Star Wars The Force Awakens Panel and Trailer at Star Wars Celebration 2015

Star Wars Celebration

Star Wars Celebration 2015 is going strong in Anaheim, but gracefully the powers that be are livestreaming a lot of the event via StarWars.com. What was special about this Thursday, however, was the additional chance for Star Wars fans to watch the Star Wars The Force Awakens panel hosted by J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy in London at the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square, hosted by none other than Warwick Davis.

And MCM Buzz got the chance to attend.

And it. Was. Brilliant.

It goes without saying that having the chance to experience a slice of Star Wars Celebration without having to spend a little way too much money to fly over there is always an awesome option, but one just has to consider the atmosphere in a London full of Star Wars fans and how much grander and passionate it feels beyond livestreaming the event at home.

IMG_1596Turning up in our nation’s capital many, many hours too early, it was a waiting game until being allowed into the cinema itself. Ninth in line, the early afternoon was a case of chilling out listening to classic and influenced parodies of Star Wars music, all jovial and all hype-building, while discussing and theorising on what was about to be experienced with the immediate vicinity of hardcore Wars fans. The line grew little by little, until eventually there was a nice expanding group of excitable fans, many of whom were in Star Wars cosplays. (This writer was not, but he certainly flourished a Darth Vader helmet with Mickey Mouse ears and a custom built lightsaber)

Even before entering the Empire we got a nice taste of things to come. Classic Stormtroopers (Classic for a reason discussed in a second), C-3PO, and R2-D2 were there to greet the crowd the closer it came towards entry, not to mention Warwick Davis taking the time to say hello to those in line (And therefore totally confirming a friendship with this writer) and to help build even more excitement.

By the time 5PM rolled around, the floodgates were opened and the line was let loose in a controlled manner. The priority of course from that moment was to get a decent seat. Which wasn’t too hard in the Empire Cinema’s massive IMAX screen. Being at the very front of the line didn’t hurt either. Just less than half-way back, slap-bang in the middle. Perfection.

IMG_1597Every seat had some goodies for the fans: An exclusive Star Wars Celebration poster, free popcorn, custom Star Wars M&Ms, and a Star Wars badge. Ten luckier attendants managed to also have gold stars placed under their seat which was for a trivia quiz hosted by Warwick Davis with the promise of prizes. A quiz that lit up the inner Star Wars nerd with answers to hard and left-field trivia questions only the hardcore would really get.

Davis was a brilliant host. He was in his element in this world of Star Wars fandom, making pitch perfect jokes on the fans on stage and the cosplays seen. Even the height jokes he made were spot on. He himself highlighted the fact that his life had transformed so much because of Star Wars as Wicket W. Warrick and how it had got him to that place in time – surrounded by passionate Star Wars fans over a couple generations, all in an air of happiness and wonder at things to come.

Then soon, it began. The Force Awakens panel.

Cheers and reactions came from both the livestream in America and from the actual audience in attendance at the Empire. J.J Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy came together on stage and shared piece after piece of information that just made the anticipation build and the wait for the actual movie even longer.

What was most evident and inevitable was the constant celebration of the fans of Star Wars. It was an event called Star Wars Celebration after all. Star Wars is this monolith in everyone’s life, full of stories and experiences unique and shared with others. The moderator Anthony Breznican of Entertainment Weekly had his own story of experiencing Star Wars, and so did everyone else. It was so interesting to see those involved with the world of making the first three movies and those who experienced them as viewers contrasted and compared, even more so considering that those two worlds have merged.

IMG_1598Even before any other guests came out, we got a very interesting slice of information. What we all thought was Tatooine when we saw the first Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer about a hundred times a piece is not actually the case. It is a new planet: Jakku. And already, interest was piqued. J.J. dropped that piece of information of the board, and it definitely looked like we were going to get a lot more where that came from.

This in itself was exciting and different. J.J. is known for the mystery box, keeping as much stuff hidden until the opportune moment of experiencing his work of fiction. But then again, this is Star Wars. A gigantic fanbase that needs something.

And we got a lot.

Conversations continued, such as the passionate fans who waited even longer than those in London to attend the panel and how J.J and Kennedy went out and bought pizza for everyone in line. Kennedy also spoke of visiting the convention floor and checking out what creations the fans have made. Whether that were stalls selling T-Shirts like the one she wore on stage, to the impressive work of the R2-D2 astromech droid replica builders – which in turn led to a huge reveal.

Bringing on stage the droid builders for The Force Awakens – who in a genius move embracing fan culture, Kennedy actually hired from their work at a previous Star Wars Celebration – we got information about the practical effects and droid construction for The Force Awakens. The subject of J.J.’s passion for practical effects over CG where possible got a massive positive response from the crowd. As seen in teases through the Star Wars Force For Change videos, practical special effects have been one of the factors people have been so optimistic about how The Force Awakens is going to turn out. And when the Force Awakens version of R2-D2 came out, people were happy. But that wasn’t even the real mic drop.

BB8As everyone probably reacted when they first saw the trailer, there’s another droid people raised an eyebrow at. BB8. Seen in the trailer rolling around, BB8 looks like a sphere with an astromech droid’s dome on top, somehow staying in place. While many assumed it was a CG creation, reports after the trailer confirmed it to be a practical effect.

But seeing BB8’s reveal on stage was something else. The crowd erupted on either side of the Atlantic as we saw BB8 roll onto stage, the dome on top staying relatively in place. Such a practical effect baffled all around. Was it using magnets? Air? Witchcraft? It was such an impressive piece of technology in a relatively small package one couldn’t help but watch in wonder.

As R2-D2 and BB8 left, the cast were considered. With a brilliant ensemble of actors for this film, they chose to only highlight a select few, plus they noted Harrison Ford’s absence due to his emergency plane landing that hit the news not too long ago. They made sure to note that he’ll definitely be kicking about to help promote the film further down the line, but for now, they turned towards the new cast.

And thus, we saw Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac take to the stage. The panel continued to get more and more exciting because we were given photo after photo of their characters which we’ve never seen widely before. Better looks at Ridley’s Rey – a scavenger who lives on the planet of Jakku, Boyega’s Finn – an apparent Stormtrooper thrown into the word of Rey’s, and Isacc’s Poe Dameron – an X-Wing pilot self-described by Isaac as “the best freaking pilot in the galaxy” (Methinks Han Solo has something to say about that…).

We were given just enough information that didn’t spoil anything or ruin any mystery. Boyega and J.J. had a sweet moment when the point was raised on whether his character was actually a Stormtrooper as seen in the first trailer, or not, with a head-nod from Boyega which was playfully and jokingly frowned upon by Abrams.

It was interestingly noted that the trio of lead characters involved a scavenger, a Stormtrooper, and an X-Wing pilot all working together. It certainly is an interesting dynamic, and definitely a hint of interesting imagery and concepts to come.

Another brilliant moment was Kennedy discussing the fact there are a lot more female characters in the Star Wars universe now. Much like the practical-over-CG discussion, this got a great positive reaction from the audience. We’re now getting more female characters in a range of roles that will be relatable to the massive female component of the fan base. It’s more than just Princess Leia now. Which is utterly fantastic. Kennedy even went on to note that it’s only the beginning with The Force Awakens and of course – Rogue One and Felicity Jones’ casting is just more of a step in the right direction.

JJJ.J described how he wanted the Star Wars of his movie to be more of the lived in world he loved with the original trilogy. With The Force Awakens being set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, it shall be even more worn and torn. Which is a brilliant aesthetic to go for. These are not the prequels anymore. Things aren’t shiny and new. It’s a galaxy ravaged by war and the Empire, and it looks like J.J. has had some good ideas in translating that.

As the trio of new actors left the stage, it was time to bring on the veterans, alongside a new version of old adversaries. The Stormtroopers. While we’ve already been given teases through pictures and of course, the first trailer, this was the first time we really got a good look at the Stormtroopers on stage. Somehow, they are even more imposing that before. Streamlined and fresh, it’s still not a huge departure from their classic look, but there’s certainly something different and sinister enough to sit up an take notice.

But the roof really came down when Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill all took to the stage. To see all these actors coming out and knowing that they are all working together again was like an added wave of nostalgia. To have Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO on stage to talk about the world they created and the world they had returned to was something special. Each actor had the kindest words to say about Star Wars and the fans, and it was the perfect cherry on a celebration of the fans and the franchise. Fisher particularly glowed with her energy and joking, but it was already too much to look upon a stage of childhood.

SWGroupEveryone retook to the stage for group photographs, including R2-D2 and BB8 (Who is definitely going to be the fan-favourite character of this movie), and then after a panel full of more information than one could ever expect, it was the end. Everyone left apart from Abrams and Kennedy, as they had one last thing to share.

And then the livestream finished.

Everyone at the Empire Cinema was in a state of uncertainty. The livestream did indeed cut out before anything else was shown, and the screen turned to black. Silence. The brink of fan outrage was potentially being built too.

But then the cinema’s projectors began to whirr and adjust aspect ratio.

Silence.

Then the fade in of the Lucasfilm logo. Chills began to build. Another look at Jakku.

And, to hell with it, watch it again. It’s the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens:

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The crowd erupted. It’s one thing watching the trailer for the first time on your computer. Try watching it on a massive IMAX screen full of Star Wars fans around you. Followed by Warwick Davis coming out again and after a joke or two, playing the trailer a second time.

It was spectacular. It blows watching a Marvel movie on opening night in a packed cinema out the water. It compares to watching the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who for the first time in a screen full of Whovians, and this was just two minutes of The Force Awakens trailer. Imagine what it’s going to be like on December 18th.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is going to be the biggest thing of the year. Maybe for quite a while. Then again, realise we have even more of these to come in the next few years. Avengers: Age of What?

Kidding. Age of Ultron is going to be something special too.

But it’s not quite Chewie and Han Solo stepping onto the Millennium Falcon after 32 years and declaring they’re “home”.

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