Earlier this week I went to the THE FORCE AWAKENS Press Conference in Los Angeles. It was quite an international affair, with reporters from all over the world, all scrambling to get a piece of that STAR WARS magic. They had tons of costumes from the film on display, droids BB-8, R2-D2 and C-3PO, Google engineers showing off their STAR WARS app skins, and their immersive virtual reality experiences via cardboard, PS4s set up with STAR WARS Battlefront, and even STAR WARS ice cream.
I have to say, BB-8 is cute as hell. I’ve seen him in the trailers, but seeing it interact with people in real life is something else. That little droid is going to steal the show.
But the main reason most of us were there was the press conference. There were two rounds, both hosted by comedian and actress Mindy Kaling. The first featured Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, Daisy Ridley, and Lupita Nyong’o. The second had John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Kathleen Kennedy, Oscar Issac, and Gwendoline Christie.
I’ve liked Mindy Kaling in things I’ve seen her in before. And she says she is a huge STAR WARS fan. Maybe she is, but I was pretty annoyed by most of her questions. You know how the worst questioners at any event just make everything about themselves? Many of her questions were like that — designed to be funny, or draw attention to herself and show how famous or connected she is. I know she had a difficult job — she was asked to not ask questions people have heard before, and not to ask questions that would give anything away. Still.
We may or may not have a Science Vs Cinema episode on THE FORCE AWAKENS. It depends on whether or not there is anything interesting to talk about. But for now, I just thought I'd share the footage from the press conference. I've transcribed the most interesting parts. Note that these are edits that Disney / Lucasfilm released. There were a few extra bits live, but not much. I did the transcription from my own unedited audio recording, so they may not match up entirely. I also paraphrased some of the questions.
Mindy Kaling: Does Princess Leia have a sense of humor?
Carrie Fisher: “She would have to. Wearing those hair pieces. You know, I do have now a baboon-ass hairstyle. I mean that with love.”
MK: “Kylo Ren looks hilarious. I have not seen the movie. In all seriousness, he seems very focused and obsessed. If I might he seems like Robert DeNiro’s character in KING OF COMEDY. Is any of this approximating the truth. Again I have not seen the movie. If so, I’m a genius. If not, what is he like?”
Adam Driver: “He makes a lot of videos for his mom. He’s a great cook. You know, he’s a Scorpio. He’s very unpolished and unfinisheed, and I think what JJ and ?? did, keeping all the vocabulary that everyone’s very familiar with, with STAR WARS and the dark side, keeping that very much intact, but also adding a kind of recklessness or something that’s kind of unneat about it. I think people normally associate the Dark Side, with being very organized and very in control and calm and in command.
MK: “I think of the Dark Side as being extremely organized. Extremely organized in a very evil way. Is that something that you’ve continued?
JJ Abrams: “Larry can speak to this, but one of our thoughts was to try and do something different now.”
Lawrence Kasdan: “That’s why we were so excited about Adam playing this part. There has never been a character like Kylo in the saga. And um, no he hasn’t got his shit all together. And Adam acts it so beautifully. You expect this is some evil genius. But what you’re getting is all the contradictions and all the conflict that people feel, any one of us can feel, at any moment. That’s what’s so amazing about it.”
MK: “Lupita, you play a former space pirate who now runs a bar. She seems like, to me, like a female Sam Malone from the TV American show Cheers. And Yoda is Norm. You might not know this. Can you talk about your relationship with Yoda? Is it convivial? Tell her about the TV show Cheers.”
Carrie Fisher: “Sexual, I said!”
After a bunch of awkwardness, JJ stepped in; “I’ll say this. In an attempt to save my friend Lupita from this slightly… awesomely geeky question. Which is that I do believe that Maz and Yoda at one point or another have crossed paths. But that is not something that, of course, due to the events of past films, that happens in this one.
JJ: “She was remarkably tireless and willing to experiment with different versions of this character. It was kind of an amazing thing to discover over various iterations of Maz. What she sounded like, how she moved. I’ve never been through this before with an actor where we got to discover again and again and again kind of how to better tell the story we were telling…. I always felt guilty every time we started up another session, did some reshoots, did some work. And every single time Lupita was willing and game and deeply committed and into finding Maz Kanada’s voice and again I’m eternally grateful.”
Q: What did you bring from the original trilogy.
JJ: “…the fundamental question was, ‘What did we want to feel?’ … the answer was the kind of sense of discovery, exhilaration, surprise. The comedy that George Lucas put into STAR WARS kind of, for me was the thing that made me love the movie. When you look at all the things that he got right. It’s impossible and stunning. For us, at the beginning, it was knowing why we were telling the story. And for us it was to give people that sense of possibility and magic 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. Meaning that it’s not a nostalgia trip. We had to go backwards in order to go forwards.”
Carrie: “We drank through the whole trilogy in the beginning. This was a sober set. So that’s what JJ brought to this, was sobriety.
My question: “Since the original trilogy we’ve sent probes to many of the planets and discovered hundreds of new extrasolar planets. Did any of that science make its way into the design of planets in the film?”
JJ: “No.” [Laughter]
Q: What did the actors think had gone on since JEDI?
Adam Driver: “…in a way it’s 30 years later, but the exact same things are going on, which I thought was so telling, so true to life. Even though our thoughts vary, we have such short memories of such huge events and mass genocide and then we kind of forget about it, it seems, and it seems like the same people are in charge, and it seems like the same group of people, younger or older, everyone comes on and feels like their problems are unique and it is all a cyclical thing. A lot of things have changed, like the setting, but really circumstances are the same.”
Q: What was the process for creating names, and did you use any that were left over from George Lucas.
Kasdan: “I don’t know if there were any left over. I think the criteria was, did we like it?”
JJ: “A lot of names came and went, and some names stuck. I remember when we put down BB-8. It was the first and only name that droid ever had. Rey and Finn and Poe when through many iterations. Kylo Ren was Kylo Ren fairly early on, and there was some backstory. Max Kanada, I think was always Maz Kanada. We changed Leia’s name.” [Laughter]
Q: Are there Ewoks in the move? JJ: “Living?” [Laughter] “Listen, if a man can’t joke with friends? No, there are no Ewoks in this film.” Fisher: “That you’re aware of.” JJ: “That’s right, there were rumors that some snuck onto set. But there are a lot of them in Return of the Jedi.”
MK: Lawrence Kasdan, is there any movie you looked to when writing this?
LK: “Oh yeah. All the movies of Akira Kurosawa have influenced me throughout my career. That’s because he was sort of the Shakespeare of cinema. He did comedies, he did action films, he did Shakespearian drama, and all of life is contained in each one of his films. SEVEN SAMURAI may be the greatest film ever made. It’s a personal drama, it’s an action picture. So when JJ and I were working, we kept referring to that. [We looked at] things that had influenced the first STAR WARS, which was Howard Hawks and John Ford and all the FLASH GORDON. Because when George made A NEW HOPE he was influenced very much by Kurosawa, and by FLASH GORDON, and by the WIZARD OF OZ.”
Q: What did you think about the responsibility of being an iconic STAR WARS villain.
Driver: “[We tried to] not think of him as being bad, or evil, or a villain. We tried to make something that was more three-dimensional. That, to me, when we were talking originally, seemed more dangerous and more unpredictable. Someone who feels morally justified in doing whatever they need to to publicly state that what they’re doing is right seemed something more active to play than just evil for the sake of it.”
Q: Will there be anything post-credits?
JJ: “No easter egg at the end of the movie after the credits.”
Q: Which was the most difficult costume to put together.
JJ: “The most difficult one was Kylo Ren, and went through I don’t know how many hundreds and probably thousands of iterations and different versions…. Over the course of that the costume for Captain Phasma was designed. That was actually pitched as a Kylo Ren costume originally, and for story reasons 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 and he, then she, became one of my favorite characters in the movie. But the design of Kylo Ren was the most difficult one and when we finally saw the mask at the beginning of that design, it was really instantly clear that was the winner.”
Carrie: “I have a kind of classy gas station attendant look… Or I would say I was an airplane repair person with a nice vest over that. And different hair than most airplane mechanics would normally have.”
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MK: “Kathleen… can you talk about what’s *not* in the movie?”
Kathleen Kennedy: “Jar jar’s definitely not in the movie. Ewoks are not in the movie. That’s because Harrison insisted on it.”
Q: Harrison Ford… what does it mean to be the bridge between the films.
Harrison Ford: “It was gratifying to be asked to be part of this. There was an interesting story to tell, really, through the character. It’s always nice to participate in working on something you know people will have an appetite for. This is not a crap shoot. This is big casino. And it’s fun to play with these toys again. It’s been a great experience.”
Q: Did you map out all the stories?
Kathleen Kennedy: “We haven’t mapped out every single detail yet, but obviously everybody’s talking to one another, working together…. JJ and Rian have already talked at length, because Rian is about to start shooting Episode VIII. These guys are getting ready to head over in January. And then Colin will start working with Rian and spend a lot of time on the set with him.”
MK: What character would you be if you could be any other character in STAR WARS…
Gwendoline Christie: “A character I don’t think I would be particularly be suited to, but would definitely like to play is, of course, Han Solo.”
MK: “You’ve got the swagger.”
GC: “I might have just, like, a modicum of swagger. Opposed to the grand canyon that’s at the end of the sofa.”
Q: What was it like to play Han Solo again.
Harrison Ford: “I can tell you how it feels. It feels familiar. It feels good. It’s good to be home. As Han says in the trailer, in the teaser trailer. I’m aware of the value that’s placed on these films by the audience. And I’m gratified that they’ve been passed on, the first three have been passed on generationally through families, and that there’s still an audience for those of us that were in the original film. There still some value in them, in interpreting life, sometimes. It’s a bit of a mystery, but it’s very gratifying to be part of that.”
MK: “What was the difference between the wrap parties?”
HF: “It was really hard to get a drink at the last wrap party. Wasn’t it? It was really hard to get a drink, right? I didn’t even know where the bar was. It was so big.”
Q: As a parent, what was it like coming back to this franchise? Did that once again up the cool factor for [your kids]?
HF: “My kids do not think I’m cool at all. Being in this movie is not going to convince them otherwise. They’re just glad to see that Dad is still working.”
MK: “Oscar, in my experience, there’s always one actor on the set, where everyone goes to their trailer where everyone goes to their trailer to listen to music and to get high. I know that none of you guys do drugs, because you’re professionals, and this is a Disney movie. But who’s trailer did you go to?”
Oscar Isaac: “I went to my trailer.” MK: “Did anyone go to yours to hang out?” OI: “Yeah, it was mostly going between Carrie and my trailer.” MK: “John, did you hang out in your trailer, or also go to Carrie’s?” John Boyega: “No, no, no, I didn’t go to Carrie’s trailer, I didn’t, no!
OI: “My uncle came to visit. He’s a huge STAR WARS fan. He’s *so* obsessed with STAR WARS. And I lost him, I couldn’t find him. And I heard all this laughter coming out of Carrie’s trailer, and I went in there, and he was there! With the dog Gary Fisher, her dog, just hanging out with them. Theo, what are you doing here! So yeah, that was a fun place to be.”
Q: Gwendoline Christie, what did you think of the response to your character?
GC: “I was very surprised, and heartened, at the overwhelming response to the character of Captain Phasma. But I really felt that what Kathleen and JJ and what everyone had created at STAR WARS was… I think JJ has been open about the fact that he wanted to respect the origins of the films and celebrate them, but to bring them into the modern day. And confirmation of that seemed to be, to me, in this amazing character of Captain Phasma, who is STAR WARS’ first on-screen female villain. And more that that, this is a character who, so far, we have related to due to her choices, due to her character, and not due to the way she has been made in flesh. And conventionally, that is how we have related to female characters. So this to me felt very progressive. And the response from the audience and fans has been so celebratory, it makes me think this is the kind of thing people want to see. People want to see a more diverse reflection of society. And I feel incredibly privileged to play that part.”
[After a weirdly worded question about black stormtroopers and the cultural impact of THE FORCE AWAKENS]
John Boyega: “I’ve got to be honest, I really don’t care about the black stormtrooper stuff. I couldn’t care less. This is a movie about human beings, about Wookiees, spaceships, and Tie Fighters. And it has an undertone, and a message of courage, and a message of friendship and loyalty… I watched the movie with Kathy just last week, and I really relate to Rey more than any of the characters. To be in a circumstance where you have to find something bigger than who you are within yourself is something that is inspirational to me, and I think that’s people take that away. In terms of the kids, all they’re really going to be concentrating on is BB-8!
Q: Did you know the characters’ backstories?
OI: I think this has been one of the coolest things about working on this with JJ and with Lucasfilm. There’s been a real sense of collaboration with that kind of thing. There’s almost a bit of a sandbox element. There was an evolution of the characters, even from the first meeting with JJ and Kathy and Larry to what ended up on the screen. For example.. for me, after we started filming, I was sort of talking about where Poe could have been from. In A NEW HOPE, at the very end of A NEW HOPE, in the medals ceremony. One of Guatemala’s claims to fame is that last shot where the ships are leaving, where you see the temples, was shot in Guatemala. And then, for me, the fact that I was born there, that’s a rebel base, and being a resistance fighter, I thought, maybe Poe was there, maybe that’s where he’s from. And then this comic book comes out, called SHATTERED EMPIRE, where Poe’s parents ended up going to Yavin IV to make sweet love…. It’s a beautiful thing. It feels like we’re creating these things together.”
John Boyega: “I didn’t know much going in, because of obviously the spoilers, and all that kind of stuff. But I do remember having to read sides that were loosely based on who Finn and Rey was, but I just remember during my time screen testing, I was telling Daisy, ‘There is no way that our stories are so simple.’ And we still don’t know. So I’ve still got some conspiracy theories as a fan as to where Finn comes from. And I’m still trying to figure that out. But I like that it’s a mystery.”
GC: “Mine was similar. I was so heartened that it was a genuine creative experience about who the character was, and to develop that together. And really, without horribly ruining everything for everyone, I think it could be, it’s interesting to see where my character may go. Isn’t that interesting?”
Q: What’s your favorite fan theory:
OI: That Jar Jar is Kylo Ren. I kind of wish that…
JB: I remember reading the theory that Finn is Mace Windu’s grandson, or something like that. And I was at a party, and someone behind me, just tapped me on the shoulder, and was like, ‘Yo black Jedi!’ I turned around in it was Samuel L. Jackson! He was like, ‘You’re my son!’”
GC: “I have not followed any fan theories at all. I’m just going to say because I’ve been busy with GAME OF THRONES.”
JB: “Is Jon Snow alive or dead?”
GC: “I only read my bits in the script, I’ve got no idea.”
Q: Was it easy to come back to playing Han Solo?
Harrison Ford: “It seemed easy to come back to the character. The clothes make the man. I had walked more than a mile in those boots. I was interested in the described path of the character. I thought that was an interesting bit of business for the character to do. And I had been having a real good time with JJ Abrams talking about it, and getting ready for the adventure of filming. So it was easy.”
Kathleen Kennedy: “I can attest to the fact that, for all of us that were there, the second he walked into the Millennium Falcon and said his first line, Han Solo was back. It was pretty instantaneous.”
Q: “When you found out you were going to be using what appears to be the Skywalker legacy lightsaber, how did that feel?”
JB: “I was very excited to use that thing. Because I think blue suits me. And it was amazing for me to read the whole script and find out the things that Finn gets to do. Did JJ know what kind of fan I was when it came to STAR WARS and write this role for me? Because I get to wear a stormtrooper suit, a rebel jacket, I have a blaster, I use a lightsaber, I hang out with friggin Han Solo and Chewie. It’s just fantastic.”
- Copernicus (aka Andy Howell).