The first meaningful public conversation with cast and creatives about Star Wars: Episode VIII and the franchise stand-alone Han Solo movie highlighted the marquee panel on the third and final day of Star Wars Celebration Europe. Panelists included new Han Solo star Alden Ehrenreich, who made his first public appearance since Deadline scooped he was being cast in the iconic role.
Also aboard for the fairly news-less panel titled “Future Filmmaker” were directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller and Episode VIII helmer Rian Johnson. London native John Boyega also made an appearance, saying he likens Johnson’s approach to “doing an indie movie within a franchise.” To really make the fans lose it, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were eventually brought onstage to a standing ovation – with their dogs. Fisher quipped, “I’m just here to make sure [her dog] Gary gets a part in the new one. You guys: there aren’t enough pets in space.”
Still, since production is so early on the two pics there was little in the way of new details — especially compared to Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story‘s panel Friday which included the main cast, new footage and the official poster.
Among the reveals of the two movies in discussion, Johnson confirmed for the first time that Episode VIII would start off where Episode VII left off: when Rey confronts Luke in a scene shot on Ireland’s Skellig Island. “It was a surreal way to start things out,” he said. “I didn’t even really think about the notion that we were going to break a long-standing Star Wars tradition.”
Miller and Lord, meanwhile said they moved to London two days ago and are still working on the script with Star Wars scribe Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan, with six months of prep ahead of them. Han Solo will star Ehrenreich in the origin story, and the directors said he was the first of 3000 auditions they saw worldwide before they went back to him. The directors also said they were using many of the same crew that were on Episode VIII and Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One.
“When it first came along I knew everybody would be going out for it,” said Ehrenreich, who revealed he screen-tested with Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon set during six months of callbacks. “I read the sides and loved them and thought, ‘Who knows, but let me give it a shot.'”
Said Lord: “I relate to Han Solo: He doesn’t want to do anything he’s told, when you tell him not to do something he wants to do it more — he’s very sarcastic and at the end of the day he’s reasonably optimistic. That’s why we got so excited about making this movie: the dichotomy between this grouchy guy with the biggest heart in the galaxy.”
Lucasfilm’s Kennedy introduced Johnson to the stage, saying, “Many of you who know his films, Rian had those sensibilities that combine an ability to have real substance and an amazing sense of humor. Watching him on Episode VIII, I think Rian moves the camera as well as Steven Spielberg.”
Johnson said his approach in thinking about where the story would go was more “based on our reaction to it rather than the cultural reaction to [characters Rey, Finn, Kylo],” he said, noting too among his inspirations for the movie was the 1949 World War II pic Twelve O’Clock High starring Gregory Peck.
Said Johnson: “You come into it with those feelings of deep nostalgia, but you realize your ultimate responsibility to get beyond that, and to tell a story that’s alive for right now. You have to sit in front of Luke Skywalker and have those feelings, and then get to know Mark as an actor and get back into the actual work of filmmaking and telling a story.”
The director said that while Star Wars: The Force Awakens was “this incredible explosion of adventure and excitement, it’s very natural that the second film is where we zoom in on the characters, getting at the heart of the them, challenging them, pushing them deeper.”
He said he was in San Francisco coming up with the story while Gareth Edwards was coming up with Rogue One and Dave Filoni was doing the same for the animated series Star Wars Rebels which is heading to Season 3. “It had this campus-like feel,” Johnson said.
Later, the helmers revealed that Johnson had a cameo in Rogue One and Edwards gets one in Episode VIII. Lord and Miller got fitted for a cameo in Rogue One too, but had to pull out of filming. But it’s OK, says Miller, since, as an ILM intern, he played a stormtrooper during additional filming for the Empire Strikes Back‘s re-release in 1997.