11:16am PT by Rebecca Ford and Borys Kit
'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Panel Reveals Character Details, New Teaser
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams kicked off the Star Wars Celebration Anaheim event Thursday with a lively panel about the upcoming film.
Many of the castmembers took the stage, and new, never-before-seen photos from set were revealed in front of a crowd of thousands before a brand-new teaser was unveiled. The teaser featured the first look at original castmember Harrison Ford, who reprises his role in the new film. "Chewie, we're home," he says in the final moment of the preview.
During the presentation, Kennedy and Abrams started at the beginning, talking about how they first became involved in the Lucasfilm and Disney project.
"As any of you can imagine, it is an incredibly daunting task," Kennedy told the crowd, adding that her experience on the Indiana Jones movies and others helped her prepare for the job.
Abrams revealed that he initially turned down the job of helming the first new Star Wars film. He had wanted to break away from sequels and franchises. But then he sat down with Kennedy. "In having a conversation with you, it was impossible to say no," Abrams said to Kennedy.
Abrams and Kennedy revealed that the parts of the film shot in Abu Dhabi are not set on Tatooine but a new planet called Jakku.
The first actors to join Kennedy and Abrams onstage were the three leads, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac, who were able to divulge a little bit more about their characters.
Rey (Ridley) is a scavenger on the planet Jakku. She meets Finn (Boyega), who is in incredible danger, and makes some decisions that launch him into the Star Wars story. Boyega confirmed that Finn is indeed a Storm Trooper.
Po Damerin (Isaac) is "the best freakin' pilot in the galaxy" said Isaac. He meets Finn, and their fates become intertwined.
Kennedy said there weren't a lot of heroines in the first trilogy, but that "will change" with the new films. "There's great new characters, but really strong women," she said. "Not only in Episode VII but in the conversations we're having moving forward."
Joining the newcomers onstage during the presentation were C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) — plus a slew of Storm Troopers, R2D2 and new droid BB8.
"Over the years, my entire adult life, I've felt such love from you. You're more than just fans, you're family," Hamill told the crowd.
Harrison Ford, who recently crashed-landed his plane, was absent from the festivities as he's still recovering from his injuries.
"The amazing thing about Harrison is that he's the only person who could make an emergency landing on a golf course in front of two doctors," joked Kennedy. "He's at home, resting."
Disney and Lucasfilm will release Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which also stars Adam Driver, Andy Serkis and Domhnall Gleeson, on Dec. 18.
Star Wars Celebration, which runs April 16-19 at the Anaheim Convention Center, is a fan-centric event focused on all things Star Wars that began in 1999. Unlike most conventions, this one has traveled not only around the U.S. but around the planet. Six were held in the U.S., one in Japan and two in Europe. The last one occurred in 2013 in Essen, Germany, attracting more than 20,000 attendees.