It's the Monday after San Diego Comic Con, and all across the land, nerd culture types are waking up with the equivalent of a hangover and some hazy memories of the weekend's revelries. (Did you watch the leaked Suicide Squad trailer? What about the Deadpool one? What about the panels? The panels were nice.) But it wouldn't be Comic Con without at least one shining jewel of hype, one panel, preview, or premiere that left everybody speechless. In years past, it came from Marvel, who gave us glimpses of Avengers in 2010 and Guardians of the Galaxy in 2013. This year, it came courtesy of Star Wars.
According to the minute-by-minute coverage from Comic Book Resources, the panel itself was mostly a parade of new cast members and returning stalwarts, among them the holy trinity of Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford. But among the friendly banter was a smattering of newer information about both The Force Awakens and upcoming Star Wars spinoff films. Rogue One, the first in a series of anthology films exploring different aspects of the Star Wars universe, was name-dropped by producer and Star Wars brand manager Kathleen Kennedy, who told the crowd that the film, directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) was due to begin production in three weeks. (Rogue One is apparently shaping up as a military sci-fi heist film, with a crew of Rebels attempting to steal plans for the Death Star. Rumors are that Darth Vader will be involved.) Meanwhile, Abrams offered an update on the progress of Star Wars: The Force Awakens: the initial cut has been completed, and they're currently in editing. We can look forward to a new trailer some time in the fall.
Instead of a trailer, the panel offered something a little bit more exciting: a behind the scenes look at the production of The Force Awakens that focused on the practical effects and location shooting that went into making the film. This is a particularly striking departure after the prequel films, which leaned heavily on cleaner CGI imagery, and is also a welcome divergence from current blockbuster filmmaking, which has been locked in a largely fruitless and increasingly unconvincing arms race when it comes to CG landscapes and creatures. The entire video is below and worth watching. With it comes the news that Simon Pegg (presumably suitably cowed after the flap regarding his comments on the childishness of geek culture) will have some kind of small role as an alien, for which he has been given an actual alien suit, like it's 1985 or something. Other highlights include a glimpse at real sets, real explosions, and a glimpse at a moving, flight-simulator like Millennium Falcon cockpit. If you're bonkers for practical effects, it's all very exciting.
The panel ended, by the way, with J.J Abrams taking every single person in an over 6,000 person crowd to a live Star Wars concert held off of the premises, which included a brief video message from John Williams mentioning that he was hard at work on the score for the new film. There was also apparently a series of Star Wars greatest musical hits played by a live orchestra from the San Diego Symphony, accompanied by well-timed fireworks.
Meanwhile, if your need for a Star Wars fix can't wait for The Force Awakens' December 18 release date, Marvel Comics offered an update regarding its excellent licensed Star Wars comics. Starting in November, Jason Aaron (Scalped, Thor) and Kieron Gillen (The Wicked and the Divine, Journey into Mystery) will be cooperating on a crossover of their respective series, Star Wars and Darth Vader. Entitled "Vader Down," the story focuses on Darth Vader crashing on a desolate alien planet and finding himself in the crosshairs of an entire Rebel army, which promises to go badly for everyone concerned. If you know anything about comics, Aaron and Gillen are both responsible for critically acclaimed work at Marvel and some fantastic creator-owned independent series, and both are excellent at sticking a slightly off-kilter sensibility into their corporate work.
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The crossover will kick off with a large standalone comic, "Vader Down #1," before continuing in alternating issues of Star Wars and Darth Vader. Marvel is also adding a five issue Chewbacca mini-series to its lineup, which will feature your favorite dog-alien crashing on an alien planet (does nobody land anymore?) and helping out a young girl. Phil Noto (Black Widow) is on art, and Gerry Duggan (Deadpool) is on writing. As yet there is no word on whether or not Chewbacca's groans will be translated, but Marvel's currently putting out two comics with a main character that only communicates by saying "I am Groot!," so really, all bets are off. All of these comics mark the expansion of the new official cannon, meaning that whatever occurs in their pages officially, definitively happened to the characters, and may add characters that will appear elsewhere down the line.
With these announcements and the steady drip of rumors over the past few months, it seems clear that Disney is aiming not just to bring Star Wars back, but to make it the inescapable face of mainstream science fiction. Expect more announcements regarding Star Wars properties at the D23 Disney Expo in August, where the House of Mouse will likely reveal more news about upcoming spinoffs. Don't worry about the Force being with you. It's not likely to ever go away.
Asher Elbein is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas.