With three little words — “Chewie, we’re home” — the largest gathering in Star Wars history roared its approval.
The words, spoken by actor Harrison Ford as Han Solo aboard the Millennium Falcon alongside his faithful wookiee Chewbacca, comprise the finale in a teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The latest movie in the iconic franchise is due out in December. An estimated 200,000 fans from around the world crowded the Anaheim Convention Center over the weekend to celebrate the pop culture phenomenon at the Star Wars Celebration fan event.
I was fortunate enough to be among the capacity crowd, many of whom waited in line all night in the convention center basement to guarantee a seat.
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The packed arena exploded in fan-demonium after Ford’s line. Event officials replayed the 110-second teaser to satisfy the lightsaber-wielding crowd chanting, “Again! Again! Again!”
I’m a lifelong Star Wars fan, but it was my first appearance at a Star Wars Celebration. Ever since seeing The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, I’ve been drawn to the story of good versus evil, the light side against the dark side of the Force, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
When it was announced Lucasfilm, powered by its recent purchase by Disney, was going to produce more episodes, I could feel the Force flowing through me stronger than ever.
My four-day ticket for the Anaheim Celebration was purchased nearly a year in advance. At the kickoff event, the film’s Emmy award-winning director, J.J. Abrams, along with Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, led a panel discussion that included Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac — the new stars of the Star Wars universe moving forward who were cast in The Force Awakens.
“I’ve never had more fun in my life; working on anything,” said Abrams, who’s produced titles such as Star Trek Into Darkness and the hit TV series Lost.
Abrams and Kennedy even provided pizza to the nearly thousand fans who camped out all night to get the best seats in the house for the panel and teaser. I arrived at 5 a.m. and witnessed the empty pizza boxes scattered about the floor.
As a bonus, the beloved droid R2D2 — who has appeared in all six Star Wars films and will make it seven this Christmas — made an appearance, along with the droid from The Force Awakens — BB-8 — who is sure to become a fan favorite as well.
The raucous crowd cheered loudly when BB-8 rolled onto stage, as it had been speculated the droid would be portrayed via computer graphics in the film and not exist as a real model. BB-8’s appearance signified Abrams’ commitment to Star Wars fans that the new films would be a return to real filmmaking, like the original trilogy, and not heavily rely on CGI as the more recent films did.
Ridley, who will portray Rey, a desert scavenger, is expected to be part of a new direction for the Star Wars universe that will include more female characters. She has been overwhelmed with the fan response for a movie that is still seven months away from being released, she said.
“Backstage we could just hear the swell of the crowd,” Ridley said. “It was amazing.”
Abrams and Kennedy also brought out stars from the original Star Wars films — Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Anthony Daniels (C3PO), all of whom were cast in The Force Awakens.
“You’re more than just fans, you’re family,” said Hamill, who then blew a kiss and waved to every corner of the arena.
A New Hope — the original Star Wars film — will turn 37 next month. The franchise is swelling with new content soon to be released, including TV shows, video games, books and comics, along with a minimum of five new films.
Earlier this year, it was announced standalone spinoff films were in the works, with the first movie titled Rogue One set for a December 2016 release.
As part of the Star Wars Anthology Series — as Lucasfilm is dubbing the side films — Rogue One will tell the story of a band of resistance fighters who unite for a daring mission to steal the Death Star plans. Fans were treated to a short teaser for the film, which was not made public, but it ended up being immediately leaked online.
Most of Friday focused on the trailer reveal for the video game Battlefront 3, which is scheduled to be released for the holiday shopping season.
Saturday was all about the animated TV series Star Wars Rebels, which just wrapped up its first season on Disney XD. It touched a new generation of Star Wars fans who did not grow up with the original or prequel trilogies and has become nearly as popular as the six films.
A limited number of fans were treated to a screening of the first two episodes of season 2 of Rebels, which will contain 22 episodes and will begin airing this summer.
Rebels executive producer Simon Kinberg was asked about the burden to get things right when creating new content for a franchise with such devoted fans.
“There’s an automatic pressure with anything that has the words Star Wars in the title,” Kinberg said. “You always feel a responsibility. It’s like adding books to the Bible.”