With huge brands like Marvel Studios and Pixar under its umbrella, Walt Disney Pictures is no stranger to blockbuster entertainment. The company's tentpole roster is getting a very valuable addition this December when J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens kicks off a new era of Star Wars films, which will include a sequel trilogy for the core saga and standalone Anthology films (being branded as "Star Wars Stories").
As one might expect, Lucasfilm had a presence at the recent 2015 D23 Expo, and while it wasn't the most information-packed presentation a convention has ever seen, there was still a lot for fans to talk about. We learned that Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow will be the filmmaker behind Episode IX, and a new poster for The Force Awakens was handed out (featuring more story clues). Now, Abrams has provided more thoughts on the franchise's present and future.
Following the Lucasfilm D23 panel, Abrams talked to some members of the press backstage (hat tip to Collider) and discussed many aspects of the Star Wars films. First up was new villain Captain Phasma, who is being played by fan-favorite Game of Thrones actress Gwendoline Christie. Though Abrams didn't spill any new details about Phasma's character, he had nothing but great things to say about Christie's performance:
"I can only say that Gwendoline Christie is my favorite. She just killed it. You think, 'Well, what? It’s wearing a costume.' But it’s a lot to wear and to have a performance when you’re wearing that requires a different kind of skill set and an additional talent, and she’s got it. It’s an incredible thing to work with her. I am glad that a character has been designed that is visually as stunning as that is, because she deserves it and the fans do to. When I first saw that design my mind was blown because it looked so undeniable."
Thanks to her standout character design, Captain Phasma is already a candidate to become fans' new favorite Star Wars baddie (even though she's only been glimpsed at in the teaser trailers). While nobody expected Abrams to trash one of his stars, it's still encouraging to hear that he's very enthusiastic about Christie's portrayal. The Star Wars series has a legacy of memorable villains from Darth Maul to the Emperor, so anybody following their footsteps has a monumental challenge indeed. From the sound of it, Christie was able to live up to those lofty expectations and create something iconic.
Another aspect of The Force Awakens that has fans excited is Star Wars' return to practical special effects and sets. One of the most criticized aspects of the prequels was their reliance on green screen and digital technology to fill in the environments and create the otherworldly elements of the Star Wars universe. Abrams touched on why it was so important for him to shoot as much as he could in-camera:
"It was really important for a sense of authenticity that the set be built, the exterior, interior, that we go to real locations that were actually in the sun. I know it sounds silly, but in the behind the scenes reel you see this giant gimbal of the Millennium Falcon cockpit and it was outdoors. The reason we did it – we didn’t have to do that, but the reason we wanted to was, you just can’t fake sunlight. You can do a pretty good imitation, but you can just tell. There was something about wanting to see Daisy’s character actually sitting in the cockpit with sunlight streaking across in motion. It’s a little detail and I’m not sure anyone’s going to care about that, but it’s an incredible thing when you see it just how much better it looks because it’s real. So we just tried to do that as much as we could and it was often challenging but it was worth it."
Obviously a big blockbuster like Star Wars is going to incorporate plenty of CGI, but Abrams makes a good point about wanting to do most of the work tangibly. It's not about saying one style is better than the other, but it is smart to incorporate as many practical elements as possible. When things look real on-screen, it makes it easier for our minds to establish a connection with what we're watching. Part of the reason why the classic Star Wars trilogy continues to resonate with pop culture is because the galaxy far, far away felt like an actual place with its 'lived-in' aesthetic. That Abrams is so passionate about taking the series back to its roots means he cares deeply about giving a new generation a similar experience.
Finally, Abrams briefly talked about his fellow sequel trilogy helmsman Mr. Trevorrow. Abrams is so confident in his colleague's abilities that he even feels any advice he could give would be superfluous:
"Colin doesn’t need my advice, he’s going to kill it. But I will say that he is going to be spoiled by this remarkable cast and incredible crew. I’m jealous that he gets to work with them, because they’re terrific, all of them."
With Episode IX not expected to hit theaters until 2019, we still have a while to wait until we see if Trevorrow can "kill it" or not. Reaction to his hiring was decidedly mixed in the fan community, but there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Jurassic World showed he was comfortable and capable in handling a studio-driven tentpole, and the Lucasfilm story group will be with him every step of the way to lend a helping hand (beginning as early as this year). Right now, the studio seems on the right track to bring Star Wars back to its glory days, so there doesn't seem to be too much to be worried about.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Star Wars: Rogue One on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.