Thursday, December 17th was the day millions of Star Wars fans had been waiting for – the long-awaited release of J.J. Abrams’ seventh episode, The Force Awakens. It was also the day on which the cast and crew gathered in London for the official press conference; the panel consisted of Abrams, writer Lawrence Kasdan, stars Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Gwendoline Christie, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, and an empty seat labelled ‘John Boyega’, and STARBURST was present to bring you the highlights.
Those of you who haven’t seen the film yet, read on – there are no spoilers here.
On working with J.J. Abrams:
Carrie Fisher: “He was great to work with, because George Lucas was wonderful but he never spoke much, but , it’s sad really.”
Harrison Ford: “Exactly right. And it helps a lot to have somebody who gives as much as J.J. gives to the whole enterprise, and this is beside the direction of the movie and the engineering of this monster – the human kindness that J.J. brings to the set everyday is part of what makes the movie what it is.”
Carrie Fisher: “He was really excited to do it, because he was young when I was a teenager, and so he was a fan with infectious excitement and real focus. He really loved making the movie, except with me.”
On bringing back the magic of the original trilogy:
Lawrence Kasdan: “What was really lucky is that the moment met, we agreed what the thing should be, what the tone should be, what the fun of it was. We thought a lot of it had to do with being funny, because that’s what touched us when we first saw A New Hope – it’s a really funny movie, and everyone in it is endearing and charming and surprising. We wanted to get that feeling back into the saga.”
J.J. Abrams: “The thing that I felt when I first saw Star Wars was this incredible sense of it being real. It just felt material and tangible and physical. I think a lot of recent films have, because of the incredible technology that exists, rightfully relied on that technology in ways that – and I have as well – they do it because they can. There was a story that Simon Pegg’s very young daughter had seen the prequels and loved them, and then she saw Episodes IV and V, and when she saw Yoda in V, she said to her father, “look, daddy, Yoda’s real”. I think there’s something about the physicality of having the thing perform. When we were doing this one large scene with all these amazing creatures that Neal Scanlan and his team had created physically on set, I thought, ‘this is what it must be like to make a Muppet movie’. I know that was nothing to do with plot or character or theme but that old-school approach was part of what felt Star Wars-y.”
On what advice the returning members of the cast gave the newbies:
Daisy Ridley: “There was a conversation with Harrison about anonymity, and some things from Carrie that I won’t say now. People were leading by example, and it was so amazing to see people so established and with a huge career be kind and generous to everyone on set.”
Adam Driver: “I didn’t get a sense of ‘been there done that’, there still was a sense of youthful ambition in trying to get it right – knowing these characters so well but still trying to make it deeper.”
Carrie Fisher: “My advice? Don’t go through the crew like wildfire.”
Daisy Ridley on the most emotional moment from the shoot:
“One of my most touching moments was at the end, because you look back and you can’t believe all the hard work that’s gone on, all the many months and incredible amounts of passion and energy that’s been drawn from everyone, so the last day I found definitely the most emotional.”
What was the wrap party like?
Carrie Fisher: “Who remembers that?”
Feelings upon finally seeing the movie in cinemas:
J.J. Abrams: “It’s an enormous relief; this was a few years of intense work from literally thousands of people. But when you watch the film and you see the credits and there’s all those names, especially when you get to the visual effects names and there’s four columns of names that go by – each of these people lost sleep. On behalf of everyone in that incredible list of crew members and amazing cast members, I’m so relieved to finally allow this to get out of the editing room so people can see it, because I think all those names did an extraordinary job.”
Carrie Fisher: “You remember all those names…”
J.J. Abrams: “I’m gonna tell you all those names right now…”
Lawrence Kasdan: “It’s very exciting, I’ve been writing movies and directing them for a long time. When it actually gets made and cut and edited, and it’s so close to what JJ and I talked about from the first day onward, and then you get that spirit and sit in the theatre and feel other people around you getting that same excitement, you think this is a miracle that we’ve made this long journey and it’s come out so close to what we’d hoped.”
(At this point, a hungover John Boyega sheepishly swaggers into the room. He had a very busy night.)
There are some amazing costumes in the film – what was it like to step into the costumes of Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma?
Adam Driver: “A lot of the films I’ve done, I had to bring my own costumes to set, or bring five t-shirts and wear them for the rest of the movie, but for this, because of the scale and size of it, a lot of things had to be figured out before I got there. A lot of information I got from the costume was that it was unpolished and it had this history in the helmet… it was messed up from what he’d been through before, and even his lightsaber seemed to be something that he’d made himself and could explode any minute. … For me the costume was the first entry point into who he was.”
Gwendoline Christie: “Similar to Adam, my costume was brilliantly designed by Michael Kaplan, who I’ve admired since I saw Blade Runner when I was twelve. I was really astounded by how extraordinary it looked, and also that it was practical, and I loved that it hadn’t been feminised in any way; it hadn’t been sexualised, it was practical armour. What I got from the costume was that this was a woman who was imposing, uncompromising and high-functioning. Obviously, this informs the way that you move and the way that you walk.”
The weirdest places the cast have seen their faces:
A croaky John Boyega: “It’s everywhere. Wow, my voice is so sexy and deep in the morning… The whole experience for me, in terms of merchandising and having my face everywhere, is definitely strange. I went to Tokyo and the first thing I saw was a 7/11 with Daisy’s face, my face, and BB-8, and I’d never been to Tokyo in my life, so to have my face there was quite shocking. But it was a very proud moment. I’m just going to talk some more so I can hear the depths of my voice.”
Carrie Fisher: “Shampoo bottle, because you can twist off your head. And there’s a marijuana strain called Princess Leia. I don’t know myself, but I have friends...”
J.J. Abrams on the importance of prominent female roles in the new film:
“From the very beginning of our discussions about this movie, the notion of a woman at the centre of the story was compelling and exciting to me. In addition to Leia, who we knew was a critical piece of the puzzle, we wanted to have other, not necessarily human, female characters in the story. So Lupita playing Maz Kanata, who is the voice of Force wisdom, Phasma leading the stormtroopers. And we wanted to have other female stormtroopers and female pilots, which we do. We just wanted it to not feel like it was uninclusive. We always wrote Rey as a central character, but as we started casting the movie, it just felt like one of the things we knew we wanted to do – to make the film look and feel more the way the world looks and feels.”
Maz Kanata is very important to the film, but it’s tough to talk about her without giving away too much – how tricky is this balancing act?
Lupita Nyong’o: “I got a directive of the words I was allowed to say and I just stick to those words. I play Maz Kanata, she’s a pirate, she’s lived for a while, she has a colourful past and she owns a bar.”
There are already spoilers on the internet – given the attempt to keep plot information secret, how frustrating is this?
J.J. Abrams: “We live in a world of immediate information, this is no surprise. While I know that people feel a need and entitlement to what they want to know when they want to know it, I was very gratified to see people saying things like ‘thank you to Disney for not spoiling the movie and telling us everything before it comes out’, and in fact saying ‘stop with the trailers, I don’t want to see any more until I’ve seen the movie’. Star Wars is so much about inclusivity and connection, with the idea of the Force, and when I saw the movie as I kid, I felt that actually happening in the theatre – hundreds of people screaming at the same time, laughing at the same time, crying at the same time, and we were all connected by this energy. There’s something unbelievably powerful about this human experience, which is less and less likely the more we have these little objects in our pockets which make us feel connected, but actually make us more disconnected. Star Wars is a phenomenon, and an opportunity for people around the world to come together for something uplifting. The reality is that, because of technology these days, everyone will know everything instantaneously. I’m hopeful that, while there will be spoilers out there, it won’t detract from the thrill that people might have seeing this movie together. That’s the thing that is most depressing thing about spoilers – you get there, and it’s just about confirmation of something you already know. I’m grateful to anyone that goes to see the film and I’m hoping that, whether they know what’s going to happen in one scene or not, that they enjoy the experience and it’s a fun and emotional one as opposed to a confirmation of something that they were waiting to see happen.”
LK: “I was amazed by how the press has respected their readership and has not really spilled the beans, which is amazing, and we’re all very grateful for that.”
Harrison Ford on the young Han Solo spin-off:
“I don’t know what to think about that. I’m glad someone else is gonna have the burden of being young. It’s well beyond my understanding or control and I of course want nothing to do with it, in the nicest possible way, but I know that it will be well done.”
How was the experience of shooting in Skellig Michael, Ireland?
Daisy Ridley: “I’m part Irish, so to be in Ireland was very exciting. The approach to Skellig is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Firstly, I’ve never been in a helicopter before, and it’s just unbelievable, the weather was stunning. But it was tough – those steps were many. People asked me if I had to walk up all those steps, but Colin, our incredible steadicam operator, was walking backwards up the stairs with a hundred-pound camera.”
J.J. Abrams: “We could only bring forty-five crew members, and essentially no props or anything of scale. I couldn’t believe they let us shoot there; it was like shooting on Stonehenge, so crazy and so gorgeous. But they kept telling us how many people died there by falling off, so you realise ‘oh, this is beautiful, but also perilous’. One weird thing that happened – we got there on the first day, and there were, I think, ten billion puffins. I mean, there were more puffins than I knew there were puffins. And then the next day, we get back, and they’re gone – we’d got there literally the last day before they fly away. Anyway, it was gorgeous, and we were welcomed there – it was incredible.”
Harrison Ford on the experience of returning to the Star Wars saga:
“I have relished this entire experience in a way I had not anticipated, and a lot of the credit for that goes to J.J. and Larry. This is a rare experience in my old life and I’m very grateful for it.”
You can watch the full press conference below and check out the gallery of images (click to enlarge):
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