Co-writer/director J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens is going to introduce moviegoers to a new generation of heroes and villains from a galaxy far, far away - and as such, the film's marketing campaign has focused first and foremost on highlighting those newcomers to the Star Wars universe. Of course, since Force Awakens is also the continuation of Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, a number of Star Wars franchise veterans will be appearing in the film, too.
It would appear that longtime buddies and former smugglers Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) will be the returning Star Wars characters who play the largest roles in Force Awakens, going by both rumors about the film's plot and their prevalence in the film's promotional material alone (see: trailers, images, etc.). It thus doesn't come as a surprise to hear that Mayhew spent most of his time working on the film alongside both Ford and Force Awakens' young protagonists: Jakku scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega).
Mayhew's post-Return of the Jedi career has been quite different than either Ford's and/or original Star Wars trilogy leads (and Force Awakens costars) Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. Nonetheless, as he told Bmag, Mayhew didn't have any trouble rekindling his old chemistry with Ford during the Force Awakens shoot, even so many years after their last onscreen appearance together:
“Harrison’s one of the guys. We’ve been friends for a long time, and he’s always been about giving advice and talking things through. He’ll ask what you want to do, and he’ll tell you how he wants to do it, too. He’ll say, ‘No, let’s try [the scene] this way… don’t look over there, look over here’. Just little things. He’s got a really soft voice, but I know he’s very interested in what’s going on, not only as an actor, but almost as a director. And as a friend!
“There was a marvelous camaraderie on the set, right the way down to all the guys who were working as part of the crew. It couldn’t have been better.”
There were once concerns that personal health issues would prevent Mayhew from reprising his role as Chewbacca for Star Wars: The Force Awakens - something that no doubt made his eventual reunion with Ford on the project all the more meaningful for the actor (and his fans alike). Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy has likewise described Ford as being a collaborative actor; one who became involved with the development of the Force Awakens script at an early stage, no less. As such, there's reason to believe that the Han/Chewbacca story thread in Abrams' Star Wars movie will prove to be a compelling one - given the commitment of Mayhew and Ford - rather than one that gets a passing grade based on fan nostalgia alone.
Force Awakens' young protagonists Finn and Rey look to spend a chunk of the film's running time traveling with Han and Chewie (as mentioned before), so Mayhew spent a fair amount of his time on set working alongside Ridley and Boyega too. Here is what the actor had to say about the two relative newcomers, during his interview with Bmag:
“John, I liked very, very much. He’s a great actor. We had several scenes together, and John is one of those guys who knows how to react to any situation. He’s got a marvelous face… he’s got a wonderful personality. He has an advantage because he has a comic’s sense of humour.
“Daisy… was a little bit solid. More like Natalie [Portman] on the other movies [the prequels]. But I think, once she gets to see everything going on, she’s going to enjoy it, because it’s going to relax her. She’s going to be one hell of an actress. She will tell you, she will say, ‘I never thought we could do this, but now I see it’.
“When we were at Star Wars Celebration, she was completely different to how she was on set… I think she got taken aside by her agent and told not to be too stiff. So we watched her blossom, from a quiet young lady, into the girl who was there at Star Wars Celebration. She had blossomed; she was beautiful and full of personality. I think she’s got a lot of personality still to come out, and if the right movies come along, she will do very, very well.”
It's perfectly understandable that Ridley - who has but a handful of small TV series roles under her belt - would be nervous and anxious while playing a lead in a Star Wars movie, and Mayhew's description of her during the Force Awakens production suggests that she was just that. It also sounds very much as though Ridley was committed to nailing her performance as Rey during the shoot - and that same dedication should, in turn, allow her to shine in the final onscreen result.
Besides, as evidenced by her reaction to the final Force Awakens trailer, Ridley (like Boyega) has already started to embrace the delight of being part of the next era of the iconic space adventure saga.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 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.