Star Wars: The Force Awakens Press Day & Mini-Review

When I got the invitation for the Star Wars: The Force Awakens press day, I may have gotten out of my chair and did a little dance around the room. I mean, Harrison Ford…C3P0…BB-8…who wouldn’t be excited about that press junket? The event was held in Los Angeles and was very, very under wraps. I’ve done a lot of press days now, and this was by far the most secretive, but for very good reason. On the heels of scary week in California, everyone was talking about THE movie premiere of the decade. In fact, I heard on the news yesterday that it was expected to be the biggest ever, and with good reason. With a stellar cast, phenomenal special effects and technology and a story line for the ages, everyone’s talking about it.

The cast in attendance was such a long list, it was broken up into two interview sections. I was fortunate and scored a front-row seat with great photo opportunities. I’d arrived early, giving me plenty of time to grab a bite to eat and visit all the booths in the center. (If you’ve never been to a press event, frequently there are related companies with exhibits, many interactive. At the Star Wars: The Force Awakens press event, we were treated to a 4-D virtual reality demo — and sent home with a VR unit to use at home with our cellphone and the Star Wars app — a Disney Infinity inside scoop and character to take home, a t-shirt designing booth, so I now have a custom-made t-shirt to wear to the screening on Tuesday, and photo opps. Getting to take my picture with THE BB-8? Worth the whole trip. Throw in a photo with C3PO and R2D2 and I have memories for a lifetime. Growing up with Star Wars and now getting to watch them with my kids makes it all extra special.

In attendance were:

Interview Group #1

·        Carrie Fisher (“Leia”)

·        JJ Abrams (Director/Producer)

·        Daisy Ridley (“Rey”)

·        Adam Driver (“Kylo Ren”)

·        Lupita Nyong’o (“Maz Kanata”)

·        Lawrence Kasdan (Screenplay By)

 Interview Group #2

·        Harrison Ford (“Han Solo”)

·        John Boyega (“Finn”)

·        Oscar Isaac (“Poe Dameron”)                                  

·        Gwendoline Christie (“Captain Phasma”)

·        Kathleen Kennedy (Producer)

Moderated by Mindy Kaling, the cheering started as soon as the door opened revealing the cast. It was a standing-room only interview and the list of questions never stopped. Mindy, as expected, did a fantastic job getting the conversation going with her witty comebacks, unique interview approach and humorous ad-libs. She stated upfront that she was going to ask questions that weren’t the same ones that always get asked, and she was true to her word.

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What a crew! Everyone in attendance knew how fortunate they were and the mood of excitement and reverance was palpable. Listening to them talk about why they were in the movie, how they felt working with Harrison Ford and even what type of costume change issues they had was equally exciting.

Carrie Fisher is a character. Let me start by getting it out there — if you saw her on Good Morning, America, you know what I mean. And I mean that in the best of ways. She tells it like it is, she’s honest, candid and has a definite air of “I’m going to be myself no matter what Hollywood says I ought to be.” And we all LOVED it.

Lupita’s character, Maz Kanata, is one that no one’s seen yet. She’s a new character, a stop-motion technology that required her to wear dots all over her body — even on her teeth — during filming. Adam Driver is one tall handsome man and I just realized yesterday that he was also in This Is Where I Leave You. Daisy Ridley is as beautiful as Lupita and a singer who apparently kept them all entertained during filming. She even sang a very brief phrase during the interview. They looked like a cast that knows how to have fun and enjoy each other — after getting the very serious business of filmmaking done. Professional to the core.

Some of the most interesting bits of trivia I learned:

J.J. Abrams, like the rest, felt incredibly lucky to be asked to be a part of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. For him, it was a true passion, and when asked who the most difficult actor to work with was, he dodged by saying “Not on this couch!” When asked what he wanted viewers to feel when they came to the movie, he stated:

When Kathy Kennedy and Larry and I started talking about what this was at the very beginning, the fundamental question was what did we want to feel, and what did we want people to feel when they came to this movie. And that was really the beginning of the discussion, and the answer was the kind of sense of discovery, exhilaration, surprise.

I’m going to bet he’s done that!

When asked if Princess Leia has a good sense of humor, Carrie laughed and said that she’d have to, with all those hairpieces. She then added that she now has a baboon ass hairstyle. <Cue the laughter.> A journalist asked them each what their most scary part of the first day of filming was, and Carrie easily answered with “Bad memory. Not remembering my lines.” She’s so real, it was very endearing.

Lupita’s character, Maz Kanata, is a former space pirate who now owns and operates a bar. The relationship between her and Yoda came up but no real answer was given, leaving us all wondering what really happens in the movie. She described the moviegoer’s experience as “immersive.” J.J. Abrams referred to her as tireless and we found her to be engaging and gorgeously graceful.

Mindy asked them all what their “walk-up song” would be. That’s the song that would play during an introduction, and everyone laughed but gave an honest answer. Daisy named hers as Mulan’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” which she proceeded to sing — and she sang it properly, too! (We’re big Disney fans and Mulan is one of my younger daughter’s favorite movies, and she prefers that very same song.) Gwendoline’s response, in the second interview, got everyone laughing, as it turned out to be Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, which she started to hum; before long, John and Oscar both jumped in, each taking a separate role.

A funny question posed to both J.J. and Larry was how they chose the names; Larry’s bottom line answer was basically, no real reason other than did we like saying it and how it sounded. Names like Kylo Ren and Maz Kanata do show the typical Disney/Lucasfilm creativity from the entire Star Wars series.

the force awakens

the force awakens

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Carrie’s dog, Gary Fisher, was also on GMA with Carrie. His tongue hung out the whole time and he was falling asleep, but he is obviously her baby. He came up during the interview, mainly about how he was ‘banished’ from the set. Carrie’s pretend indignance over it came through as a funny rant that had us all laughing and loving her even more.

carrie fisher

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The second set of the cast was just as good as the first. I was unaware, until she walked across the stage so gracefully, that Gwendoline Christie is 6’3″! What a memorable role she’s got, playing the first female villain, Captain Phasma.

Being Mindy, she asked Harrison why he needed to do this film if he was rich. Harrison’s response surprised no one:

It’s because it’s what I do. It’s what I like to do. It’s what’s fun for me. And I had a chance to work with people that I really admire, doing something that I thought was going to be fun, and which actually turned out to be fun, and to work with J.J., whose work I had really admired and long known about. And it seemed like a good idea at the time.

He was also asked by another journalist how it felt to be the bridge from the old movie to the new one:

It’s gratifying to be asked to be part of this. There was a interesting story to tell for the – through the character. It’s always nice to anticipate working in something that you know people will have an appetite for. This is not a crap shoot. This is – this is a big casino. And it’s fun to play with these toys again. It’s been a great experience.

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Those eyes. Apparently his and Carrie’s trailer were the party places to go during the movie. No surprise there either. His Uncle came to visit the set once and disappeared. He was looking all over for him and finally found him laughing away in Carrie’s trailer, where Gary Fisher, of course, was in attendance. (As I type this, my own Yorkie’s on my lap, so I get it, Carrie!) Oscar’s not a big movie-goer but I imagine he’s kept pretty busy with Star Wars celeb status in addition to his prior roles.

harrison fordThe many faces of Harrison Ford. He’s so genuine, so sweet and has a wicked sense of humor that is so quiet, you don’t expect it at all. Those eyes…after all the movies I’ve seen him in, Han Solo is the landmark role I associate him with and I’m so glad to see him back. (But the ewoks won’t be!)

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John was asked about his feelings on the cultural impact of the movies:

For me, I – I’m going to be honest. I really don’t care about the black storm trooper stuff. I couldn’t care less. This is a movie about human beings, about Wookies, spaceships, and Ty fighters, and it has an undertone and a message of courage, and a message of friendship, and loyalty. And I think that’s something that is ultimately important.

star warsOne of the funniest moments in the second interview was when John Boyega shared a story about how he and Daisy witnessed Harrison in a behind-the-scenes moment:

I have to say, though, that there was a moment on the Falcon, where Harrison, you had the blaster in your hand, and you were trying to skillfully put it in the holster. And Harrison was – stood there – “Damn it, damn it, damn it.” And me and Daisy were just behind the camera, just like, “This is freakin’ insane. Harrison’s just freakin’ right there.” But we had to do the scene together, and not freak out – because it was mesmerizing to see Harrison in this environment, in the movies that we absolutely loved. And it was good to see you with Chewie. We freaked out, but we didn’t show you nothing. We tried to keep it professional for you.

It’s clear the cast is close and had a good time together. They know what a special opportunity this is and they’re as reverent of it as they should be, without going over the top. The time with them both went far too quickly.

To hold you over until the movie comes out on December 18, here are a few photos provided by Lucasfilm.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens..Ph: Film Frame..©Lucasfilm 2015
Star Wars: The Force Awakens..Ph: Film Frame..©Lucasfilm 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens BB-8 Ph: Film Frame © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved..

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) with Stormtroopers Ph: David James ©Lucasfilm 2015
Star Wars: The Force Awakens   Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) with Stormtroopers  Ph: David James  ©Lucasfilm 2015
Star Wars: The Force Awakens..Ph: Film Frame..? 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens..Ph: Film Frame.. 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved.

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I love photo opps with the cast and props, but I wasn’t sure what to expect with BB-8. Cast? Or prop? Then I kneeled down to air hug him and tell him how adorable he is. He responded and leaned in to hug me! Hence the look of surprise. I got another pleasant surprise when I went to shake C3PO’s hand and heard a thump-thump on R2D2; not having befriended R2D2 before, I wasn’t sure if that was a new noise, so I quickly turned around and it was John Boyega, patting him on the head as he cut through the photo opp area!

ETA: I’ve seen the movie. We loved it. Long-time Star Wars fans are going to enjoy it as much as new fans, and with new cast members mixing with the ones we’ve known and loved, it’s going to live up to the hype in a big way. Just enough humor exists to break up the action, and BB-8 will have you wanting to take him home with you. There’s so much to love and you will be on your toes the entire run time, which is two hours and 16 minutes. No spoilers here, so I won’t share much but when the lights went down and a familiar scene came across the big screen, the audience went wild. Buy your tickets and enjoy the blockbuster!

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