6 Things We Learned from Star Wars Celebration’s The Force Awakens Panel

At the tenth annual Star Wars Celebration, The Force Awakens writer-director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy took to the stage to talk about the special effects, the characters, and their excitement to bring the new trilogy to the fans. (And to share a new teaser!)

Joined by cast members old and new, they shared details about the characters who popped up in the first trailer, and intel on that desert planet (it’s not Tatooine). Plus, BB-8 rolled on up and stole the show, as always. Check out the panel highlights below!


J.J. Abrams Kathleen Kennedy Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel

J.J. Abrams wants to recapture the look and feel of the original trilogy. This we did already know, thanks to the director’s set photos and videos featuring real puppets, machines, and set pieces. But Abrams expounded on trying to recapture the magic of the original trilogy:

One of the things I love so much about the original trilogy was that sense of everything being real and weathered and lived-in and used. It was a world of underdogs; you just felt you were fighting against an enemy that was bigger and larger. To me, the look and feel of that technology being anything but pristine or brand-new, was really important. There needs to be a contrast.

Praising concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, Abrams added,

We’re very much following that feeling. This movie takes place decades after Jedi, so this film needs to follow suit.


Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel Jakku Tatooine

Jakku is the new Tatooine. Ever since we saw the first trailer, we’ve assumed that at least some of The Force Awakens takes place on Tatooine. It’s one of the most famous desert landscapes in sci-fi! But Abrams explained that the filming in Abu Dhabi was not the Skywalkers’ childhood home, but rather a new desert planet called Jakku.

Star Wars is as much a western and a fairy tale as it is anything else,” Abrams said, citing his desire to shoot against vast desert landscapes. He hinted at more information to come about Jakku “later,” but nothing else came out of the panel. However, according to StitchKingdom, Lucasfilm has created a viral website (not yet active) at PlanetJakku.com.


Star Wars Celebration The Force Awakens panels characters

How we meet each of the new characters. While new castmembers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac clearly know not to let slip any groundbreaking details about their characters, they did humor the audience by setting up where each character will be at the start of The Force Awakens.


We discover Rey on Jakku. She’s a scavenger in a ship graveyard—completely self-sufficient, very solitary, until she meets another character and an adventure begins.

Boyega (who seemed to confirm that Finn is indeed a Stormtrooper):

The way we find Finn, he’s in incredible danger. The way in which he decides to react to this danger changes his life, and launches him into the Star Wars universe in a unique way.

Isaac on Poe Dameron:

He’s the best frickin’ pilot in the galaxy, that’s who he is. He’s been sent on a mission by a certain princess, and he ends up coming across Mr. John Boyega’s character, and their fates are forever intertwined.


Star Wars: The Force Awakens Carrie Fisher Anthony Daniels Mark Hamill Peter Mayhew

The original cast is getting with the times. For the portion of the panel featuring the original cast, the emphasis was on “new but familiar faces,” from the Stormtroopers that marched onstage to special guests Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Anthony Daniels. (Harrison Ford was still recovering from his recent plane crash.)

It sounds as if The Force Awakens production has been a mix of bringing back these stars’ iconic characters while incorporating them into a universe that has aged 30 years since Return of the Jedi. These changes include wardrobe: Fisher clarified that while Leia had an updated look, two famous fashion choices would not be playing a part in the new trilogy:

The buns are… you know, they’re tired now, so we’re probably not going to have the futuristic buns. But I think we have an alternate thing I think you’re going to be into—which is not the metal bikini. I promise!


Star Wars The Force Awakens Rey Finn BB-8

Look for more girl power in that galaxy far, far away. Kennedy made a point to mention that when she first saw Star Wars, women had only one main character option. Now, with Ridley, Lupita Nyong’o, and Gwendoline Christie, female fans have more role models.

When asked about how she felt having more women in The Force Awakens, Fisher quipped,

It’s good to have a little bit of help. I liked being the only one when I was 19 and that was possible, but now I need some backup.


R2-D2 BB-8 droids bonding Star Wars: The Force Awakens

BB-8 is a throwback to the original trilogy. In the cutest moment of the panel, BB-8 rolled out on-stage to bond with (or try to upstage, we don’t know) R2-D2, and we all squeed. Abrams explained that BB-8 was almost CGI, but that he wanted the actors to have a tangible object with which to interact on-set. While we don’t know exactly what secret sauce makes BB-8 roll around as well as it can, we do know it takes a mixture of robotics technicians and puppeteers.


Watch the new teaser trailer again!


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