Disney’s chairman gives new ‘Star Wars’ updates but still says nothing

There's no real urgency to running the news-ish information revealed by Alan Horn during his appearance at the Bloomberg and Tribeca Film Festival Business Of Entertainment Breakfast (or the BTFFBOEB, as the kids call it), because it's basically all information that's already been released or that can be inferred.

He confirmed that the recent shoot in Abu Dhabi was a second-unit for “Star Wars: Episode VII,” which JJ Abrams is directing. Horn said that casting is almost complete, but it's obvious that he's learning that anything he says about “Star Wars” at all is going to become headline news around the world. Even if he says nothing, that becomes a story. “If I say 'there are no skateboards in Star Wars,' that gets headlines.”

Whenever they do decide to make their full casting announcement, it's going to be a nuclear-scale event on film blogs everywhere. I'm curious to see if they go into any character detail at all at that point. Whatever they announce will be parsed completely, picked apart and micro-analyzed for hints about where they're heading.

By the time principal photography began on “Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” I had a pretty good idea what was coming. I knew the broad strokes of the story, I knew what people were playing, and I'd even seen a little bit of the art they were turning out. Remember how much Lucasfilm used the Internet to help stoke the fires? They released a behind-the-scenes shot every day, but they were never easy or direct about it. There was a sense that they knew how excited people were and they wanted them to feel involved and stay excited the entire time they were counting down to release.

I know Bad Robot has a reputation for hyper-secrecy, so much so that people were willing to believe that bizarre fake new-hire letter that made the rounds last week, but while “Star Wars” is indeed a gigantic pop culture franchise, nothing is guaranteed in this business, and I can't believe the well-oiled machine that is the marketing arm of Disney is going to sit idle during production. I have no doubt there will be a major active presence for the film while it shoots, but that it will be carefully controlled.

Horn's management of the “Harry Potter” property at Warner Bros. is pretty much the most impressive business model of any modern mega-franchise. The way they got all eight films made and released in a timely manner, never letting the cast age out and never letting any behind-the-scenes hitch derail anything. They kept fandom engaged the entire time, and they managed to balance secrecy and hype in an impressive way.

It's going to be interesting to see how “Star Wars” finally starts to assert its presence, and I'm guessing we'll have our answer to that sooner rather than later.

“Star Wars Episode VII” will be in theaters December 18, 2015, kicking off an annual presence for the franchise that is already scheduled through at least 2019.