We live-blogged the ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Comic-Con panel!

07.10.15 3 years ago

It's been a big day so far. I enjoyed the hell out of the “Game Of Thrones” panel just as a fan, and I'm assuming we'll see Gwendolyn Christie back onstage during this panel to talk about her work at Captain Phasma. The line-up's been a secret, though, so I'm as in the dark as you are.

It's ten minutes after the announced start time of 5:30 and they're not even close to starting. This is one of those frustrating moments, since I'm running from here to moderate a panel on “Kung Fury,” and I've got very little room to negotiate. Even so, I'm here till the bitter end just in case there's something amazing worth sharing with you.

Eddie Ibrahim, director of Comic-Con, looks pleased as punch to finally introduce the “Star Wars” panel. “There is some special stuff we're going to be seeing tonight, and we would hope they'll feel comfortable bringing more special stuff in the years to come. Please don't record ANY of what we see on the screen.” If that actually works, I will be delighted. This is important, because this is the beginning of a long-term plan by Disney and Lucasfilm.

Chris Hardwicke takes the stage, which I think makes his third time up there today. He mentions that this has been something that some of us have been waiting for now for decades, and it's true. This is one of those things that is larger than just “fandom,” and it is part of the fabric of many people's lives. I know that with my own kids, it's one of the things that we share that almost feels like a special secret language. I complain sometimes about Comic-Con, but I am genuinely thrilled to be here.

Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, and Lawrence Kasdan are the first three to walk out and take their seats. “Kathleen, I want you talk a little bit about how 'Star Wars' is one of the things that helped create the age of Comic-Con, and can you talk about that relationship with fandom?”

“It was really the fans that built the momentum around the release of 'A New Hope,' and we're back here in full circle, so we want to say thank you to all of you.”

Chris asked JJ where they are in production now. “We're editing. We have a cut of the movie. We have had the time to do it right, and for Disney to give it to us is not a small thing.”

Having Lawrence Kasdan onstage is a big deal. He is one of the main authors of that original trilogy, after all. “The guy that brought me in is the genius who brings us all here. George Lucas. He was an absolute genius. He called me and said, 'Will you do this for me?' So we did 'Empire' and 'Return,' and then 30 years passed. And then a call came in and they said, 'Will you come back and return to these characters?'”

JJ talked about how strange it is for him to go from being a 13-year-old kid who made a Jawa costume for Halloween to being a director showing John Williams “Star Wars” scenes that he hadn't seen yet. That's amazing as a moment. Chris asked him about building things physically and why he did it, and JJ mentioned the UNICEF video that first showed off some of the sets and the creatures, and how that helped turn some of the reactions by fandom.

They then walked Baba Joe, the creature from that video, out onto the stage to show that he is a physical thing. Neal Scanlon's team built hundreds of similar creatures for the film. Whether they're big giant bounty hunter creatures or robots or giant weird pig monsters, it's all about giving the cast a feeling of being in a real world, interacting with real things. It's delightful to watch the little behaviors by Baba Joe as he walked around, and having things like him in the background makes the world feel alive.

“Of course with 'Star Wars,' there are plenty of visual FX and there will be CG. It's unavoidable. But it's about building a world that those things fit into.”

Since it's Comic-Con, of course the first audience question was from Batman. He asked about what they used to pull things from in creating the film, whether it's the comics, the books, the EU, or even other movies. JJ said that the films were the primary source, and that having Lawrence Kasdan as part of the process is pretty much all you need. After all, if he says that this is the way Han Solo sounds, then that's the way Han Solo sounds.

“Ultimately, we wanted to tell a story that would make people feel.” I can't ask for more, and the next person up talked about how precious “Star Wars” is to her and to fans in general. She asked how JJ even began to approach that responsibility.

“I think I feel more pressure answering your question. I watched 'Star Wars' with my parents, too. The only answer I can say is because we love it and care about it so much, our job is not to be blinded by it. Being a fan is not enough. What's the story? When you're directing a scene on the Millennium Falcon, it doesn't make it good. If I can give you any advice, I would say to direct a scene on the Millennium Falcon, but it doesn't make it automatically good. It still has to be fun or scary or whatever. You can't be blinded by it. What does it mean? Why are we doing this? We worked as hard as we possibly could.”

Kathleen talks about how the saga films are part of one main story, and the anthology films are a separate thing that will each stand on their own.

Chris asked if there was anything they could show. “We aren't ready to show you scenes from the movie or the new trailer, but we knew this was too important and we wanted to bring something unique and unexpected. We put together a piece that we hope will bring you into the process of what it was like to make this movie.”

The footage is beautiful. It's all behind the scenes stuff, but there's a huge emotional kick to seeing the familiar faces and characters on the screen, and the first thing I'll point out is that Simon Pegg is in the damn movie. There is a shot of him in a costume of some sort with the head off, and I can't wait to find out what he is.

John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Daisey Ridley then walked out to start talking about their work on the film. Boyega is out of his mind happy right now, and I get it. When I met him in Austin for the first screening of “Attack The Block,” he already struck me as someone very serious about his craft, but to step into a world that made him want to make films is something that seems like a dream come true. Boyega talked about the misery of shooting in a stormtrooper outfit in Abu Dhabi in the summer. Ridley talked about working out to be able to handle whatever physical demands were thrown her way. And Oscar Isaac talked about how he tried to approach being a space pilot seriously, only to be reminded by Harrison Ford, “It's fake.”

Isaac also talked about how he approached playing Dameron Poe in a way that really incorporated his own fandom. “Poe has grown up hearing about these legends and he's wanted to be one of them, so he really throws himself into situations, sometimes recklessly.”

Talking about diversity, Abrams said that none of the characters were written with a particular ethnic background in mind. The casting was all about finding actors they loved, and making sure that when people see the film, it reflects the world that we live in.

Kennedy added that they plan to carry on that sort of casting idea in every one of the upcoming movies.

One of the questions someone asked was fairly mercenary, filled with words like “transmedia” and “IP,” and Abrams stepped him back on that a bit. “I'm fascinated that you use the word IP so frequently. This is a story. If we thought of it as an IP, this would be very different.”

The next guy up asked about working with the original cast and how that felt. Isaac said, “Harrison thought I was wearing a wig. So that was cool.”

Rildey said, “Working with the legends who made this universe was everything we could have hoped for and more. They were warm and funny and made us feel part of things.”

Boyega talked about taking Harrison Ford to a Nigerian restaurant in London, and everyone reacted when they walked in. One guy asked, “Are you Harrison Ford?” and Harrison answered, “I used to be.”

Finally, they brought out Adam Driver, who is Kylo Ren, Domhnall Gleeson, and Gwendolyn Christie, who got one of the biggest responses of the day, and deservedly so. This may be the first time we've heard “General Hux” as Gleeson's name.

Asked about being representatives of the Dark Side, Driver said he can't really explain anything about his connection. He looked to JJ to see if there was anything he could say, and he seemed careful. “We didn't have a lot of conversations about bad or evil.” He looks at his character as being “right,” and how that is a very strong motivation for a character. It's all about feeling morally justified.

Gleeson on the other hand seemed almost happy to say, “I am evil.”

“Is your character really flat-out evil?” Chris asked.

“He's British. So yeah.”

Christie talked about playing a female Stormtrooper and the thrill of playing a female character who is not defined in any way by her flesh. She is a powerful gender warrior, and it's been a kick watching how joyous she is today.

Domhnall talked about how his character works at Starkiller Base, something that was not meant to be revealed today. That was something he was told about during the first casting meeting, and like him, Christie said she never quite believed it was real, even once they started shooting.

When someone asked a question about Darth Plagueis, Kasdan seemed confused and asked if the guy was referring to Las Vegas in some way. Many of the audience questions were uber-nerdy and really didn't reveal much. What I enjoyed was seeing how fond Boyega and Ridley are of each other and how sweet their relationship is.

And then Carrie Fisher walked out. Holy shit. She sat down and purred, “Oh, you came. What are the odds?”

She described her first day on the set as an acid flashback, and said she felt like this was never going to really come back around. “It was a little bit like before, but we all looked more melted this time.” She talked about how the original cast were referred to as the “Legacy people,” which led into the introduction of Mark Hamill. They threw up a picture on the screen of Mark at a 1976 science fiction convention in Kansas, which is sort of remarkable. They had a total of 25 pictures they could show, no footage, and R2-D2, and they had to try to explain to people what to expect.

Asked if they had anything to say to fans who have been around from the start, Hamill said, “It's hard to describe. When I meet you on the street, everyone has a story. I met my wife at a screening or my son is named Luke. It's almost like an out-of-body experience. I see it put together and it's not me, it's Luke. I never take it for granted.” He talked about being on his honeymoon in Tahiti and finding some guy in a motorboat wearing a Darth Vader mask and being totally blown away to see how far the film had reached.

Carrie talked about how people tell her about the generational thing, sharing the films with their children. Mark talks about handing over ownership to a new generation. And then, yes… Harrison Goddamn Ford joined them. The trio is onstage. The moment we've waited for since childhood just happened.

I love that he's an old pro at Hall H by this point. I was here for the first time he took that stage, and he's so much more relaxed and at home this time. They asked him how he's doing and how his foot is, and he said he's fine now. “It should have felt ridiculous,” he said about stepping onto set. “It was 30 years ago, and I sort of grew up. Yet 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. The director was the right directory. Larry wrote us a wonderful story. And I was proud and grateful to once again be involved. The original 'Star Wars' really was the beginning of my working life. I was very grateful for the opportunity I had and for the success of that film. It was great to be back. Thank you.” He sounded genuinely emotional, and I think most of us felt the same way.

One last round of audience questions kicked off. Asked what the difference in theme is this time, Harrison said, “It's not a difference. It's a development, and it's a natural progression that has taken place from the stories we told in the first three. Perhaps there's an emotional rounding of the experience that we all had in the first three films.”

“I was just glad I didn't have to go to Toshi Station to pick up any power converters,” Mark added.

“We were more grown up this time,” Carrie said, and then they started quoting lines that must have tied them in knots on the original, laughing about those experiences like they just happened. Even better was Mark talking about the trauma of learning that Leia was his sister, leading to him and Carrie quoting “Chinatown,” one of those truly strange moments that could only happen at Comic-Con.

Harrison talked about how he never really thought about where his character might end up, but how the script for “The Force Awakens” moved him because of how rich and smart it was.

JJ announced that everyone in the room is going to walk to a “Star Wars” concert right now from Hall H. I will not be there, unfortunately, but this is amazing, and for fans, this is about as great as it gets.

I'm off, but this was a wonderful afternoon, and it really does feel like “Star Wars” is in the right hands.

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