Star Wars executive 'staggered' by teaser reaction
Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy talks The Force Awakens and British talent at Star Wars Convention
It's the final few hours of the official Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California. Kathleen Kennedy, the President of Lucasfilm and one of the producers of the eagerly awaited The Force Awakens is reflecting on the unprecedented reaction to the film's latest teaser trailer, unveiled to fans at the start of the convention.
"It was staggering," she says. "When Harrison [Ford who plays Han Solo] and Chewie come on screen and he says 'Chewie, we're home!' and the entire room of almost eight thousand people just leapt to their feet and roared, I mean I can't think of anything I've ever been to - other than a rock concert - that felt quite like that."
Search for new stars
The level of expectation surrounding the film is huge, partly because it sees the return to a galaxy far, far away of not just Harrison Ford's Han Solo, but also Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia. It's been more than thirty years since the three last appeared in a Star Wars movie together.
But there's a new trio at the core of this sequel to 1983's Return of the Jedi. Oscar Isaac who plays Resistance pilot Poe Dameron. And two young British actors, Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn).
They were introduced to deafening cheers and applause at the same Celebration event where the teaser was premiered. An early indication of how this film is likely to change both their lives. "[It's] a journey no-one can prepare either one of them for," admits Kennedy. "I think so far they've handled it great."
Both Brits were cast after an extensive process that included traditional auditioning of young actors as well as a series of open casting calls that attracted tens of thousands of hopefuls.
"Daisy Ridley was a product of a massive search that we went on for months and months and months. But when she came into the room I would say almost instantaneously she just lit up and was so obviously the right person that we were looking for. She really claimed the role.
"And John Boyega was somebody we'd known of because of Attack the Block. And we'd been sort of putting him on the top of our list right from the beginning. But, then again, we went on a massive search just to see who was out there, and we kept coming back to realising that John would be the perfect Finn."
Strong female roles
Disney is also preparing to release additional stories that explore the Star Wars universe beyond the core films. The premise of the first of these anthology movies was another revelation made to fans at the Celebration.
Star Wars: Rogue One will follow a group of resistance fighters who team up to try and steal the plans to the Death Star. The film is set in the run up to the original Star Wars film, 1977's A New Hope.
British Oscar-nominee Felicity Jones will play a rebel soldier. According to Kennedy, Jones's role, like Ridley's Rey in upcoming The Force Awakens is a deliberate choice to have powerful and realistic characters of both sexes in the films.
"We're putting women in strong roles," she says. "We're just changing things up a bit so that the characters inside the Star Wars universe reflect the audience. And that's what I think in general most movies should do, and why not Star Wars."
As well as a strong British presence in front of the cameras, there's significant UK involvement behind the scenes for this new series of films. A combination of tax breaks and world class talent has resulted in Disney's decision to filming the majority of the franchise in Britain, principally at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.
"With the Indiana Jones series I did a lot of work in the UK," says Kennedy. "And the thing that I could never get over was the depth of talent inside the craft of movie making.
"The Pinewood experience has been amazing. And in all the years that I've been working in the UK I'd never worked at Pinewood before. So this is the first time for me. And they've been incredibly welcoming and very supportive. And it's become our new home. It'll be our new home for the next decade."
Protecting the secrets
Since filming began on The Force Awakens just over a year ago, little information about the project has been forthcoming. The Celebration saw Lucasfilm peel away a layer of secrecy.
Still, a huge amount about the film remains unknown.
"We don't do it because we're being overly precious. We do it because we're really trying to protect the story for fans and for the audience when the movie comes out," Kennedy insists.
"It's, I think, what people want us to do. And even so, there are people who pride themselves on getting information. So we've gone out of our way to make sure that we can dole out enough information and try to confirm certain things along the way and not keep everything secret.
"But for the most part we're trying to keep a lid on as much as we can. And it's not easy in the world of the internet."
The Force Awakens is still eight months away from release. But the hours of footage shot are now being fashioned into shape. Not at light speed perhaps, but fast enough.
"It's not quite assembled., " admits Kennedy. "JJ [Abrams, the director] is editing the third act as we speak. We'll probably take a look at the film early summer. We've been working on effects as we've been moving along. We'll score the movie a little bit in June, and then throughout the summer. So it'll be a process as it comes together. But everything I've seen has been fantastic. I mean it just gets better and better and better as it all comes together."
Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be released in cinemas 18 Dec 2015.