force Awakens” includes the Guatemalan-born Oscar Isaac as well as black actors like John Boyega and Oscar winner Lupita N’yongo. “We wanted the movie to look the way the world looks, we wanted people to feel represented,” Abrams said.
“There is every intention to carry on exactly what J.J. is talking about in all the ‘Star Wars’ movies coming out,” Kennedy echoed.
7. Harrison Ford Thought Returning Would Be ‘Ridiculous’
The man who originated Han Solo seemed to choke up after he entered Hall H to a raucous standing ovation. When asked about his expectations returning to a familiar role after so long, he said, “Well, it should’ve felt ridiculous, it was 30 years ago.”
He added, “Here I was doing something I did so long ago, and I will tell you that it felt great. I wasn’t so sure it would, but the company was the right company and the director was the right director.”
8. Princess Leia Has a New ‘Do
Royal fashion seems to have changed since the first trilogy. Carrie Fisher no longer sports the iconic side buns as Princess Leia in the footage revealed so far, but a tidy top knot laced with a signature braid and combat gear marked by a leather vest.
9. The Force Will Be With Us For a Long Time
Producer Kathleen Kennedy mentioned that production will begin in three weeks on Rogue One, director Gareth Edwards’ standalone film about a band of resistance fighters seeking to steal the plans for the original Death Star.
Watch the behind-the-scenes video package.