Earlier today, director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathy Kennedy took the stage at the annual Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California to talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the rebirth of the Star Wars universe. They did so in front of a mob of loyal fans in-person and what can only be assumed is millions around the world watching via live-stream on StarWars.com.
The panel, moderated by Anthony Breznican of Entertainment Weekly, featured a number of special guests including new faces like Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, the familiar faces of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew andAnthony Daniels, and even some lovable non-humans like R2-D2 and newcomer BB8.
We watched them chat and even watched the brand new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer. For those who missed the discussion, here are a few things we learned.
1. The Desert Planet is Called Jakku
The first teaser released this past November showed John Boyega’s character Finn and Daisy Ridley’s character Rey on a desert planet that looked a lot like Tatooine. We now know that it’s actually a new planet called Jakku. Based on shots from the new teaser, this is a planet that has been affected by the war between the Rebellion and the Empire (thus the downed destroyer) and is home to a lot of scavengers. It also seems like the sort of place where some of our new characters will meet. Abrams was hesitant to say anything else about Jakku, but he promised that we’d all know more soon enough.
2. BB-8 is Adorable
The newest feature droid in the Star Wars universe, BB8, also made an appearance on stage. He’s adorable and as has been rumored, a completely practical creation. How he works is still a mystery, but we do know that he is very real and is controlled by a puppeteer. The other wonderful thing that was revealed by his appearance at Celebration was the way he sounds. The legendary Ben Burtt, who created the sounds of the droids in the original trilogy and has since created sound for so many wonderful characters, has created a wonderful suite of sounds for BB8 that bring his personality to life. He’s a little more Wall-E than he is R2-D2, which will no doubt make him popular with the next generation of Star Wars fans.
3. John Boyega is about to be a huge star.
In his first appearance as “John Boyega, star of Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the Attack the Block star was incredibly charismatic. As a fan of his breakout role in Block, it’s impossible not to root for Boyega to become a huge star. He told a fun story about getting Harrison Ford to sign one of his Han Solo dolls, complete with a fun Ford impression, and mentioned that he didn’t even tell his parents that he was cast in Star Wars out of fear that they wouldn’t believe him. We didn’t learn many intricate details about who these new characters are or how they fit into the greater Star Wars story (other than to say that they all eventually meet and their “fates are changed”), but it’s clear that they are all very excited to be a part of the franchise.
4. There are more strong female characters on the way.
One of the reader questions posed to the panel centered around who they would be if they could be a character in Star Wars. Kathy Kennedy took this opportunity to mention that for a woman (or young girl fan of the franchise), there haven’t traditionally been a lot of choices beyond Princess Leia. “But that’s going to change,” she said proudly. Both in this new movie and in movies to come, there will be an influx in strong female characters. This is big news for anyone who, like Kennedy, is raising young lady Star Wars fans. With the introduction of Ridley, Lupito Nyong’o and Game of Thrones vet Gwendoline Christie (among others) to the mix in this new movie, they seem to be off to a good start.
It’s all part of this good new look for the Star Wars universe. As Kennedy would later explain, “the most important thing in the Star Wars universe is the fans.” She went on to explain that they are actively listening to fans and while fans aren’t always going to get everything they want out of this next generation of movies, those voices are being heard. The need for more strong female characters is one example, but the even greater message is that this franchise is no longer just about George Lucas’ vision for Star Wars. It now belongs to the community of people raised on these movies. Whether or not that ends up being a good thing is yet to be seen, but it is the change for which many had hoped.
5. Comic-Con Should Take Note of This Live-Stream Success
Sitting at home, sans pants, watching the live stream of this Star Wars Celebration kick-off event, I was struck with one underlying feeling: I wish Comic-Con would take note of this. We live in a connected, digital world. The ability to include millions of fans around the world in major announcements, the showing of exciting new footage and the discussions that filmmakers want to have with their fans is here. It can all be live streamed to everyone’s TV, computer or mobile device. So why isn’t it happening with events like Comic-Con?
The big argument would be that it devalues the event or the experience that those paying to attend the event would have. I don’t buy that. I’m a little jealous of my friends who were in Anaheim this morning and got to see BB8 up-close and personal. That would have been very cool to experience, as would the moment when the Force Awakens cast got together for a big photo opp. Being there would have undoubtedly been a great experience. Not being there, however, and still being able to see the panel and the eventual trailer, I don’t feel disconnected from the event. I feel as if I was part of it, albeit in a different way.
Would people still go to Comic-Con if the big panels in Hall H were live streamed to the world? Absolutely. Fans still want to be in the same room as their heroes. But for the properties that are global, digitally marketed phenomenons, doesn’t it behoove them to connect with as many fans as possible? It does. The hope is that by moving forward in a connected way, Star Wars will once again lead cinema into the future.
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