Star Wars Celebration does things right. They know many fans purchased Celebration tickets this year because of a little movie called The Force Awakens. New Star Wars is on the horizon, and fandom is energized in a way they haven’t been in many years. So, they kicked off the convention in style with a panel featuring J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy. Anticipation was off the charts. The first fans got in line to get wristbands at 8:00am yesterday morning. Yes, over 24 hours before the panel’s start time. Some of the thousands of people who waited overnight were treated to pizza from Abrams and Kennedy and a visit from James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi on Star Wars: The Clone Wars).
Fans cheered and waved lightsabers as they entered the Celebration Stage at Anaheim Convention Center. And inside the stage room? Electricity. Excitement. Every possible emotion. A DJ and a warm-up host provided entertainment and the crowd cheered J.J. Abrams and then Kathleen Kennedy (who, by the way, was wearing a Her Universe) walked onto the stage. Thunderous applause doesn’t describe it adequately.
— Amy Ratcliffe (@amy_geek) April 16, 2015
Abrams talked about seeing Star Wars for the first time when he was 11, and it sounds like he’s carried it with him his entire life. He said Star Wars was “the first time a movie made me laugh that way and believe in a world that way.” He emphasized that the biggest thing for him was that it had such hope. Kennedy talked about taking the Star Wars reigns and asking Abrams to come board and that even though he said no at first, it was impossible for him to resist. They both mentioned that moving forward with the Star Wars torch is an “incredibly daunting task.” They touched on the practical effects and sets used in the film, and Abrams talked about how important it was to him. He wanted to re-create the feeling he had when watching A New Hope. He said, “You want it to be authentic.” He said they’re finishing up the edit and even before it goes to ILM, you can see what the film is. You don’t have to completely imagine everything there. That was one reason why they filmed in Abu Dhabi. He said Star Wars is just as much a western as it is a fantasy, and Abu Dhabi is the ideal location and great for tangible sets.
He then revealed the desert planet we saw in the first teaser was Jakku, not Tatooine. To follow up on their points about practical effects, they brought out the fans they recruited to build R2-D2 and other astromechs for the film. Kennedy met the members of the R2-D2 builders at Celebration Germany and told the creature shops they had to hire them. Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples joined them on stage with R2-D2 and also with BB-8. To those who doubted, he can clearly be done practically. He rolled around and he and R2-D2 undoubtedly had an important conversation. Kennedy said Bob Iger really helped in getting the technology necessary in order to make BB-8 a practical effect. And then things got even more amazing. Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, and John Boyega came on stage. They shared a few bits about their characters. Ridley said Rey is on Jakku and is a scavenger on a ship graveyard. She’s self sufficient and solitary until she meets another character and an adventure begins. That character is Finn. Boyega couldn’t give much away about Finn. He said Finn finds himself in incredible danger and he changes his life and that move launches him into the Star Wars universe in a “very unique way.” He confirmed that Finn is a stormtrooper but didn’t say whether he was a hero or a villain.
Isaac teased that Poe is “the best freaking pilot in the galaxy.” Poe has been sent on a mission by a certain princess and ends up coming across Finn and then their fates are forever entwined.
The newcomers were eventually joined by a detachment of stormtroopers in the new armor from The Force Awakens and then Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, and Mark Hamill. Each of them briefly talked about being back for the role and mostly, they repeated how grateful they were to the fans. Hamill said, “You’re more than fans, you’re family.”
And no, Harrison Ford wasn’t forgotten. Abrams said he had to miss the event because he’s recovering from his recent plane crash, but Kennedy said that Ford will indeed be involved in activities leading up to the release of the film.
The veterans and new cast took a minute to pose with the stormtroopers and Abrams and Kennedy for a group photo, and this punched me in the gut more than I expected it to. We’d just seen Hamill and Fisher hug, and then Fisher looked like she was sharing whispers with Ridley–it looked like a family and we did indeed feel like an extended part of it.
They exited the stage just before playing the newest teaser. Happily, they played it twice because I started sobbing about halfway through the first time and didn’t process everything. You’ve undoubtedly watched it a few times by now so I don’t need to break down each scene, but try to imagine watching all of that with 4,000 other incredibly enthusiastic and passionate fans. The air crackled. My heart soared with the X-wings and leapt out of my chest upon seeing Han and Chewbacca. Judging by the exclamations I heard, the rest of the crowd felt that way too.
What did you think of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel? How many times have you watched the new footage? Let us know in the comments below, check out our gallery of images from the panel, and don’t miss the Nerdist Rebel Base live reactions to the teaser!