Turns out we’ve been laboring under false assumptions. Until Thursday’s Star Wars Celebration kick-off—where Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams turned up to reveal key plot points, introduce a suite of new characters and, not least, to show a new trailer that may have actualy broken the internet—most fans assumed the epochal franchise’s seventh installment was at least partially set on Tatooine thanks to the iconic dune imagery seen in the film’s November teaser trailer.
But over the first three days of this Anaheim, Calif. fan extravaganza, Lucasfilm has parceled out a number of tantalizing details. Chief among them: that John Boyega’s stormtrooper character Finn, his scavenger savior Rey (Daisy Ridley) and “frickin’ best pilot in the galaxy” Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) find their fates inextricably combined on a new planet—Jakku—a place where a downed Star Destroyer dominates the skyline like some space warfare version of Ayers Rock, as visual reminder of the triumph of the rebellion. (Abu Dhabi stood in for the fictional planet.) During a panel for the video game Star Wars: Battlefront, Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, a senior producer for the game’s developer EA-DICE, went on to describe Jakku as “a remote planet on the Outer Rim” where a battle occurs.
So out of the nebulous vastness of a galaxy far, far away—out of the fevered conjecture of countless chatroom conversations and fan-forum arguments about where the next movie will take place—comes a concrete locus of scorching heat and vast physical desolation onto which fans can project their filmic hopes until The Force Awakens finally hits screens this Christmas.
Just knowing the name Jakku (already hooked up with its own Wookieepedia entry) stands as the most substantial takeaway from this well-organized community-building event aimed at fans bearing lightsabers and wearing homemade Imperial Guard costumes. But it is hardly the Celebration’s only big reveal:
Fans were sharply divided by the second trilogy of films’—Star Wars Episodes IV-VI’s—heavy reliance upon computer-generated imagery and overall lack of realism (to whatever extent realism is possible in a space opera prominently featuring Jar Jar Binks). For the seventh series installment, Abrams explained the filmmakers chose a “retro” approach more akin to the first three Star Wars movies, shooting practical as opposed to FX footage whenever possible. “It’s Star Wars: there are going to be an endless number of effects CG and otherwise,” he said Thursday. “But we needed to set a standard that was real, that felt like you knew those people were in those places.” That sound you hear is people wearing Empire Strikes Back t-shirts cheering.
New Droid in Town
You know how whenever the action on a TV sitcom gets kind of stale, showrunners bring in a cute little kid character to liven things up? We’re not saying that’s the rationale behind the creation of BB-8, a rolling robot in the R2-D2 vein who seems poised to have a kind of frenemy relationship to Luke Skywalker’s favorite X-Wing co-pilot. But judging by his attention-grabbing turn at Star Wars Celebration, he has a substantial character arc in The Force Awakens, not to mention his own hash-tag and emoji thanks to the minds at Lucasfilm.
Princess Leia jammed with the Stones
Okay, so it isn’t the newest news. But on Friday, during a special Q&A titled “Date With a Princess,” Carrie Fisher dished on an unforgettable night during the filming of Empire Strikes Back when she and Harrison Ford stayed up all night drinking with the Rolling Stones at Monty Python member Eric Idle’s London home and heading straight to set without getting any sleep.
“So we stayed up pretty late,” Fisher recalled. “We got to the set two hours later. We weren’t hung over. We were still in our cups! If you look at those scenes, Harrison and I are smiling when we arrive in Cloud City. Doesn’t that sound like a euphemism? We arrived in Cloud City where we were forced to go by the Stones.”
The No. 2 Sith
Ranking as one of the fiercest villains in the franchise pantheon, Sith Lord Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I—The Phantom Menace is both loved and hated by fans in equal measure. At the Friday panel “Ray Park: The Man. The Sith. The Legend,” the British martial artist behind the red and black face paint detailed the actorly preparation that went into his death scene. A rookie actor who couldn’t bring himself to envision “being beaten up or cut in two” Park imagined the next best thing. “I had to think of something so I thought of going to the bathroom,” he said from the stage. “That’s the face of Darth Maul as he’s chopped in half.”
Harrison Ford’s absence at Star Wars Celebration almost became a presence in its own right. Still recovering from injuries he sustained crash-landing his vintage fighter plane into a California golf course last month, the 74-year old actor sat out the event. But that didn’t prevent those collected from reminiscing about him. Boyega shared an anecdote about having Ford autograph his Han Solo doll (Ford’s response: “This is weird”). And of course, the new trailer’s final character beat—Ford in full Solo regalia emerging from the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca by his side to utter, “Chewie, we’re home”—basically captured the feeling floating around Anaheim—and perhaps the ‘net in general—since Thursday.
The old faces are back. The new faces seem compelling. And even while few people know much about Jakku, it feels like some kind of return to a place we’ve wanted to be for a long time.