With six films, nearly 40 years of history and a decade of anticipation since their last film, the keepers of the “Star Wars” franchise might have been sweating the continued rollout of “Episode VII” Thursday at the Star Wars Celebration convention in Anaheim.
They need not have worried. A crowd of more than 5,000 reacted rapturously to director J.J. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy and, especially, to the latest trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
“It was amazing. I just had goose bumps and my heart was racing,” said Kirk Miller, a 23-year-old student from Porterville, who left home at 2 a.m. to be at the Star Wars Celebration event. Miller, noticeably hoarse from screaming his approval, said his favorite moment came at the end of the trailer, when original “Star Wars” characters Han Solo and Chewbacca appeared. “Han said ‘It’s good to be home,’ and that’s basically my feeling too — it’s good to be home.”
Celebration — the 10th such “Star Wars” event — will continue through the weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center, with more than 115 panels, presentations, competitions and endless marketing. Fans can ask questions of cast members, hear craftspeople describe how they created the signature Star Wars look, or even make an origami paper figure of their favorite characters.
But the biggest moment of the event came with Thursday morning’s rollout of three new characters and the much-awaited second trailer for the film, which debuts in December.
Eire Spaeth, an accountant and artist from Los Angeles, said Abrams and the other makers had a big challenge. “It was important for him to bridge the gap of those original ‘Star Wars’ characters and the new generation,” Spaeth said. “I was hoping I would see something that would bring back my childhood, and I did. I was not disappointed.”
Spaeth said the original “Star Wars” in 1977 had “changed her life” and inspired an interest in art. She said it brought tears to her eyes to realize that director Abrams “has tied the original generation to a new generation. That is a gift he is giving to all of us.”
It would be hard to imagine a fan with a more dramatic tale than Adam Harris. The 36-year-old from Brisbane, Australia, said he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor four years ago and didn’t know if he would live to see the next “Star Wars” film.
Harris was in the crowd with his 6-year-old son, Jack Anakin Harris. “I never thought in a million years I would get to be here,” he said, “and to have that moment with my son just now is one of the greatest things I have experienced in my life.”
Harris, a sales manager in an electronics store, is making a film about the bonds that connect “Star Wars” fans and about his experience. “It’s a sense of community and family that we all share,” he said.
Like many other fans who began lining up for the event Wednesday, Harris said he had some trepidation about how “Episode VII” would unfold. But he had become convinced that, with Kennedy, “’Star Wars’ is in safe hands.” He added: “I think she is going to make it even more successful than it was before.”
The fans got much of what they wanted in the opening hourlong session. Besides the producer and director, Disney and Lucasfilm rolled out engineers who worked on R2-D2, original cast members including Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.
They also got to see Anthony Daniels, who voices C-3PO and is the only actor who will have appeared in all seven episodes of the space saga. Anthony recalled the original as “this crazy little film that none of us thought any of you would ever come to see,” adding: “But you kept coming and coming and coming.”
While Abrams conceded there was pressure trying to meet fan expectations, it had also been empowering. “The energy you are throwing our way is evidence of the force,” Abrams said, right before introducing the trailer.
The promotion juggernaut for “The Force Awakens” began more than a year before the anticipated December 18 release, with the posting last November of an initial trailer, that showed familiar hardware like Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon and X-wing fighters, along with new characters played by John Boyega and Daisy Ridley.
Then, last week, Disney ratcheted up fan engagement again, announcing that it would make the entire “Star Wars” odyssey available for digital download from online retailers like Amazon, Google Play and iTunes.
The sequel will take place 30 years after 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” and star Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson and Max von Sydow, along with original cast members Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Kenny Baker.
Newcomers Boyega and Ridley revealed only a few details of their characters. Ridley plays Rey, whom she described as a “scavenger” on the desert planet Jakku. Boyega is Finn, though he declined to say whether the stormtrooper costume he dons is merely a disguise. Actor Oscar Isaac described his character, Poe Dameron, as “the best freakin’ pilot in the galaxy, sent on a mission by a certain princess.”
Abrams said that he sought a balance between the gritty, hand-made appearance of the original “Star Wars” films and the slicker look of the prequels. He said that filming in Abu Dhabi had helped bring the quality of “a Western and a fairly tale” that imbued the early films.
Both actress Fisher and producer Kennedy noted there will be a push to have more women in the next, and future, “Star Wars” installments. Kennedy said “really strong women” will appear in the next film and others on the more distant horizon. “I have two girls, too,” Kennedy said. “I’m under a lot of pressure.”
The filmmakers have earned goodwill with fans for their early and frequent declarations of love for the franchise. Abrams described Thursday how he once dressed up for Halloween (age unknown) as a Jawa. He said he discovered the “Star Wars” films at 11 and had his mind “blown.” “It had such heart,” he said, “and the biggest thing for me was, it had such hope.”
Some fans had said they wanted more — perhaps a complete cast list — and more hints at the plot to come. Abrams promised that the building of expectations, and excitement, would continue.
“We have many, many months before the movie comes out,” the director said, “and I promise you that we are going to have a lot of fun revealing the other actors.”
He also said that the pressure of working on the mega-franchise paled in comparison to the chance to be part of an epic story.
“There were moments of sheer horror at what that is, the reality is,” he said. “[But] I’ve never had more fun in my life working on anything. The opportunity far outweighs the risk. I can’t wait for you to see the result.”