LONDON—“This is the best time to be a fan of Star Wars,” yelled Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy.
It was the final presentation of Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016, and the panel at the ExCel Exhibition Centre—dubbed the “Future Filmmaker Discussion”—promised major revelations.
Kennedy knew what she was talking about. After the universe-building success of the original “Star Wars” trilogy (1977-1983) and the prequel trilogy (1999-2005), fans now find themselves in the midst of another new trilogy, with the yet untitled “Star Wars Episode VIII” coming in 2017.
Meanwhile, Lucasfilm has started to do the “anthology” films, which occur between the episodes. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is opening this December, and the new Han Solo movie in 2018.
Hosted by Lucasfilm creative executive Pablo Hidalgo, the “Future Filmmaker” panel was the grand conclusion of the three-day annual “Star Wars” fan festival.
Kennedy explained why Rian Johnson was chosen to direct “Episode VIII”: “Rian was way on top of our list. There’s real substance in his dramatic structure and humor as well.”
Johnson, best known for directing the critically acclaimed 2012 sci-fi film “Looper,” recalled how his father put him in the car and said, “You’re going to the most amazing thing you’ll ever see.” They were about to watch “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.”
The director revealed that shooting for “Episode VIII” had begun even before “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” was finished—something that Colin Trevorrow, director of 2019’s “Episode IX,” will also do.
Johnson said “Episode VIII” was inspired by a whole fleet of action-adventure films including “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “The Seven Samurai,” “Gunga Din” and “Sahara.”
He pointed out that “Episode VIII” starts off exactly where “The Force Awakens” leaves off, with Daisy Ridley’s Rey confronting Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker on the planet Ahch-To, lightsaber extended and everything.
“I have deep nostalgia but also utmost responsibility to get beyond that to tell a story,” he said.
Next to talk on the panel were Phil Lord and Chris Miller, previously known for directing the wacky “Lego Movie” and now directing the Han Solo film. It’s still very early in the process, Miller said, as they’re still essentially writing the entire film.
“It’s a dream come true to have Jon and Larry Kasdan working with us on the script,” they said.
Lord and Miller then took the opportunity to introduce the actor playing the young Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich (see sidebar), confirming officially for the first time what had been rumored.
To top it all, the panel then welcomed a surprise guest: one of the lead characters from “Force,” the disaffected ex-Stormtrooper Finn himself, John Boyega, who was given a rousing ovation by his hometown crowd.
Of Johnson and shooting “Episode VIII,” Boyega said: “He’s doing more of an indie movie than a studio one. He’s pushing the characters in a new direction. The story is very interesting. I’m still taking it all in.”
Boyega also made special mention of Asian actress Kelly Marie Tran, debuting in an undisclosed role in “Episode VIII.”
Luke and Leia
So, now that you have Finn and Han Solo on stage, how else can you reward the fans for waiting? By having Luke Skywalker and General Leia Organa join them.
The 4,000-plus audience erupted into applause when Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher strode onstage accompanied by their constant companions, Hamill’s dog Millie and Fisher’s dog Gary.
“It’s amazing, the emotions are so raw,” Hamill said of the “Star Wars” experience in general. “It’s so moving. You can tell that you’re part of people’s childhood.”
Fisher added: “The great thing about the movies is that you can take your children to see them and see which characters they respond to. See how many people here are dressed as Princess Leia?”
The “Star Wars” franchise is experiencing its renaissance. Aside from films, there are animated TV series in flight and much-anticipated video games (see sidebars) in the works. Armies of action figures and a massive merchandise machine are ready to invade your homes.
Next year marks the 40th year of the beloved franchise. Thus, the perfect moment that exemplified the “Star Wars” success story is this one, with Finn, the young Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa standing together, exchanging hugs and waving to the fans.
This is “Star Wars” past, present and future together—and apparently things can only get bigger and better as a new generation discovers the galaxy far, far away.
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