SXSW Film director Janet Pierson welcomed a packed downstairs at the Paramount Theatre Monday afternoon and, after a few words, told the audience a very special guest was in attendance. Some in the audience released an audible gasp, and then, King of the Fanboys, J.J. Abrams came out to thunderous applause to introduce the behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
The love for the man who helped resurrect and restore a piece of the childhood of millions was evident.
“The Force is certainly strong today,” a guy behind me said, as another yelled, “We love you, J.J.”
Abrams, shockingly visiting Austin for just the first time, expressed how excited he was to shine a light on a few of the hundreds of people who helped make the dream for so many a realty.
It was the first time many had gotten much in depth info about the filming, a super furtive process referenced by many of the cast in the opening scenes of the doc.
“Are we allowed to talk about this?” was the general concern.
The movie opens with the internal announcement that Abrams will be leading the reboot. It is one of many scenes of closed-door meetings fans rarely get to see. And it almost didn’t happen. Abrams, who had worked on sequels in the past and had great reverence for the early films, said he almost didn’t take the job, as it felt like too much responsibility.
But it was obvious he was the man for the job. LucasFilm boss Kathleen Kennedy expressed throughout the film how important it was to maintain the feel and ingredient of the early films, and Abrams’ process helped cultivate that.
He and “Empire Strikes Back” scribe Lawrence Kasdan spent days walking the streets of Paris, London and elsewhere talking through their ideas about the movie and the story.
What Abrams knew from the beginning was that he wanted a new female heroine who would be introduced to Luke Skywalker. It was a great foundation for the story, and Abrams’ desire to use as much actual physical sets as possible helped make the movie feel tangible and connect it to the realism that we all gravitated to in “Star Wars.”
Kasdan wasn’t the only returning member of the “Star Wars” team. The doc introduces audiences to visual effects artists and other crew who either worked on the first trilogy or had parents who did. That continuity to the endeavor gives the film a familial vibe that reflects how so many audiences come to the film — with family.
Of course it wasn’t just crew returning, there is the original trio of actors. Carrie Fisher explains in the film how her first day of shooting was the worst of her life, and the usually reticent Harrison Ford talks about how, after the second movie, he wanted his character of Han Solo to have a role in the emotional stakes of the story.
One of the coolest parts of the movie was watching Ford walk into the Millennium Falcon for the first time. And if you thought you were stoked when Solo and Chewbaca entered the old spacecraft, Abrams had you beat, as evident in his joyful reaction during the shooting of that scene.
That joy and Abrams’ sense of duty and responsibility was pervasive throughout the cast and crew, from old-timers to modern stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.
Creating a movie is part miracle and part magic. “Secrets of ‘The Force Awakens'” peak behind the curtain doesn’t ruin the magic trick, it makes you appreciate the movie even more and helps you realize that the people who made it love it as much as you do.
At the end of the screening, some supervisors and producers took the stage for Q&A. But everyone whipped their cameras out for R2D2, feeling like kids once again.