Without a doubt, two of the most anticipated panels at Star Wars Celebration in London focused on the upcoming Star Wars movies: the Rogue One panel on Friday and the Future Filmmakers panel on Sunday. While, as expected, the panels did not reveal very much additional information about the films, the overall message of the presentations came through loud and clear: Lucasfilm wanted to assure the franchise’s most dedicated fans that the next iteration of Star Wars movies are in skilled hands committed to delivering stories that will live up to the high standards of the films we already know and love. In that regard, both panels fulfilled the objective admirably.
Unlike the panel for The Force Awakens at Celebration Anaheim, which was held in the morning to kick off the convention, the Rogue One panel took place in the evening of the con’s first day to facilitate livestreaming to fans back in the United States. Surprise host Gwendoline Christie bounded onto the Celebration Stage with an infectious enthusiasm that carried through the rest of her energetic shepherding of the presentation. Once she sat down with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, head of the Story Group Kiri Hart, and Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, though, the conversation felt small and personal. Edwards spoke about the movie as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream in terms any fan could relate to, and left no doubt that he is putting every single ounce of effort into making the film as good as it can possibly be. Kennedy noted that Edwards’ directing style is a departure from the Star Wars movies to date, while reaffirming that it is well suited to the war movie story. Hart and ILM’s John Knoll elaborated on Rogue One’s development, from Knoll’s initial pitch of a long-simmering idea to the decision to make the tale of the stolen Death Star plans the first standalone Star Wars movie.
The flow of the panel became a bit more disjointed once nine members of the film’s ensemble cast joined the others on stage, but the overall theme remained the same. Like the executives and director, the actors clearly showed their excitement to be involved in a Star Wars movie. From relative unknowns like Diego Luna and Riz Ahmed to well-known faces like Felicity Jones and Mads Mikkelsen, the actors demonstrated that Star Wars is not just another job in the industry, but something special. It was particularly moving to see Oscar winner Forrest Whitaker discuss his role as Saw Gerrera, a character created by George Lucas, and his viewing of The Clone Wars episodes as part of his preparation for Rogue One. In addition, if the moments of humor on the stage are any indication, Rogue One will have its share of classic Star Wars banter amid mortal stakes, too.
The primary reveals about Rogue One came from the sizzle reel that was shared midway through the panel and again at the end. The sizzle reel may be a bit deceptive, though, in that it consists mostly of shots from the filming process and not actual footage from the movie. Nonetheless, layered with real-world narration and a behind-the-scenes perspective, it certainly gave fans more insight into the look and feel of the movie.
The panel concluded with a new teaser trailer, not shared on the livestream, which conveyed much the same tone as the first teaser – though with the addition of a momentary but unmistakable reference to Darth Vader in its final seconds.
While the cast and crew energy was electric, overall the room felt subdued. Christie was a good choice for her enthusiasm, but the panel ended up being very scripted and one-sided: here is what Lucasfilm thinks you should know, at this point, about Rogue One. This contrasts with The Force Awakens panel at last year’s Celebration Anaheim, where Entertainment Weekly’s Anthony Breznican acted more like an intermediary or proxy for the fans, allowing for more give and take between the fans and those onstage.
The Future Filmmakers panel on Sunday evening served as the final panel of the convention, leading directly into the closing ceremony for the same audience gathered at the Celebration Stage. In contrast to the other major panels, none of its content was broadcast on the livestream, though not because any significant information or imagery was shown. After a brief introductory segment with Kennedy and Hart joining host Pablo Hidalgo, the first half of the panel featured another understated and deeply personal conversation with a director, Episode VIII’s Rian Johnson. Like Edwards, Johnson worked through some initial nervousness before opening up into a genuine and insightful discussion about his lifelong love for Star Wars, his months of working at Lucasfilm headquarters in San Francisco during Episode VIII’s initial development, and his creative process in filming the movie. As he does on social media, Johnson shared several behind-the-scenes photos that he had taken personally. Notably, one showed Dave Filoni visiting the Episode VIII set, and Johnson confirmed not only that Filoni had visited more than one, but that his input and presence were much appreciated.
Although directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are best known for their comedic films such as 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie, their participation in the panel was surprisingly earnest and heartfelt. Also fans of Star Wars since childhood, their dedication to excellence for the untitled Han Solo movie was clear, as was their awe at getting to work with Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote the script with his son Jon. Lord and Miller certainly brought plenty of humor to the stage, too, from talking about the directors’ respective cameos in each other’s movies to hilarious good-natured poking fun at themselves and their peers, including an overly effusive group hug for Hidalgo and apologizing to Kennedy for spending so much money auditioning actors for the role of Han Solo only to ultimately hire the first person who auditioned. For the final minutes of the panel, actor Alden Ehrenreich – whose casting as Han Solo, Lord joked, was “the best kept secret in Hollywood” – joined the stage. He too shared his lifelong love of Star Wars, including a picture of his boyhood Han Solo action figure recently unearthed by his mother, and his thrill at getting to play the legendary scoundrel. From his smile and ease on stage, perhaps many fans left the room with new appreciation for Lord and Miller’s confidence that Ehrenreich is the man for the job.
The panel concluded with a brief appearance by John Boyega, whose excitement to be at Celebration clearly had not diminished since Anaheim. With how much screen time Boyega shared with Harrison Ford in The Force Awakens, his endorsement of Ehrenreich’s Solo grin couldn’t help but bring a smile to fans’ faces, as well.
The closing ceremony for Celebration Europe, like its predecessors, focused primarily on recapping the highlights of the previous days at the convention. Once again the capstone was Lucasfilm’s reel, which emphasized that Celebration – and the tremendous success of the Star Wars franchise – would not exist without the fans.
B.J. has served as editor of FANgirl Blog from its inception, as well as contributing reviews and posts on a range of topics. He edited Tricia’s novel Wynde, and is collaborating with her on several future projects set in that original universe.
Currently a tenured law professor in Florida, B.J. has been a practicing lawyer in Washington, D.C., a law clerk to a federal appeals court judge, and a law journal editor-in-chief. He is also a proud geek dad whose son who is a big fan of Star Wars and The Clone Wars.