By James Hibberd
July 18, 2019 at 07:57 PM EDT

The first full trailer for the eagerly awaited new fantasy series His Dark Materials debuted at Comic-Con on Thursday (above), while the show’s cast and producers had a revelatory panel at the fan convention.

The BBC/HBO co-production is based on the Philip Pullman’s bestselling novels The Golden CompassThe Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass (collectively known as the His Dark Materials trilogy).

The series involves a parallel world where a person’s soul exists outside one’s body in the form of a talking animal (called daemons). It’s the story of young Lyra (Logan star Dafne Keen) who embarks on a global adventure when she’s thrust into a mystery surrounding missing children and a particle called Dust which holds vast secrets to the universe.

The new trailer contains a first look at the array of daemons. There’s also the fan-favorite character Iorek Byrnison, an armored bear who becomes Lyra’s friend. The piece has a bit of a Harry Potter vibe, only a bit darker (and indeed, was scripted by Jack Thorne, who adapted J.K. Rowling’s play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child).

The trailer arrived during a Hall H panel that included stars James McAvoy (Lord Asriel), Dafne Keen (Lyra), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Lee Scoresby), Ruth Wilson (Mrs. Coulter) and executive producer Jane Tranter.

Moderator and Entertainment Weekly Editor-In-Chief JD Heyman noted the books are “deeply celebratory of the human spirit” and about “living in the moment and finding your passion without giving up your soul” and asked the panel if they’re particularly timely at this moment.

“The thing I kept saying when we were pitching around town is that this is an anti-superhero story,” Thorne said. “If this was a superhero’s story, we’d be following Lord Asriel’s path. If you look at it, there are people seeking greatness in this story and there are people following their own good. And the thing I love about Lyra is she’s constantly following the path of the good. Whereas Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are set on great big missions and doing great big changes to the world, all of which aren’t necessary … I’ve got a tattoo from E.T., ‘Be Good’ — I really believe that we should be following our goodness right now and we are getting distracted by greatness quite a lot and there’s something beautiful about the way Philip sees the world that has lessons for all of us.”

Marveled Lin-Manuel: “Man, he hit you with the tattoo that was the thesis for the show!”

Lin-Manuel noted he was a huge fan of the books when he was first approached for the role. “When my wife and I started dating, we read these books together,” he said. “They’re part of our falling-in-love story. They’re in a really special place in my heart.”

The Hamilton creator also said his character gave him a chance to go into some new directions, such as filming a three-day bar fight. “This is pretty different from Mary Poppins Returns,” he quipped. And yet, his first scene in the series sounded not entirely unlike the Disney sequel. “I literally come into this thing singing a duet with my daemon on a big ass hot air balloon,” he revealed.

Wilson said she decided to commit when she read the description of the villainous Mrs. Coulter. “The description of her [in the books] was [that she was] ‘a cesspit of moral filth’ … and I thought, ‘I can’t turn this down,'” Wilson said, and noted the series goes deeper into her character’s backstory and motivations than the books. “She’s incredible yet deeply vulnerable and when you learn what makes her tick…her vulnerability is Lyra.”

The Golden Compass was previously adapted with a 2007 film that starred Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. The film was poorly received, but HBO — co-producing the title along with BBC One — is coming off the success of Game of Thrones and has proved itself adept at handling dark and complex grown-up fantasy material. The books and the film were also controversial in that they’re considered critical of organized religion in general and Catholicism in particular (the film was even targeted for a boycott).

His Dark Materials executive producer Jane Tranter had a firm statement to make about the religious angle, saying the books are often misunderstood, particularly by those who haven’t read them.

“One of the great things about His Dark Materials is there are so many conversations you can have about it, and there are many conversations about the religious aspect,” Tranter said. “Like all conversations, it’s better to have a conversation when there are some facts on the table rather than just a bunch of assumptions by people who haven’t read the books. Philip Pullman is not attacking belief, he’s not attacking faith or religion or the church per se. He’s attacking a particular form of control, where there’s a deliberate attempt to hold information, keep people in the dark, and not allowing ideas to be free. At times that can be personified by an autocratic government or a church, in His Dark Materials, it’s personified by the Magisterium. But it doesn’t equate to any particular church or form or religion in our world and we should be clear on that.”

The panel concluded with a playful rundown by each panelist revealing what their daemon would be. McAvoy said a sea otter (“happy, playful … almost like a water dog”). Lin-Manuel said a pizza rat (“You ever see that footage of a rat taking pizza down into the subway where it lives? That’s my daemon. That daemon’s got it all figured out”). Wilson said some kind of cat. Keen said a small tropical monkey (“they’re bouncing around all the time”). Thorne said a woodpecker (“I’m a very anxious person”). Tranter said a wolf (as her production company is called Bad Wolf). 

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