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Star Wars: Episode VIII zoomed into Star Wars Celebration Europe on Sunday in London, where director Rian Johnson shared details of the sequel, including that it begins just seconds after The Force Awakens ends.
“For the first time, this movie is going to start where the last one left off,” said Johnson, who called Ireland’s Skellig Michael, the location of the final scene in The Force Awakens, “a very mystical, magical place.”
Johnson appeared alongside Star Wars heavy hitters including Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and Han Solo spinoff movie directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who also introduced their new lead star, Alden Ehrenreich. But despite the big names involved, there was no major news announced, and some fans — who had speculated that a title for Episode VIII would be revealed or a new stand-alone film would be announced — reacted with disappointment.
During the Future Filmmakers panel, Johnson revealed three war movies that he considered inspirations for Episode VIII: Twelve O’Clock High, Letter Never Sent and The Bridge on the River Kwai. He singled out Twelve O’Clock High, the 1949 World War II drama starring Gregory Peck, as a film that especially influenced Episode VIII.
Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher made surprise appearances, as did John Boyega, but the younger star remained vague on the state of his character Finn after being seriously injured in a fight with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in The Force Awakens.
“The characters have been pushed in a new direction in a very, very cool way,” said Boyega, while Johnson joked that he was thinking of cutting to Finn in a coma — where he left off in The Force Awakens — throughout the entire upcoming pic.
And though filming has wrapped, the helmer proved there’s still some casting news to share, with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story director Gareth Edwards appearing in a cameo role alongside cameos from both Lord and Miller. Miller revealed they were also fitted for costumes for cameos in Rogue One, but were unable to make the scheduling work (due to Miller having to find a school for his son). Johnson, however, did make it into the spinoff, appearing as a Death Star operator alongside another of his Episode VIII crew members.
#RogueOne director Gareth Edwards in costume for #EpisodeVIII. -Future Filmmaker Panel #SWCE https://t.co/IJlrZoc8hs pic.twitter.com/JvKlZUTlIo
— Star Wars (@starwars) July 17, 2016
Johnson also showed some photos from behind the scenes, including studio shots of the Millennium Falcon. But he emphasized the film wasn’t overly reliant on green screens.
“There are a tremendous amount of practical sets,” he said. “It’s outrageous.”
The sprawling cast of Episode VIII includes Hamill, Fisher, Driver, Daisy Ridley, Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie and Andy Serkis, all returning from The Force Awakens. They’ll be joined by franchise newcomers Benicio Del Toro, Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran.
Star Wars: Episode VIII is set to hit theaters Dec. 15, 2017.
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