Behind the scenes pics of Episode VIII and an appearance by the young Han Solo headlined the closing event of Star Wars Celebration on Sunday — although new details from both projects remained as out of reach as Luke in The Force Awakens.
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and story group chief Kiri Hart joined with Episode VIII writer-director Rian Johnson and Han Solo filmmakers Chris Miller and Phil Lord to present a tease of what fans can expect in the years ahead from the galaxy far, far away.
It was one of the few panels not live-streamed from Celebration, and as the program began, Kennedy — whose past credits include E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Lincoln, among many others — had this stratospheric praise for Johnson. “I don’t say this about many people, but I think Rian moves the camera as well as Steven Spielberg.”
Then Johnson came out and said it was challenging to begin writing VIII while VII was still finishing. While still developing the idea for the movie, he urged the story group to watch the Gregory Peck fighter pilot drama Twelve O’Clock High, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Gunga Din, Three Outlaw Samurai, and Humphrey Bogart’s Sahara.
“This movie is going to start right were the last one left off,” Johnson said. “That final scene in VII, I want to see what happens next.”
Johnson said it was important not to let his awe at directing a Star Wars movie get in the way of making a good one.
“It was an incredible experience on many different levels,” said Johnson, who is near the end of principle photography. “You come into it with nostalgic feelings, but your job is to get beyond that very quickly. The ultimate responsibility is to sit in front of Mark [Hamill], sit in front of Luke Skywalker … and then get to know Mark as an actor and start working on a script and get back to the work of filmmaking.”
He said The Force Awakens launched the new saga with a bang, but “the second film is where we start zooming in on the characters and getting to the heart of them, challenging them, and pushing them deeper.”
Johnson showed black and white behind-the-scenes shots of extras, and a set featuring Billie Lourd, Carrie Fisher’s daughter, who plays a Resistance officer in The Force Awakens. He also showed a color shot of Skellig Michael, the Irish island where Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Hamill’s Luke met at the end of the previous movie. (There was also a shot of Dave Filoni, executive producer of the animated Rebels show, wearing his signature cowboy hat on set, talking with some Resistance soldiers.)
With a shot of a black-masked Imperial, Johnson said: “This is my assistant, Leo, who we stuck in a TIE Fighter [pilot] outfit. I had a lot of fun directing him ruthlessly.”
The production code name for Episode VIII was “Space Bear” — and it seemed for a moment like we might get the actual title, but no. On to …
YOUNG HAN SOLO
Miller and Lord joined the stage to change the topic from the future of Star Wars to a new look at its past, exploring the history of the smirking smuggler turned Rebel hero.
Pablo Hidalgo, the story group member who moderated the panel, revealed that the duo was heavily pushed by the movie’s writing team — Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens, and his son Jon (The First Time.)
The filmmakers were asked: “What does Han Solo mean to you?”
“I sort of relate to him. He doesn’t want to do anything he’s told. When you tell him not to do something it makes him want to do it more,” Lord says. “The dichotomy of this grouchy, seemingly cynical guy who has the biggest heart in the galaxy… to me, that’s a great character to make a movie about.”
Miller said: “He’s a maverick, he’s a scoundrel, he’s clever, but he’s not smart. And he wants to present himself as a cool tough-guy, but in the end he always does the right thing, and that’s why you love him so much.”
Talk then turns to cameos. Each of the directors has tried to make background appearances in the other movies. Miller and Lord showed a photo of themselves as Rebel fighters in Rogue One, even though they had to leave before the scene was actually shot. Gareth Edwards made an appearance in Episode VIII, and Rian Johnson and his producer Ram Bergman turned up in Rogue One — as the two masked Death Star technicians who cover their eyes as the beam that destroys planets courses through the heart of the battle station.
Finally, they get to the news of who got the part of young Han Solo — Hail, Caesar! star Alden Ehrenreich. “This is the best kept secret in Hollywood,” Lord joked. (If you’ve been trapped upside down in a Wampa cave for a few months, maybe you didn’t know.)
The directors said they auditioned countless actors, but Ehrenreich was the first. Among his finalist auditions: exploring the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon set and doing a scene with Chewbacca. Since the news was so widely known, Ehrenreich said he has only been able to respond to “Congratulations!” with a point and a smile.
He showed off a photo from his mother of the old Han Solo action figure she found in storage. “You had Bossk, too. Nice,” said Miller.
As things wrapped up, Johnson told Miller and Lord: “I feel like I’m getting off a ride with my hair standing up as you guys are about to get on.”
But … there’s more. John Boyega joins the stage.Young Han Solo gets to meet “Big Deal” Finn! “You’re gonna be Han Solo, man!” he says, raising Ehrenreich’s fist and clapping him on the back. He says he doesn’t know what advice to give about joining the galactic saga. “You’ve got the charm thing down,” Boyega says. “Look at him, he’s smiling just like Han Solo.”
Boyega offers assurance that Finn is out of his coma. “We thought about cutting back to him through the movie, still in the coma,” Johnson joked.
They also discussed Episode VIII newcomer Kelly Marie Tran. Johnson says she’s not here, but looks forward to her coming out and introducing herself to the Star Wars faithful at a later time.
Two saga stars who are in attendance — Carrie Fisher and Hamill — join the panel with their dogs, Gary and Millie. “People ask, ‘Are you really like brother and sister? And I say, ‘Yes, we fight all the time,” Hamill says. “But I’d defend her with my life.”
“I do drive him crazy,” Fisher says. “I’m just here to make sure Gary gets a part, at least in the next one. There aren’t enough pets in space, right?”
“Talk to Colin about space pets,” Johnson says. That would be Colin Trevorrow, director and writer of Episode IX.
And that’s the grand finale of Star Wars Celebration.
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