The Disney Studio, which acquired Lucasfilm for $4.6 billion three years ago, is announcing the dates for one new “Star Wars” installment after another, from Gareth Edwards’ currently filming ”Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One” to Saga Episodes VIII and IX. They’re invested in a business that they expect to pay dividends for decades to come.
Will JJ Abrams’ reinvention of the “Star Wars” series created by George Lucas, “Star Wars: Episode VII —The Force Awakens” (which follows 30 years after the original Episodes IV, V and VI), top box-office juggernaut “Jurassic World”? If anything can—assuming “The Force Awakens” delivers—this is it.
The drum roll in advance of the December 18 opening is deafening. This past weekend, Disney mounted a press junket in Los Angeles that was eagerly covered by critics and reporters who had not been shown the film. Most will not see the final 2 hours and 16 minute final cut until Monday, December 14 at a massive Hollywood premiere at a location yet to be revealed. Then they’ll fill in the gaps in their stories. I will be there, but I did not ask to attend the junket.
I have long been horrified by the prospect of so-called “journalists” grilling people on a movie they haven’t seen, as they often do at Comic-Con. But this is a new first. Disney has a movie to show. In the guise of protecting the consumer from “spoilers” and themselves from piracy, they’re not screening the film for press until four days ahead of the opening, while allowing them to perform as a hype machine. Many of the folks in town to cover “Star Wars” didn’t get to sit down with any of the players, but were invited to a massive press conference.
And Disney’s not sending screeners to the various awards groups either. In this case it’s especially tough to gauge what, if any, awards “Force Awakens” would be deserving. Composer John Williams? VFX? So I will just wait and see before making up my mind.
New “Star Wars” recruits in this installment include John Boyega (“Attack the Block”) as a storm trooper; he had to run in costume through the 120-degree heat on location in Abu Dabi, along with fellow Brit newcomer Daisy Ridley as Rey; on the Dark Side are Adam Driver as villain Kylo Ren, Domnhall Gleason as General Hux who commands Star Killer Base, and lanky “Game of Thrones” star Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma.
They join legacy players Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), happy to be reunited on a script written by Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote George Lucas’s “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Return of the Jedi” over three decades years ago. He and Abrams spent a year walking and talking the script through. They treated the first three films as canon as they filmed in Abu Dabi with a combination of deluxe VFX and animatronic creatures, shot live the way they were on the first film, using more sophisticated robotic technology with puppets and people. Because they are live, actors are interacting with actors, and the lights are bouncing off something real.
This marks a dramatic departure from the Lucas philosophy of creating everything possible with CG. He was always an early digital evangelist (hence the disastrous Jar Jar Binks). One reason to shoot “Episode VII” this way was to create continuity with how the first three films were made.
For her part, Carrie Fisher is having a blast on the TV circuit (see Good Morning America clip below). She’s seen the film. Her dog Gary “panted all the way through the movie.” Did it take convincing to return to “Star Wars?” “No, I’m a female in Hollywood,” she says. “I’ve been Princess Leia for 40 years, am I going to stop?”