What we learned about The Force Awakens at SDCC’s big panel

TFA @ SDCC: Bobbajo!

I’m sure almost all you watched the video of the panel this weekend, but for those who didn’t, here are a few highlights. Nothing here about the behind-the-scenes video, though – that’s an entirely different post.

→ They’re still editing, but J.J. Abrams has a cut of The Force Awakens. The third trailer is coming “in the fall,” so don’t go expecting that out of D23 Expo. My prediction is that we’ll see something shortly before Force Friday (September 4,) to whip the masses into a buying frenzy.

TFA @ SDCC: Kathleen Kennedy→ Lawrence Kasdan really likes J.J. Abrams. Abrams talked about how there’s “nothing normal” about working on a Star Wars film with his idols. Later, in response to a question from “Batman,” Abrams said that ‘delight’ was a main factor is writing the film. “We wanted to tell a story that would make us feel… And that would be something that would feel like the continuum of the incredible story that George [Lucas] started.”

→ The goat-creature from the first Force for Change video requires five people to operate it, and was built by Neal Scalan and the creature department. His name/nickname is Bobbajo and he sounds a bit like a pig. “The robotic technology has really advanced,” Kathleen Kennedy said.

→ “There will be CG, you can’t avoid it,” Abrams said. “The important thing for us is that we make this authentic. We tell a story that allowed the actors to interact with and be on a set with as much real, tangible construction as possible. So sets, props, creatures… It helped the entire process look and feel like it was actually on screen, because it was.” Obviously no one is really expecting that these movies won’t have digital effects, but I really feel the need to point out that the ‘practical effects’ chatter that we’ve been hearing isn’t just about marketing to the less-than-informed masses – it’s also about helping people on set.

TFA @ SDCC: J.J. Abrams→ On the pressure of continuing the franchise, Abrams said: “Because we love it and we care about it so much, our job is not to be blinded by that. You can’t just be a fan and just say that you’re going to make a movie because you’re a fan. It’s not enough. You really have to say ‘what is a good story.’ When you’re directing a scene on the Millennium Falcon, it doesn’t make the scene good. Now it’s bitchin’ in that it’s on the Millennium Falcon. You want a scene on the Millennium Falcon. If I could make a suggestion, direct scenes on the Millennium Falcon, cause it’s hugely helpful. But it doesn’t make the scene automatically good. So you have to ask, literally Storytelling 101, what do the characters want? Who are they? What makes this interesting? What’s expected? It has to be fun, it has to be scary? The power of what’s come before is so infectious, and so deep that you have to harness it, but you can’t be blinded by it. And it’s a constant thing, working with Larry and Kathy, there were always checks and balances, saying that’s really cool, but what does it mean? Why are we doing this?” It seems like most of fandom is focusing on the CGI remarks, but this speech was definitely hopeful for anyone worried that Abrams would let his inner fanboy override his directing.

TFA @ SDCC: Lawrence Kasdan, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac

→ Jon Boyega talked about his floor-roaming at Celebration; The guy he fought in that one picture was actually in the audience of Hall H.

→ Daisy Ridley trained extensively – “solid months” – for the role. “Hopefully my dress reveals my guns, because I worked hard for these,” she said.

TFA @ SDCC: Oscar Isaac→ Oscar Isaac believes Poe grew up idolizing Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, that he likely “wanted to be that, wanted to take up that mantle.” Even “recklessly so.” He even brought up Yavin IV again, which is understandable (he’s Guatamalan, Guatamala stood in for Yavin IV) but I still don’t think it’s a clue.

→ In response to a question on whether there are any Asian actors in the film, both J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy talked up diversity. (Yes, there “are Asians in this film,” he said.) Abrams said that neither Finn nor Rey were written to be any color, which is interesting in light of the various theories regarding Rey’s parentage. They wanted the movie to “look the way the world looks.” Diversity in casting will be important going forward as well, Kennedy said. Always good to hear, particularly with the rumors of Rogue One casting going around.

→ The older actors made the cast “feel as much a part of the universe as they already are,” Ridley said. Boyega told the story about taking Harrison Ford to a Nigerian restaurant in London. Also, Ford thought Isaac was wearing a wig.

TFA @ SDCC: Adam Driver. Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie

→ Adam Driver was hesitant to say anything about Kylo Ren at all, but they finally got something out of him: “We didn’t really have lot of conversations about bad or evil, actually, when we were shooting it. It was more… the difference between being bad and being right, I think, which is a huge difference. Someone who thinks they’re bad is almost kind of like a selfish thing, and it’s mostly about them hurting somebody else to get what they want, thinking they’re right is something different. TFA @ SDCC: Adam DriverThat’s almost more evil, a group of people who’ve decided that they’re morally justified in behaving a certain way. That’s how we kind of approached it.”

→ Domhnall Gleeson, following that: “I am evil.” When asked if his General Hux really is flat-out evil: “He’s British, so yeah.” He let slip that his character is on Starkiller Base. Abrams brought up that it’s named after Luke’s original last name, so I wouldn’t work up too many theories based on The Force Unleashed, which also used the name.

→ Gwendoline Christie on Captain Phasma: “I found it very exciting that underneath that armor is a woman. And it makes it more relevant than ever.” She was definitely one of the most excited people on the panel!

→ Hard “no” from J.J Abrams: There is no Darth Plagueis (or Darth Vegas) in the film. Seriously folks, give it up already, even if the backstory book is no longer canon, dude was almost certainly dead by Revenge of the Sith.

TFA @ SDCC: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford

→ “It should have felt ridiculous,” an unusually moved Harrison Ford said on returning. “I’ve sorta grown up… I will tell you that it felt great… The company was the right company, the director was the right director, Larry wrote us a wonderful story, and I was proud and grateful to once again be involved.”

→ When asked about the difference between themes in the new movie and the original trilogy, Ford said: “I don’t know that it’s a difference in theme, it’s a development of theme, a natural progression that has occurred… An emotional rounding of the experience that we all had in the first three films.”

TFA @ SDCC: Harrison Ford, walking→ “We were more grownup this time,” Carrie Fisher said.

→ Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford did have some delightful bantery moments. Harrison Ford has no time for your silly questions about his foot!

→ When asked about how they saw their characters, Fisher threw out her “spa planet” line, Ford said he never thought about it at all, and Hamill: “I had a feeling I’d probably end up like Sir Alec i the first one, living in some igloo out in the desert… With no human contact, droids.” (Lots of Luke/Leia banter here, naturally.)

→ Ford called the script “really remarkable… With some really intriguing developments.” He was “delighted to be involved.”

→ Beyond Episode VI: Rogue One begins shooting in three weeks. No new details on the Han Solo film or VIII; no director announcement for Episode IX, contrary to the rumors. (Yes, that schedule slide was indeed a fake.)

So we got a few tangible things – General Hux, Starkiller Base, some of the philosophy behind Kylo Ren – but mostly it was just a fun time. Enthusiastic Harrison Ford is really weird, I’m not sure what to think. The press tour is going to be hilarious. In a good way, right? I hope.

Back later with a few things from the video…

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