J.J. Abrams And More Talk The Force Awakens

At Star Wars Celebration

This year’s incarnation of Star Wars Celebration, the massive convention that this year is happening in Anaheim, California, kicked off on Thursday with a panel on The Force Awakens, which included co-writer/producer/director J.J. Abrams and producer/Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy talking about their experiences, and helping to introduce other guests from the film.

Kennedy revealed how George Lucas asked her over a meal whether she’d want to take over running Lucasfilm and that she was glad Abrams signed on to help launch the new films. For his part, the director, who admitted that his first experience seeing Star Wars as an 11 year-old was “mind-blowing”, confirmed that he had initially turned the job down. “I said no partly because it was an incredibly daunting thing. Partly because it felt I’d been doing sequels and things in the past and I wanted to break away from that.” But after having conversations with Kennedy, he was convinced.

Part Of Abrams' drive for the new film was to keep thing as practical as possible, focusing on real locations, props and people. Which included shooting the new desert planet, known as Jakku, in Abu Dhabi in 128 degree temperatures. “Star Wars is as much a Western and a fairy tale as much as anything,” he said. “And one of the things you expect to see are real, tangible, John-Ford-beautiful landscapes.”

Keeping to the practical side of things, new droid BB-8 (who you first saw in the original teaser) rolled on stage. He’s a real prop, built by animatronics expert Neal Scanlan, and the audience applauded as he rolled around the stage and appeared ready to get into a fight with R2-D2.

Answering one of the biggest complaints about the original trilogy, Kennedy assured the audience that women would be more represented in the new movies. “There’s great new characters, but really strong women," she said. "Not only in episode seven but in the conversations we’re having moving forward...there are going to be a lot of new wonderful characters."

Star Wars is Back #SWCA pic.twitter.com/ixMRQLmDKW

— John Boyega (@JohnBoyega) April 16, 2015

And then it was time for three of the newcomers to the Star Wars universe to make an appearance as Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac were introduced.

Ridley got the chance to fill us in on her character, who, like the others, has largely been a mystery. Until now. “We discover Rey on the desert planet Jakku,” Ridley says. “She is a scavenger in a ship graveyard… very solitary. Until she meets another character and an adventure begins.”

Who does she meet? Why, Boyega’s Finn! The Attack The Block star played as coy as possible through his excitement when asked whether Finn’s first appearance as a Stormtrooper meant he was a hero or a villain. “When find Finn, he’s in incredible danger,” Boyega says. “The way he decides to react changes his life and launches him into the Star Wars universe in a unique way.” As for Isaac’s Poe Dameron, it’s clear the actor is thrilled to be playing him. “He’s the best frickin’ pilot in the galaxy, that’s who he is,” Isaac says. “He’s been sent on a mission by a certain princess. He comes across Mr. John Boyega’s character and their fates are forever intertwined.”

The three were also asked about their experiences being cast. Boyega told a funny story about waiting to admit to his parents that he was cast in the film until the first photo broke, telling his father that he was still shooting 24. And Isaac? “When I finally got call that I was officially going to play Poe, I was so nervous, I blasted the Star Wars theme as loud as I could, I grabbed my shampoo bottle like a lightsaber,” he laughed. “And I thought, ���I can do this!’"

Oh, and Boyega, who talked about how he played the Star Wars games on his PS3 even broke out a solid Harrison Ford impression, remembering when he asked the screen icon to sign his Solo-as-stormtrooper figurine. “This is weird,” was the veteran’s response.

Ford was not present at the event – he’s still recuperating from his recent plane crash – but Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Carrie Fisher were, with Hamill revealing he told George Lucas he thought the original film was going to be huge and thanking the fans for their support. {Star Wars Fan pics} Fisher, naturally, had some of the best lines, including denying that the hair buns from the original film would return while promising there would be some “an alternate thing I think you’ll be into—that is not the metal bikini!” Mic drop.

Following a big group picture on stage, the various celebrity attendees filed off stage to allow the new teaser to premiere. You can see that one here, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens lands on December 18.