Walt Disney Co. treated a few thousand “Star Wars” fans to a free concert on the San Diego waterfront Friday night, the latest step in a marketing campaign designed to entice the masses without alienating devotees of the science-fiction franchise.
The San Diego Symphony played a mix of “Star Wars” tunes after director J.J. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy courted attendees of Comic-Con International during an hour-long panel. They screened behind-the-scenes footage from the making of “Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens,” and shared the stage with cast members, including stars from the original films -- Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford.
The concert was a grand gesture, even for a four-day event that Hollywood uses to market many of its biggest projects. Though “Episode VII” seems certain to sell plenty of tickets, some films live and die by the reaction of influential bloggers and fans -- a fact not lost on the film’s creative team.
“‘Star Wars’ is 100 percent dependent on fans in this room and all over the world,” Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm Ltd., said while looking out at the masses in Hall H, the cavernous home of the biggest panels at this annual mecca for science-fiction and fantasy enthusiasts.
Abrams assured attendees of his reverence for old films, raving about his time with screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and composer John Williams, while alternately asserting the need to create something new. As well as the latest “Star Wars,” Kasdan worked on the original trilogy, while Williams scored all of the previous movies.
“Directing a scene on the Millennium Falcon doesn’t make it good,” Abrams said, in reference to the aircraft helmed by Han Solo. “It’s bitchin’, but it doesn’t make it automatically good.”
Disney announced plans to release new films in the science-fiction franchise when it acquired LucasFilm for $4.05 billion in 2012, its third multi-billion dollar acquisition in a six-year span.
George Lucas, LucasFilm’s founder, had already worked on treatments for future projects, and was looking for someone to shepherd the institution he created. He hired Kennedy in 2012 to take over operations of his company, home to a fictional world with more than 17,000 characters.
Disney plans to use that vast universe to produce new films in the original series and spin-offs it has dubbed “anthology films.”
Abrams and Kennedy have not shared many details about “Episode VII,” which is set about 30 years after the events of “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi,” released in 1983. Abrams said Friday he has finished a cut of the film and is now fine-tuning it.
“Episode VII” could gross as much as $1.95 billion, according to Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne, more than any prior film. The previous “Star Wars” films grossed more than $4 billion in combined takings.
Ford, who played Han Solo in the original three films, made his first public appearance since a plane crash in March. “I never expected it would come back to bless me rather than haunt me,” he said. “I never thought we’d do another.”
He later walked across the concert stage, using a light saber as a cane.