As was pointed out by one journalist attending the Star Wars: The Force Awakens press conference-cum-panel discussion Sunday afternoon at the Los Angeles Convention Center and moderated by Mindy Kaling, it’s difficult to ask nuts and bolts questions about a film you haven’t seen. Case in point: the first time critics will see it is next week, during the December 14 gala premiere in Hollywood.
This meant yesterday’s event featuring director JJ Abrams with stars Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Daisy Ridley, Lawrence Kasdan, and later Lucasfilm big boss Kathleen Kennedy along with stars Harrison Ford, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Gwendolyn Christie, was a light affair. Nothing particularly new about the upcoming return to the Star Wars Galaxy was revealed, which made the semi-secrecy surrounding the event seem silly, if fun, in retrospect. But that’s OK, because what it lacked in substance it made up for with a steady trickle of hilarity and charm.
Unsurprisingly, Fisher’s constant jokes were a particular highlight. She has always been game to dish honestly and hilariously about her love-hate relationship with the character that made her a star, but yesterday, while she was as wry as ever when it came to jokes at her own expense, she revealed an attachment to Princess Leia, referring to herself mostly-seriously as the character’s “custodian.” That didn’t stop her from deadpanning snark galore however. Asked at one point if she had any comment about bringing “girl power” to Star Wars, she responded with a deadpan “no,” which brought huge laughs. Ridley, who plays Rey, was game to answer the question more seriously, explaining that “I hope Rey will be something of a girl power figure,” she said, adding that she feels the character “transcends gender” and will “speak to both men and women.”
During the second half of the panel, Christie, who plays chrome stormtrooper Captain Phasma in the film, was asked a similar question. “This seems different from other women that I see in films. I’m feeling very very inspired by that. Inspired by a woman with such tenacity, and so strong minded,” she said.
Fisher added that what was really the most “girl powery” for her was “bossing men around. I know a lot of women who haven’t done that yet, and I encourage you to.” Her yuks continued through that portion of the conference with Fisher presiding like the host of a celebrity roast. When the panel was asked about the time it took getting into their costumes, Fisher quipped, “I have a kind of classy gas station attendant look.” She also described Leia’s new hairstyle as “a baboon-ass,” while making the point that a sense of humor was necessary on set. “It keeps things lively when you’re getting shot.”
During the second half of the press conference, the biggest laughs came from Ford and newly minted star Boyega. Throughout the discussion, the two played up the idea that Boyega desperately wanted to be best friends with Ford while Ford was utterly dismissive of his younger co-star. “I don’t know him,” Ford joked at one point.
One highlight came when the cast during the second portion of the panel was asked about the fan rumors they’ve heard of. Boyega revealed he pays close attention to many of them, including one that holds his character, Finn, as a descendant of Samuel L Jackson’s prequel character Mace Windu. He then offered up the too-good to be true story of being at a party and hearing “Yo! Black Jedi!”, only to turn around and discover it was Jackson himself shouting at him.
He also played fanboy, saying at one point that “I felt like, ‘Does J.J. know what kind of fan I was when it comes to Star Wars and writing this role for me?’ I get to wear a stormtrooper suit, a rebel jacket, I have a blaster, a lightsaber, I get to hang out with Han Solo, Chewie. It’s just fantastic. I think JJ wrote this part with my personal dreams in mind.” Boyega also discussed recording lines for the Disney Infinity game based on The Force Awakens and testing out how Finn works in that game. “To be a playable character, I get to play with myself” he joked.
Interestingly, Boyega’s nerdiness was one-upped by co-star Isaac. Discussing how he imagined his character Poe Dameron’s backstory, Isaac, who is of Guatemalan heritage, mentioned how the exterior shots of the rebel base on a jungle moon in the original Star Wars were filmed there. Subsequently, he imagined his character hailing from that moon, and was delighted to discover a recent storyline in the latest Marvel comics establishes that in fact, that’s where Poe comes from.
* Fisher apparently wanted to bring her dog, Gary Fisher, on set with her and had difficulty doing so.
* Ford joked that his favorite costume in the original Star Wars trilogy was Leia’s iconic slave bikini gear. Cue huge laughter.
* Abrams confirmed, again, that Jar Jar Binks isn’t in the new trilogy, and added that there are also no Ewoks. Actually, “do you mean live Ewoks?” is how he responded to the question. Of course I’ll be looking for pelts during the film.
* The production is taking great pains to ensure a smooth transition between directors as Rian Johnson prepares to take over the franchise from JJ Abrams with the still-untitled eighth Star Wars film. “So far it is going great. J.J. and Rian [Johnson] are already talking at length because Rian is about to start shooting Episode VIII,” Kathleen Kennedy said. “He’s getting ready to head over in January, and Colin [Trevorrow] will start working with Rian.”
* Driver, who plays Kylo Ren, offered insight on the character, and the setting, calling it “true to life,” and adding that, “We have such short memories of huge events — genocide — then we kind of forget about it…The same people are still in charge…” He also reiterated previous statements that Kylo Ren is a villain who isn’t just “evil for the sake of being evil,” but who feels “morally justified,” and that he is “doing the right thing.”
* The Force Awakens was Nyong’o’s first experience with motion capture acting. “I’m eternally grateful for J.J. letting me do that. It was a great way to get into this wonderful crazy thing called motion capture. And I got to be on the set, and see the things, and feel them, and the art direction in this, there is so much detail, even when you are standing on that set, it is mesmerizing,” she said. Abrams added that Nyong’o had “incredible” energy during what he indicated was a very taxing shoot, and complimented her performance.
* And before you ask, no, Christie doesn’t know whether or not Jon Snow is alive either.