A long time ago (at about 10am Pacific Standard Time) in a convention center far, far away (Anaheim), thousands upon thousands of Star Wars fans -- including MTV News -- gathered at Star Wars: Celebration to welcome director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy to talk about their ridiculously anticipated "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
Ever since Disney/Lucasfilm dropped the first 88-second teaser back in November, fans have been patiently waiting for their next "Episode VII" fix. Going into Celebration today, it was a pretty safe bet the full-length "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" trailer would debut at this morning's panel. (We already knew it would be attached to "Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron," hitting theaters May 1.) Thank the Maker, Abrams and Kennedy delivered the goods -- not to mention a few surprises.
It was a packed house in the Anaheim Convention Center, just outside of which fans had been waiting in line all night. (Don't worry, Abrams and Kennedy treated overnighters to free pizza while they waited!) But the sleepy crowd got a sudden burst of adrenaline, as Abrams and Kennedy hit the stage with Star Wars fanfare blaring. "We're going to try very hard not to put to you to sleep," Kennedy joked.
When asked about Abrams' "retro" approach to "The Force Awakens" and using real, practical sets, the crowd erupted in approval. (The Prequels, of course, were widely criticized by fans for relying too much on CGI.) Abrams mentioned that physically "building as much as we possibly could was the initial mandate... It was great for the actors too." In keeping with that mandate, the overhead projection cycled through on-set photos -- nary a green screen in any of them -- featuring sets and locations like the Tunisian desert and the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon.
From there, Abrams and Kennedy welcomed a very special guest: the actual R2-D2 used in the movie (looking gritty and grimy as ever)! R2's engineers also came out on stage to talk about creating all the movie's droid characters, showing images of practical Astromech heads that were literally affixed to the X-Wings on set.
But that wasn't all. Fans also got to meet the newest robot companion in the Star Wars Universe: a fully functional BB-8 (otherwise known as the "volleyball droid" in the original teaser), thus confirming Mark Hamill's report from a few months back that the little guy was indeed completely practical.
Next up, Abrams and Kennedy introduced three of the new human leads: Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. And while the actors couldn't say too much about their characters, they were able to reveal a bit more about their characters' backstories.
Ridley began, "We discover Rey on the desert planet of Jakku" -- not Tatooine, as first suspected. Rey is a "solitary scavenger" that meets Boyega's character Finn, the "alleged" Stormtrooper seen at the beginning of the first teaser. As for Isaac's character, Poe Dameron, the actor said (with a Han Solo-esque smirk), "He's the best frickin' pilot in the galaxy." When we first meet Poe, Isaac explained, he's been sent on a mission "by a certain Princess," and he too comes across Finn, and the trio's "fates are intertwined."
Color us intrigued!
After that, Abrams and Kennedy brought out the big guns: original "Star Wars" cast members Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and the Jedi Master himself Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) -- as well as a complement of "Episode VII" Stormtroopers. It was a surreal and emotional moment for fans and the cast alike, as each original actor took the stage to express their gratitude to the fans and their excitement for "The Force Awakens." Fisher also teased on stage about her new look in the movie, joking, "The [hair] buns are tired now, but we have an alternate thing I think you'll all be into... which is not the metal bikini."
Following a brief photo op with the entire cast, Abrams and Kennedy thanked the crowd for coming to see them, and began to walk off stage -- that was until Kennedy came back to say, "Don't leave the hall!" Abrams joined her at the front, adding, "Who wants to see a new teaser?"
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" hits theaters stateside on December 18. 2015.