LOS ANGELES – “Light or dark?” the woman asked a reporter. He was nonplussed. Was this the concluding day of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Global Media Days (yes, that was the official name) or a belated Thanksgiving turkey order?
“Light Force or dark Force,” she explained, indicating two trays of wristbands: one white, the other black. “You have to wear one to be admitted to any events.”
That’s how it was at the Los Angeles Convention Center last Sunday, amid action-figure and T-shirt giveaways, video-game displays, a trio of stormtrooper mannequins, and, yes, the occasional sound of lightsaber whooshes and a certain familiar fanfare. A floor-to-ceiling white curtain concealed the proceedings from passersby who might have wanted to take advantage of selfie ops with R2-D2, C-3PO, and their new robot pal BB-8. R2-D2 and BB-8 attracted the longest lines.
All the hoopla was a sideshow to the many interviews and photoshoots, as well as two press conferences (moderated by “Star Wars” fan Mindy Kaling), taking place throughout the cavernous building. They were pegged to the release of the J.J. Abrams-directed “Force Awakens.” The official US opening is Dec. 18, with sneak screenings the evening of Dec. 17. Filmgoers have their choice of IMAX 3-D, 3-D, or good old 2-D.
The “Force Awakens” world premiere is Monday, in Los Angeles. Tuesday it opens in London. Wednesday it arrives in countries ranging from Bahrain and Indonesia to Finland and France.
Air France had been promoting flights from the United States to Paris for fans eager for an earlier awakening of the Force. This came as news to Walt Disney, which is releasing the film. Disney paid “Star Wars” creator George Lucas $4 billion in 2012 to buy his Lucasfilm studio and the rights to make new films in the series. Nothing heightens brand vigilance quite like a 10-figure deal: The airline’s promotion is no more. Perhaps if flight attendants had sported the proper wristbands?
It’s been nearly 40 years since the release of the first “Star Wars” movie. The stars of that film, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher, reprise their roles in “The Force Awakens.” The Rebel Alliance, now known as the Resistance, battles the evil First Order. Darth Vader may have departed, but Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren ensures there’s no villainy deficit.
Pent-up anticipation for the new film, the seventh in the series, was palpable Sunday. Not-a-few questions at the press conferences were wishful thinking in the guise of newsgathering. Asked if “The Force Awakens” included any ewoks, the cuddly furballs from “Revenge of the Jedi,” Abrams drew both laughs and a hiss or two with his reply: “Not any live ones.”
Such raillery was the exception. Even a wisecracking Fisher, who several times likened her character Princess Leia’s famously unflattering hairstyle to “a baboon’s ass,” acknowledged a larger sense of responsibility in making the new film.
“I keep hearing from people about how they’ve watched the movies as a family,” she said. “You watched your children watch the movies and watched them grow.” Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, has a role in “The Force Awakens.”
Ford echoed Fisher. “I’m aware of the value that’s been placed on these films, and how they’re passed on through families.” That sentiment didn’t keep him from offering a more practical view of the films’ enduring popularity. “It’s always nice to work on something you know there’s an appetite for,” he deadpanned.
In an interview earlier Sunday, Abrams recalled the impact of seeing the original “Star Wars ” film in 1977. It was shortly before his 11th birthday, just about the perfect age to see the movie for the first time — let alone the perfect age for someone who’d already started thinking about making movies when he grew up.
“It was a total game changer,” Abrams said. “It was amazing to see a movie that was, on so many levels, the perfect magic trick. . . . There’s a nearly endless list of what George [Lucas] got right with that first movie.”
In making “The Force Awakens,” Abrams said, “I wanted people to feel that thing I felt [then]: a feeling of authenticity, a feeling of hope, a feeling of sweetness and big heart, a feeling of shock and surprise, devastation, the exhilaration of the adventure.”
With all that at stake, no wonder there was so much going on at the convention center. The fuss even extended to ice cream.
Brian Smith, co-owner of Ample Hills Creamery, was manning a booth offering samples of Dark Side (dark chocolate with espresso brownie chunks, cocoa crispies, and white-chocolate bits) and Light Side (marshmallow with crispie clusters and cocoa crispies).
So what was a Brooklyn gourmet ice cream maker with just five outlets doing here? Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of Disney, is an Ample Hills fan. He wondered if he could help the creamery somehow. “Our jaws dropped,” said Smith, who proposed doing the “Star Wars”-themed flavors. Iger ran the idea by Lucas and Abrams. Dark Side and Light Side are the result.
Wristbands aren’t required to order.