Movie press junkets are not characteristically newsworthy affairs. But in the long, carefully orchestrated rollout of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” nothing has been exactly normal — and the weekend press event put on by the Walt Disney Co. for the new film in Los Angeles was no exception.
The scores of reporters and bloggers attending the two-day junket for the film, which hits theaters on Dec. 18 after months of increasingly frenzied buildup, were treated to more than the usual snacks and validated parking. Indeed, though the journalists on hand did their best to maintain their professional detachment (no one came dressed as a Stormtrooper or wielding a lightsaber), the event had a vibe close to that of a small-scale “Star Wars” fan convention.
You could get your photo taken with classic robots C-3PO or R2-D2 or the new film’s droid character, BB-8. You could experience a short “Star Wars” virtual-reality scene through “Star Wars"-themed Google Cardboard headsets. You could make your own “Star Wars” T-shirt or play “Star Wars” video games.
Costumes and art from “Star Wars” were on display. Attendees had their choice of either “Light Side” or “Dark Side” free ice cream from Brooklyn-based Ample Hills Creamery (a particular favorite of Disney chairman and chief executive Robert Iger), They could sample the vast array of licensed toys and apparel from the first “Star Wars” film in a decade that the studio hopes will soon be flying off shelves.
In another unusual twist, the journalists were asked not to reveal the event’s location. The reason behind the secret was unclear — was there a fear of an invasion by uninvited “Star Wars” fans or a more serious security concern? The level of security at the junket, including a metal detector, was higher than normal.
The press conference even had a surprise moderator: actress and writer Mindy Kaling. “When you think of me, the first thing you think is: ‘huge Star Wars fan,’” Kaling said dryly.
A press junket in L.A. for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” features writer Lawrence Kasdan, from left, Carrie Fisher, Lupita Nyong’o, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley and J.J. Abrams.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Various Stormtrooper uniforms are on display during a press junket for the new “Star Wars” film.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Stormtroopers on display at a press junket for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Zippy Sandler, left, and Sunny Chanel sample limited edition Starwars.com 3-D glasses during a press junket for the new “Star Wars” film.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Droids R2-D2 and C-3PO greet visitors during a “Star Wars” press junket.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Journalists stop to photograph costumes from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” during a press junket.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Pablo Scholz from Argentina poses for a picture with BB-8 during a press junket for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The costume for Capt. Phasma is on display during a press junket for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Carrie Fisher,in glasses, is all ears as director J.J. Abrams, right, speaks out while Lawrence Kasdan, from left, and Lupita Nyong’o enjoy the proceedings during a press junket for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
On hand for the event was “The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams, the film’s co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and a number of the film’s stars, including returning cast members Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher and newcomers John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie.
The team behind the new “Star Wars” film has worked diligently for months to build anticipation without revealing major spoilers. The code of silence continued at the junket — no major clues were offered, no footage was shown.
“My nature is to be secretive,” Abrams said. “We’ve all seen trailers for films, and they show you the movie in CliffsNotes form, and you go see the movie, and you go, ‘Yeah, I’ve seen this all before.’ So I’m very grateful that Disney took the lead in terms of keeping things quiet.”
Abrams said he felt honored by the opportunity to revive the franchise for the big screen: “For us, it was about knowing why we were telling this story and to give people that sense of possibility and magic that we all felt while watching the original ‘Star Wars.’ But I will say this is all to tell a new story. It’s not a nostalgia trip. We went backward to go forwards.”
Kasdan — who co-wrote “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Return of the Jedi” — said any “trepidation” he may have felt revolved around delivering a movie that creatively would live up to fans’ expectations. “The only pressure is: Can you do something that’s worth that much anticipation?”
Analysts have already predicted that the new film will be a massive success and break box office records.
Driver, who plays villain Kylo Ren, said he didn’t want his character to be a cartoonish baddie. “I remember us saying that he wasn’t bad or evil or a villain but was something more three-dimensional. That seemed more dangerous and more unpredictable.”
Asked about how it felt to return to the franchise that launched him to fame as the devil-may-care Han Solo nearly four decades ago, Ford — who has often kept “Star Wars” at a distance in the past — said, “It feels good. I’m aware of the value that’s in place on these films for the audience. And I’m gratified that they’ve been passed on generationally between families.”
As she has throughout the film’s publicity campaign, Fisher, who is reprising her iconic role of Princess Leia, provided much of the comic relief, comparing her “Force Awakens” costume to “a classy gas-station attendant” and saying she had begged Abrams to let her dog Gary — who joined her in a recent appearance on “Good Morning America” that went viral — appear in the movie in some way.
“Gary was willing to sleep with J.J.” she said. She paused a beat. “I mean nap, but still!”