We’re exactly one week out from the arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters, and while a press junket was held last weekend at a heavily fortified battle station undisclosed location in Los Angeles, even then the film was not screened for the press. As a result, the double press conference held on Sunday (December 6) and moderated by Mindy Kaling — featuring stars Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Leia), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), John Boyega (Finn), Daisy Ridley (Rey), Oscar Isaac (Poe), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma) and Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), along with director J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan — was short on specifics but still featured some interesting insights and bits of information.
So while there may not be any spoilers or plot twists revealed here, there is still some content that might add to your appreciation of the incredible amount of work that has gone into this production and keep you speculating as we count down to opening day…
1. J.J. Abrams revealed that he, Kennedy and Kasdan realized that Star Wars had to look back in order to move the story forward: “For us, at the very beginning, it was really about knowing why we were telling the story, which was to give people that sense of possibility and magic that we all felt when we first saw the original Star Wars. But, I will just say that this is all to tell a new story. It’s not a nostalgia trip. We had to go backwards, in order to go forwards. If you look at IV, V and VI, those are stories that continue. This is VII. The fabric needed to be that which we are familiar with, in order to tell a brand new story.”
2. Nyong’o’s character, the ancient former pirate and now bar owner Maz Kanata, possibly has had some history with the late, great Jedi Master, Yoda: “I do believe that at one point Maz and Yoda crossed paths,” said Abrams cagily after Nyong’o seemed stuck on how to answer the question.
3. Kylo Ren, the villainous dark knight of the First Order played by Adam Driver, is “unfinished and unpolished,” said Driver, a trait which is symbolized by the ragged blade of his light saber. “There’s never been a character like Kylo in the saga,” echoed Kasdan. “He doesn’t have his shit all together.”
4. The always entertaining and unpredictable Fisher admitted that “we drank through the whole (original) trilogy in the beginning,” adding that The Force Awakens “was a sober set. That’s what JJ brought to this, was sobriety.” Ford later expressed that it was hard to get a drink at the new movie’s wrap party — not because they weren’t available, but because the party was so big.
5. What was the scariest day on set for Abrams? “The scariest day for me was when Harrison Ford was injured (a door on the Millennium Falcon fell and broke the actor’s leg), which was just absolutely hideous. But every day felt like there were challenges because I knew how important this was to so many people… every decision I made had this importance, and yet we had a date to make, we had a story to tell, and it was always about trying to do the best work possible.”
6. It took Lupita Nyong’o up to three hours at first to get into her motion capture rig (“I’m still finding dots in things”), although that time was eventually cut to an hour and 15 minutes. “Fortunately for me, J.J. had me be a part of principal photography, so my very first experience with motion capture was on the actual sets with the actual actors,” said the Oscar-winning actress. “I’m eternally grateful to him for giving me that because it was a great way to get into this wonderful, crazy thing called motion capture…The thing that attracted me to the idea of playing motion capture was the idea of working with a character that wasn’t limited by my physical circumstances. I could work with my body in new ways.”
7. Fisher said it took her 10 to 20 minutes to get into her costume: “I’m older and I do it faster. I have a classy gas station attendant look, or I’d say I was an airplane repair person with a nice vest and different hair than most airplane mechanics would normally have.”
8. The most difficult costume to come up with was Kylo Ren’s: “We went through I don’t know how many hundreds and probably thousands of iterations and different versions,” said Abrams. “One of the great things about that was over the course of that, the costume for Captain Phasma was designed, that was actually pitched as a Kylo Ren costume originally. For story reasons, it didn’t make sense and didn’t work but we suddenly realized oh my God, this is one of the greatest looking costumes I’ve ever seen. He, then she, became one of my favorite characters in the movie. But the design of Kylo Ren was the most difficult one.”
9. Yes, that’s right — Captain Phasma was initially a man, but then ended up becoming the first female villain of the Star Wars movies: “I think J.J. has been open about the fact that he wanted it to respect the origins of the films and celebrate them, but to bring them into the modern day,” said Gwendoline Christie, better known as Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones. “And confirmation of that seemed to be, to me, in this amazing character of Captain Phasma who is Star Wars’ first onscreen female villain…The response from the audience and the fans has been so celebratory that it makes me think that this is the kind of thing that people want to see. People want to see a more diverse reflection of society, and I feel incredibly privileged to play that part.”
10. Ford was asked a simple question by Kaling: you’re rich, so why did you come back? “It’s what I do,” said the famously taciturn screen legend. “It’s what I like to do. Its what’s fun for me. 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 JJ, whose work I’d long admired and known about.”
11. But Ford also admitted that he was intrigued by the possibility of venturing into the Star Wars universe again: “It’s gratifying to be asked to be a part of this. There was an interesting story to tell through the character… And it’s fun to play with these toys again. It’s been a great experience.”
12. Boyega shared his views on the movie’s themes and which character he related to the most: “It has a message and an undertone of courage and friendship and loyalty, and I think that’s something that’s ultimately important,” he offered. “I watched the movie with Kathy just last week and I really relate to Rey more than any of the characters, and to be in a circumstance where you have to find something bigger than who you are within yourself is something that’s inspirational to me.”
13. Ridley revealed what she found most appealing about playing Rey, the scavenger who seems destined to become a crucial player in the saga: “She’s brave and she’s vulnerable and she’s so nuanced. That’s what’s so exciting, playing a role like this. She doesn’t have to be one thing to embody a woman in a film. For me, she’s not important because she’s a woman. She’s important, and it just so happens that she’s a woman. She transcends gender. She’s going to speak to men and women.”
14. Ridley also admitted to her own insecurities over landing the role: “My whole first day was pretty terrifying. I didn’t find a moment that was any less or more than the other. Everyone knows I’ve not really done much before. Other people saw something in me that perhaps I didn’t see myself and I’m still not quite sure if it’s there. The fear of not fulfilling that potential is terrifying.”
15. Did Ford give any advice to the younger actors about how to deal with the immense changes that are about to occur to their lives? “I think my advice is pretty much limited to look both ways before you cross the street,” he replied. “I’m not going to tell them how to navigate this very personal space of trying to figure out the careers that they’ve chosen for themselves. It is bizarrely individual, how you navigate the space between where they’re at now and the rest of their useful professional life. But they’re in for a big ride, and they know it.”
16. Boyega hinted that even he doesn’t know everything about the back story of Finn yet: “I didn’t know much going in because of the spoilers, but I do remember having (script pages) that were loosely based on who Finn and Rey were. And I remember during my time screen testing, I said to Daisy, ‘There’s no way that our stories are so simple.’ And we still don’t know. I’ve got some conspiracy theories, as a fan, as to where Finn comes from, but I’m still trying to figure that out. I like that it’s a mystery.”
17. Kasdan confirmed that he and Abrams did not pull anything from the Star Wars canon, formerly known as the expanded universe, to use in their story: “We were aware and respectful of the canon, but we really wanted to tell a story that interested us and delighted us. We didn’t really want any rules and parameters. We said, ‘We can do anything we want with this story. What would be the most fun thing to do on this page and the next page and the page after that?’ That was the guiding principle, more than the canon or anything that had come before.”
18. What was Oscar Isaac’s favorite moment from the original trilogy? He said it was in Return of the Jedi: “Darth Vader’s helmet comes off and you see that he’s just a soft, sad, vulnerable old man underneath.” Ford’s favorite? Leia in the slave costume, sitting in Jabba the Hutt’s lap.
19. Boyega admitted that he and Ridley almost lost it while watching Harrison Ford in a scene on the Falcon: “It was mesmerizing to see Harrison in this environment, in the movies that we absolutely loved. And it was good to see him with Chewie. We freaked out, but we didn’t show him that. We tried to keep it professional for him.”
20. Kennedy said that the directors of the next two Star Wars films have been working closely with Abrams and will continue to consult with him as well as each other: “We haven’t mapped out every single detail yet, but obviously, everybody’s talking to one another and working together. That collaboration is what is going to guarantee that everybody’s got a say in how we move forward with this, and so far, it’s going great. J.J. and Rian [Johnson] have already talked at length because Rian’s about to start shooting Episode VIII, and [the actors] are getting ready to head over in January. And then, Colin [Trevorrow, Episode IX director] will start working with Rian and spend a lot of time on set with us.”
21. Here are a few things that are NOT in Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Jar Jar Binks, Ewoks, actual planetary science taken from recent discoveries, and a post-credits scene.
22. As for what is actually in the movie…we’ll find out soon enough. Seven days to go, folks.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters on December 18, as if you didn’t know that.