The anticipation is rising... have you felt it? With only single digits left until wide release and the official premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens being held tonight, soon the world will get to experience what director J.J. Abrams has to add to the legendary saga. As excited as fans are to see the film hit theatres, I reckon the cast are looking forward to December 18th even more as it means they will finally be free of the strict gag orders they've been under since filming began.
Abrams' affinity for secrecy has been well documented, going as far as to leave a fake (or, perhaps, just misleading) name up on the Santa Monica building that serves as Bad Robot's headquarters. During a recent press junket in Los Angeles, Abrams confessed that he was concerned that Disney would want to hold a far more open policy when it came to releasing info about the seventh Star Wars installment. However, he insists that it was actually the Mouse House that encouraged the slow drip of material this time and helped avoid leaks saying, "I was very grateful that Disney actually took the lead on trying to keep things quieter." The director also spoke out against trailers that reveal all the plot points and beats, giving a "CliffsNotes" version of the film in two minutes. This was something he and Disney both wanted to avoid in their Force Awakens campaign.
Held at an undisclosed location that I'm still not sure I can reveal now, the L.A. press junket was certainly a unique event. First, many of the top-tier press that attended grumbled that they had never been to a press junket without having seen the film. Furthermore, it had become apparent to many of them that the cast was not going to be dishing any spoilers of juicy gossip about the film no matter how hard they tried. Still, you could tell that the vast majority of attendees were thrilled to be there and were "nerding out," as it were.
Presumably to alleviate some of the annoyance and repetition of questions the cast and filmmakers behind The Force Awakens must be experiencing under the circumstances, the event's two panels were moderated by comedic actress Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project, Inside Out). Kaling clearly stated at the start that her goal was to ask unique questions she had never heard asked or the answer to which could be easily Googled. Further setting the tone, Kaling's first question to Abrams was, "Aren't you rich? Why did you want to do these movies?"
While sometimes random (yet funny), Kaling's odd questions did manage to invoke my favorite response of the day. When Daisy Ridley was asked what "walk up" song her character, Rey, might have. Ridley said "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from Disney's Mulan. Furthermore, Ridley said she would listen to the song in her trailer to get pumped for her scenes and then proceeded to sing just a snippet from the chorus:
When asked what he thought about the story the film had to tell in relation to the original trilogy, Adam Driver, who portrays the Dark Side's Kylo Ren in the new film, said, "It's 30 years later, but the same things are still going on in a way... which I thought was so true to life." Similarly, writer Lawrence Kasdan spoke on what it was like to pen the follow-up to Return of the Jedi, saying, "We had trepidation about fulfilling people's expectations — that they be satisfied with what we came out with, but... we wanted this moment that's coming up next week to be a fresh moment for as many people in the world that were interested in it."
Another newcomer on the stage during the first panel was Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o. However, don't expect to actually see much of Nyong'o in The Force Awakens as her role, Maz Kanata, was created using motion capture. While the technology makes it so the performers don't necessarily need to be present during the majority of shooting, Nyong'o said she preferred to be on set, explaining, "J.J. had me be a part of principle photography so my very first experience of motion capture was on the actual sets with the actual actors. So I am eternally grateful to him for giving me that, because it was a great way to get into this wonderful, crazy thing called motion capture." Abrams also commended her work, saying "She was remarkably tireless and willing to experiment with different versions of this character and it was kind of an amazing thing to discover over various iterations of Maz."
One familiar face on stage was Carrie Fisher who portrays the one and only Princess Leia. If you caught Fisher during her recent GMA appearance, you'll know how hilarious she can be. When asked about Leia's legacy as a strong female character, Fisher responded, "I am the beginning of girl power — Deal with it!" She followed up by joking about the differences between the sets, saying "I got to be the only girl on the all boy set, which was really fun, you know, to put things in their drinks and stuff like that. We drank through the whole trilogy in the beginning. This was a sober set."
The second panel included Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Gwendoline Christine, Kathleen Kennedy, and, of course, Mr. Harrison Ford. Naturally, Ford's presence lead to questions about what it was like to step back into his iconic role. "It seemed easy to come back to the character. Clothes make the man. I had walked more than a mile in those boots. I was interested in the described path of the character. I thought there was an interesting bit of business for the character to do," Ford said.
John Boyega, who until this film was best known for his role in cult hit Attack the Block, has unintentionally been involved in a couple of controversies regarding the film. His character, Finn, was the first viewers saw in the teaser for the movie and some were surprised to see a black Stormtrooper. Additionally, some have raised an eyebrow that Finn is noticeably smaller on the Chinese version of The Force Awakens poster. However, Boyega doesn't pay much mind to the race issue, telling the audience, "I really don’t care about the black storm trooper stuff. I couldn’t care less. This is a movie about human beings, about Wookies, spaceships, and TIE fighters, and it has an undertone and a message of courage, and a message of friendship, and loyalty. And I think that’s something that is ultimately important."
As for the other newbies, Oscar Isaac and Gwendoline Christie, they were asked what their favorite part of the original films was. For Christie, she recalls being impressed by one of the characters, explaining, "I just remember, I was about six when I saw the film, and I remember being so struck by the character of Princess Leia, and thinking even then, in my infant mind, 'This seems different to the other women I see in films,' and feeling very, very inspired by that." While Christie was struck by the strength of one character, Isaac was impressed with the unexpected tenderness of another, saying, "My favorite part was... in Return of the Jedi when Darth Vader’s helmet comes off and you see that he’s just a soft, sad, old, vulnerable man underneath."
As amazing as the rest of the panel was, perhaps the biggest reaction came from something Kathleen Kennedy, the head of Lucasfilm, said. Since Disney has been quiet about what's in the movie — including notably hiding Luke Skywalker from promotional materials — Kaling asked if Kennedy could say what wasn't in the movie. With no hesitation, Kennedy responded proudly, "Jar Jar: definitely not in the movie."
So, if nothing else brings you to the theatre to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on December 18th, perhaps that tidbit will.