Star Wars Celebration: ‘The Force Awakens’ is a ‘transference of generations’

April 18, 2015 | 7:15 p.m.
Harrison Ford, right, as Han Solo with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." (Lucasfilm / Disney)

Harrison Ford, right, as Han Solo with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” (Lucasfilm / Disney)

Forget the shiny digital gloss that marked the three “Star Wars” prequels.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the upcoming seventh episode in the space fantasy saga, drew its primary inspiration from the late 70s and early ’80s look of the original trilogy, said key members of the new film’s visual effects team on Saturday at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim. Speaking on a panel on the third day of the four-day fan expo, the effects wizards assured fans that “The Force Awakens” emphasizes characters over digital magic.

“It’s almost liked ratcheting it down,” said Christian Alzmann, part of the production team for “The Force Awakens.” Alzmann, who worked on “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones,” was asked how the J.J. Abrams-directed film would distinguish itself amid today’s landscape of effects-heavy genre films.

“To me, there’s almost like a lot of white noise of visual effects,” he said. “I think just ratcheting it down and making it more about characters and more about the story of the people and not about million man armies.”

His words drew cheers and applause from festival attendees, who have responded all weekend with enthusiasm when it comes to any news regarding “The Force Awakens.” A new trailer for the film was unveiled Thursday, one that featured the return of beloved characters such as Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and emphasized hand-built robotics rather than computer-generated creatures.

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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)

Compared to the George Lucas-helmed prequels, the last of which, “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,” was released in 2005, early glimpses of “The Force Awakens” are downright vintage. Production designer Rick Carter said ‘The Force Awakens” would remind fans that the film is a “period piece.”

“Everyone is trying to outgun each other,” Carter said. “This is not that. You know it’s not that … This is a period piece — a long time ago, far, far away. It’s very close to the heart.”

At one point Carter invoked classic “Lawrence of Arabia” when discussing the vast real-world locations of the new film, which include the grand desert dunes of Abu Dhabi. He added that the key to understanding the tone of “The Force Awakens” is right in the new trailer, which features a narration from Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker about family lineage.

“The entire movie experience, both in the content in what you’re seeing and really in this trailer, recognizes this is a transference of generations,” he said. “You see it with the lightsaber. You see who the new generation is. You have a glimpse of the older generation.”

That the new film would mark a generational passing of the baton was outlined from the very beginning by not only Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, but by “Star Wars” creator Lucas himself, said Carter. Lucas today has stepped away from “Star Wars” to focus on smaller, more experimental projects, leaving “Star Wars” in the hands of Kennedy and Disney, which purchased Lucasfilm in 2012.

The Millennium Falcon will return in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." (Lucasfilm / Disney)

The Millennium Falcon will return in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” (Lucasfilm / Disney)

“This is something that [Lucas] set in motion,” Carter said. “This is his universe, his galaxy, that he literally began. We are playing in that universe and finding more and more that it’s uniquely accessible and adaptable.”

The universe will also be decidedly familiar to many fans. “The Force Awakens” is set roughly 30 years after the events of “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi,” and the four panelists — designers Darren Gilford and Doug Chiang also spoke — said they obsessed over the look of the original trilogy when designing the new film. Already, recognizable set pieces such as the Millennium Falcon and X-Wing fighter ships have been shown to be returning.

“Seven comes after six,” Carter said. “We’re 30 years later. The reason you’re seeing things that look familiar is because it’s only 30 years ago that those were there. Now they’ve been upgraded. There’s been some changes. But when you have certain designs that actually work … why go somewhere else?”

By panel’s end it was clear that the heavy digitized look of the prequels has more or less been jettisoned.

“It’s really about studying ‘A New Hope,’ ‘Empire’ and ‘Jedi’ and looking at how we’re going to move that forward in the right proportion,” said Gilford.

— Todd Martens

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