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April 17, 2015

Star Wars Celebration: ‘The Force Awakens’ has fans feeling like kids again

Posted in: Fans,Movies

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"Star Wars" fans Sharon Jackson, left, dressed as Mission Vao, of Las Vegas, and Kyle Jackson, dressed as a Wookiee, pose for pictures during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans from the 501st Legion costume organization show off their Stormtrooper gear during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Costumed "Star Wars" fans Corin Zinninger as Darth Reuan, Sharon Jackson as Mission Vao, Kyle Jackson as a Wookiee, and Brennan Zinninger as Carth Onasi, all of Las Vegas, pose for pictures during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Costumed "Star Wars" fans pose with toy lightsabers during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration held at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Dressed as "Star Wars" character Oola, Moe Hunt of Chicago poses with Roxy the Rancor during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A "Star Wars" fan dressed as Darth Vader leads a parade of characters from the 501st Legion costume organization as they make a dramatic entrance into the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans from the 501st Legion costume organization show off their Stormtrooper gear as they make a dramatic entrance into the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans from the 501st Legion costume organization show off their Stormtrooper gear as they make a dramatic entrance into the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A security guard inspects "Star Wars" fan and Modesto resident Steve Gwin, a member of the worldwide 501st Legion costume organization, during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Star Wars characters from the 501st Legion costume organization parade through the halls of the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Charlotte Davis, 2, of San Diego, plays with bubbles from a bubble-making R2-D2 during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Danielle Young of Salem, Mass., is dressed as Princess Leia during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Molly Ingham of South Carolina shows off her costume -- "Frozen's" Queen Elsa as a Sith -- during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Molly Ingham, right, of South Carolina shows off her costume -- "Frozen's" Queen Elsa as a Sith -- during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans Anthony Lopez, left, of Sacramento and Torri Robbins, right, of Denver show off their Shadow Trooper costumes during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fan Anthony Lopez of Sacramento shows off his Shadow Trooper costume during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jovan C. of Norco checks his phone while dressed as Luke Skywalker during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A man who goes by the name of "Hyper" poses as a beach-ready stormtrooper. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Actor, stuntman and performer Lucky McQueede of Santa Clarita performs as Darth Maul cyborg, right. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Youngsters learn how to use light sabers during a Jedi training seminar. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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The Hodge family: Kelly, Milo, 6, and Dave, of Nashville sport their homemade biker scouts outfits from "Return of the Jedi." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A Star Wars Celebration attendee enjoys an exhibit at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans view the Hot Wheels' Life-Size, 150-mph Darth Vader car, based on a C5 Chevrolet Corvette. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Dylan Stalker of Long Beach, dressed as a combination of a spartan and Boba Fett, stands next to a giant Jabba the Hutt model. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Stryder Brown of Los Angeles is the Hip Hop Trooper, whose pumping music gets him dancing at the Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Retired Sidious," otherwise known as Delyn Murie, 74, of Riverside, uses his imperial walker to get around at Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Excitement rises among fans waiting for "Date With The Princess: Carrie Fisher." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Participants in a Princess Leia look-alike contest compete before Carrie Fisher took the stage. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Contestants parade across the stage during the Princess Leia look-alike contest. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Carrie Fisher and her dog, Gary, onstage during the "Date With The Princess: Carrie Fisher" event. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Carrie Fisher onstage during the "Date With The Princess: Carrie Fisher" event. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A youngster is prepared for a lightsaber fight as he walks through the dark shadows at the Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans travel to their next destination at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jessica Odell of Lisburn, Ireland, is dressed as Maris Broud from "The Force Unleashed" video game. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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William Teague of Austin, Texas. views dozens of Star Wars figures lined up in a display by the Kotobukiya company. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley, artist Damian Cain of Britain shows off his Luke Skywalker tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley, Vinny Romanelli of New York City gives Angela Byrd of Modesto an angelic R2D2 tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley, David James of Arcadia shows off his Darth Nihilus work-in-progress tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Malcolm McNeil of Ventura takes part in the X-Wing Experience Star Wars Battlefront. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Robert Gomes of Walnut, Calif., is Darth Tannos in the Millennium Falcon scene. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Eric Cajiuat, of Fullerton, is Jedi Elvis in the Millennium Falcon scene. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Chandra Chang of Los Angeles poses as R2D2 Hello Kitty -- or R2Kitty -- in front of "The 20th Century Space Opera" oil on canvas by Robert Xavier Burden. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A fan takes photos of some of the extensive collection of Star Wars memorabilia in the Rancho Obi-Wan Star Wars collection booth. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jennifer Hobart, of Fullerton, creates her own Star Wars character with special contact lenses. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Calvin Heins, 12, of Los Angeles, wears a Jawa costume in front of a replica of the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A young girl readies her lightsaber as she walks though the shadows at the Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Members of the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment of the 501st Legion march in formation through the crowd during Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Members of the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment of the 501st Legion march in formation through the crowd during Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Members of the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment of the 501st Legion march in formation through the crowd during Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Thousands of die-hard “Star Wars” fans — more than a few bearing lightsabers and clad in homemade costumes — came into the opening panel at the Star Wars Celebration fan convention in Anaheim with three big questions.

Would J.J. Abrams, director of the highly anticipated “Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens,” show a new trailer? Would Harrison Ford — still recovering from injuries sustained in a plane crash last month — make his first-ever appearance at a “Star Wars” convention? And would fresh plot details about the new film — not hitting theaters until Dec. 18, an excruciatingly long wait for the faithful — finally be unveiled?

The answers were yes, no and, as Yoda might say, “Patience, young Skywalker.”

"Star Wars: The Force Awakes" director J.J. Abrams, producer Kathleen Kennedy and droid BB-8 onstage during Star Wars Celebration 2015 on April 16 at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Disney)

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams, producer Kathleen Kennedy and droid BB-8 onstage during Star Wars Celebration 2015 on April 16 at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)

In a presentation Thursday morning at the Anaheim Convention Center that was heavy on nostalgia for the much-loved nearly 40-year-old space-opera franchise but relatively light on new information, Abrams and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy sought to convey the message that “Star Wars” is in the hands of people who share their deep passion. Many of the faithful had waited overnight to get the first official word about the reboot.

To establish his own fan bona fides, Abrams recalled watching the original 1977 “Star Wars” when it first hit theaters. “I was 11 years old — and 11 was a great age to have my mind blown,” he said, noting that he dressed up as a Jawa one Halloween.

The forthcoming movie, which is launching a new trilogy and a series of spinoffs, is the first “Star Wars” film to be made under the wing of the Walt Disney Co., which acquired George Lucas‘ namesake production company in 2012 for $4 billion.

Star Wars Celebration, a long-running love-in for fans, was the ideal venue for Disney and Lucasfilm to introduce the next chapter in the saga, said Eric Geller, a writer for the “Star Wars” news site TheForce.Net.

“Obviously, you’re never guaranteed to get an overwhelmingly positive audience,” Geller said. “But if there’s any place you could expect to get that, it’s Celebration.”

Fans attend Star Wars Celebration 2015 on April 16n Anaheim, California.  (Jesse Grant / Getty Images for Disney)

Fans attend Star Wars Celebration 2015 on April 16 in Anaheim. (Jesse Grant / Getty Images)

Fans, who were sharply divided on Lucas’ three CGI-heavy “Star Wars” prequels, applauded Abrams when he spoke of taking a retro approach with the new film.

“It’s ‘Star Wars’ — there are going to be an endless number of effects, CG and otherwise,” Abrams said. “But we needed to set a standard that was real, that felt like you knew those people were in those places.”

To that end, the film was partly shot in Abu Dhabi, which Abrams revealed was standing in for a desert planet called Jakku.

A trio of younger stars from “The Force Awakens” — John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Daisy Ridley — were brought to the stage, along with a new roly-poly droid character named BB-8.

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" actors Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega speak onstage during Star Wars Celebration 2015 on April 16 in Anaheim, Calif. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Disney)

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” actors Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega speak onstage during Star Wars Celebration 2015 on April 16 in Anaheim. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)

The actors, none of whom were born when “Star Wars” first came out, offered a few new details about their characters: Boyega revealed that his Finn was a Stormtrooper who was in “incredible danger” at the film’s outset, while Ridley said her Rey was a “scavenger in a ship graveyard,” and Isaac said his Poe Dameron was a fighter pilot sent on a mission “by a certain princess” — presumably Leia, played by Carrie Fisher.

Fisher and several other returning cast members from the original trilogy, including Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), were brought onstage, reinforcing the sense of continuity between the older films and the new one.

"Star Wars" actors Carrie Fisher and Anthony Daniels speak onstage during Star Wars Celebration 2015 on April 16 at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Disney)

“Star Wars” actors Carrie Fisher and Anthony Daniels speak onstage during Star Wars Celebration 2015 on April 16 at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)

“It’s amazing to be part of so many people’s childhood — and to be a toy,” said Fisher, a noted writer and humorist. She added wryly, “Thank you for playing with me.”

In the days leading up to the convention, rumors had circulated in the “Star Wars” fan community that Ford might make an appearance. But Abrams and Kennedy said he was still recuperating from injuries stemming from his crash landing of a vintage airplane on a Los Angeles golf course on March 5.

“How he landed the plane — he’s more of a hero with that move than he is in any of the movies he’s been in,” Abrams said.

Whereas Fisher’s Leia was the only major female character in the original trilogy, Kennedy assured fans that, going forward, the “Star Wars” universe would introduce more women.

“There are going to be a lot of new wonderful characters,” she said.

But what fans were most hungering for was a new peek at “The Force Awakens,” which the filmmakers saved for the panel’s end. The new trailer was clearly engineered to hit nostalgia buttons, featuring shots of Darth Vader’s battered mask and an X-wing Fighter dogfight and concluding with Ford’s Han Solo saying to his furry sidekick Chewbacca, “Chewie, we’re home” — a moment that brought the house down.

Gabe Flores, 44 of San Bernardino — who was 7 when he first saw “Star Wars” in 1977 — probably spoke for many when he said the teaser surpassed his expectations.

“I just feel like a kid again,” he said. “It just brought me back to that emotional point where you are totally amazed, want to be a part of it, and see it and dive into that world.”

Star Wars Celebration will continue through Sunday, allowing fans a chance to buy exclusive merchandise, see fan-made art, get autographs from “Star Wars” cast and crew members and walk through a re-creation of a portion of the Millennium Falcon.

A panel on Sunday morning will feature filmmakers Gareth Edwards and Josh Trank, who have signed on to direct the first two “Star Wars” spinoff films.

As fans toured the convention halls Thursday afternoon, many were still buzzing from the morning’s panel and the newly released teaser. East Los Angeles resident Liz Ruiz wasn’t complaining about the relative lack of new information — for her, just seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca together again on the big screen was moving.

“That touched my heart,” she said. “I think it was just enough.”

— Josh Rottenberg and Daniel Miller | @LATHeroComplex

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