It’s the biggest panel of the day for Hall H, and will likely be the biggest panel of Comic-Con International 2015: the Lucasfilm Panel. The fans present had been standing in lines for over nearly two days to get into this panel, and the room was full to the brim. For those who want to see fandom at its “fanniest,” this was the panel to attend.
Chris Hardwick was the moderator for the panel. “Guys, we are in this! This is happening right now! This is the ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Panel. I want you to know how special this is to me. I am old enough to have seen the original ‘Star Wars’ in the theater with my dad, and there is amazing stuff to see.”
With that, Hardwick introduced Lucasfilm President and Producer Kathleen Kennedy, Director J.J. Abrams, and Writer Lawrence Kasdan. The moderator then asked Kennedy about the Star Wars fandom, considering all those present. “Star Wars is 100% dependent on the fans in this room and around the world since 1976 and we want to say ‘thank you’ to all of you.”
Hardwick then turned to J.J. to see where the film is at. He responded, “We’re editing. We have a cut of the movie. Disney have given us the time to do the movie right and not rush it, which is amazing.”
Kasdan reported that this was his first Comic-Con and explained, “The person who brought me in to all this is the same genius who brought us all together – George Lucas. He brought me in for ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ Then, to have gotten the phone call that J.J. was going to be doing this, I went berserk! I was a huge fan and we got to walk around and talk about these characters and this world for the past year.”
J.J. and Kennedy then talked about Neil Scanlon and his team that created the creatures for the film, and then one of the creatures walked out onto the stage – Baba Joe. The character looked somewhat like a two-legged camel. He was shown in early pictures with Abrams, and the director stressed how they worked hard to have authentic characters and props on the set and tried to keep the CGI limited.
The moderator then explained that the panel will be incorporating fan questions throughout the presentation (as there are so many present). The first person to the microphone asked how they approached the film knowing what it means to people.
Abrams responded, “The question we asked ourselves was ‘what makes us mesmerized?’ What excites us? We also wanted to continue on with the story that George Lucas laid out for all of us.”
Another person asked what influences J.J. referred to as he was filming – what films, stories, or directors did he look to? The fan explained how much the film meant to her because she watched it with his parents growing up.
“I watched ‘Star Wars’ with my parents too,” Abrams responded. “Because we love it and we care about it so much, we can’t be blinded by it. Just because you’re directing a scene on the Millenium Falcon, that doesn’t make it good. It’s about the story and what comes before. It’s a constant thing. ‘It may be cool, but what does it mean?’ is what we asked ourselves.”
Kennedy explained how much the whole experience has meant to them and how they have long-range plans. She also mentioned that Gareth Edwards starts filming “Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One” in three weeks.
Hardwick then introduced a short film that showed many of the sets and practical effects created for the film. The reality of sets and props was a continual theme mentioned throughout the panel.
Next, the moderator introduced several actors, including Peter Mayhew, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac. The enthusiasm of the actors was apparent to all. Boyega and Ridley both mentioned the authenticity of the film, and Boyega added, “Thanks J.J. for taking me to Abu Dabi so I could run around in the desert in a Stormtrooper costume. It was great!”
Hardwick joked that this was one instance where the actors probably wished they were using green-screen.
Fans got another chance at the microphone, and a member of the crowd asked, “What was it like working with the original cast members?”
Isaac said, “Harrison thought I was wearing a wig, so that was cool.”
“Working with the legends who have made this universe was everything we could have hoped for. They were funny, charming, and just terrific to work with,” responded Ridley.
Boyega smiled and said, “My favorite memory was taking Harrison Ford to a Nigerian restaurant in London, having a Nigerian ask him ‘Are you really Harrison Ford?’ and having Ford respond, ‘I used to be.'”
Hardwick said it was now time to meet some of the Dark Side of the film and introduced Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, and Gwendolyn Christie. The moderator started them off with a question to Christie about the head-to-toe armor she wears in the movie.
“I found it exciting, she replied. “Not only that there was a female Stormtrooper, but she was a woman who was not judged by what her body looked like but by her abilities.”
Back to the audience, a fan asked the “dark side” members what their reactions were to being cast. Gleeson responded, “I met with J.J. and he told me the backstory of the character and how he’s on this base…”
Gleeson suddenly paused, “Was I not supposed to say that?”
J.J. then smiled and said, “Yes, he’s on a base and it’s named in honor of the original name of Luke Skywalker. It’s Starkiller Base – spoiler brought to you by Domhnall Gleeson.”
With that, a special guest was then introduced – Carrie Fisher. The audience stood to their feet and applauded loudly. After she sat down, Hardwick asked what it was like to be back on a “Star Wars” set.
“They were right about the acid flashbacks,” she said. “It felt like it did before, but we look like we melted. We sorta picked up where we left off, but we left off so long ago. We’re known as the legacy people, and it was great having the new people, because they do things faster.”
“Speaking of legacy people, maybe we should bring out Mark Hamill!” yelled Hardwick.
Hamill came out to more loud cheers from the fans. Hardwick then brought up a picture of Hamill with a “Star Wars” sign from a time before the first movie. The actor remembered going to the initial conventions with pictures from the film and occasionally with an R2D2 prop. Hamill said he’s always touched and surprised how much the franchise means to people. Then he had a confession. “I took a “Star Wars” quiz recently and flunked. I didn’t know what Han Solo was smuggling. You fans have really taken ownership of the film…”
The moderator then asked Hamill how Harrison Ford was doing and if he was feeling well. The actor responded, “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”
Harrison bounded out on stage to the loudest applause of all. He smiled and waved to everyone. After settling in, the moderator asked how it felt for Ford to be back on the set in this movie.
“It should have felt ridiculous,” he answered. “Here I was doing something I did so long ago, and it felt great. The company was the right company, the director was the right director, and Larry wrote us a great story. The original ‘Star Wars’ I was a part of was the beginning of my working life and I was grateful for it and for the success of that film. Thank you for that.”
Fans then got another chance at the microphone and they eagerly took it. The first fan asked the original actors where they thought their characters might end up before they got the invitation for this current film. Hamill said, “Well, when the love of your life turns out to be your sister, I thought I’d turn out like Kenobi – out in an igloo in the desert with a bunch of droids.”
At this point, Hardwick informed everyone that it was time for the panel to end. He told Abrams that it would be nice to have something special to give to all those present. Abrams responded, “How about a private concert?”
Abrams then told the audience that they had somehow gotten the city of San Diego to allow them to move all 7000 attendees present to a private area for an exclusive concert featuring music from “Star Wars.” Some may have thought this was a joke at first, but then a large platoon of Stormtroopers and SDCC employees carefully excused the huge room and led them about five minutes down the boardwalk behind the hotel.
Fans arrived at a field to find Lucasfilm and SDCC employees welcoming people and escorting them to concession stands and a table where everyone was given their own lightsaber. The crowd was in an especially jubilant mood as they surveyed the special set-up. People were dancing to party music, taking photos and engaging in mock lightsaber battles.
Unsure of what they were going to see, the crowd eagerly waited for over 90 minutes (it took that long to move everyone to the venue from Hall H). Speculation ran rampant, but all were convinced they wouldn’t be disappointed, especially if the panel had been any indication of the level of presentation they could expect.
Over the sound system, an announcer introduced “the people who made the night possible: J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy.” Both came out on stage to loud cheers from the crowd. Abrams thanked everyone for their cooperation in coming to the venue in an orderly fashion. Once more, he introduced the cast members one by one, starting with the newcomers to the franchise, and finishing with the legacy actors. Each one came onstage with their own plastic lightsabers, playfighting with fans at the front of the stage. Everyone, that is, except Ford, who came out using his lightsaber as a cane.
Abrams and Kennedy thanks the crowd once more, and then lined the entire cast up for a giant selfie with the crowd. Saying that the music would be starting soon, they left the stage.
Musicians each took their place, and before they began to play, a video lit up the screen behind them. Composer John Williams appeared to say he was working on the new film’s score, and that he appreciated the enthusiasm everyone had for his work over the years. He then introduced the San Diego Orchestra — “one of my favorite orchestras” — and said they would be playing an assortment of music from the various “Star Wars” films.
Williams bid everyone farewell with a “may the Force be with you,” leaving the fans to listen to his music under the stars and amid the glow of thousands of toy lightsabers.
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