To say that my most recent visit to Los Angeles was “surreal” would border on understatement – stepping into a world that just a few years ago none would’ve expected, nor believed. Going back even further, the small child that still resides housed in this now 39-year-old body would never understand the weight or gravitas of the situation – STAR WARS is back, and aside from the original era of 1977-1983, there’s been no better time to be a STAR WARS fan than now. The Force is strong in our family, my wife and I sharing our love of “a galaxy far, far away” with our daughters – our children finding themselves enchanted with the very stories we grew up on, but now with new tales that we can experience together… for the very first time. Sixteen years had passed between the release of RETURN OF THE JEDI in 1983 and the debut of THE PHANTOM MENACE in 1999… “the dark times” bridging the gap between the end of the “Original Trilogy” and the start of the “Prequel Trilogy.” Now, in 2015, another sixteen years have passed and we’ve arrived on the cusp of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, the start of a new Trilogy – but one that unlike its predecessors, will be punctuated by standalone “Star Wars Stories” in between. This week, a little boy that spent countless hours immersed in a world of Kenner STAR WARS action figures nearly 40 years ago would be invited by Disney to take a step into a larger world – the Global Press Event for the launch of THE FORCE AWAKENS… a film directed by another little boy (J.J. Abrams), who’s now grown-up and and has taken those toys to help relaunch the Saga for new generations of families to enjoy for a long, long time to come…
As Master Yoda once said in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, “You must unlearn what you have learned,” and when it comes to press junkets, that’s an appropriate statement since what could be considered “traditional” did not apply here. A junket being held in a top-secret location, with Global Press instructed (and reminded regularly) not to mention the location, and to make sure that no posts on social media were geotagged – extraordinary measures not only to protect the unparalleled secrecy and integrity of the film, but to also protect those in attendance – an unfortunate necessity due to the current state of the world in which we live. Package inspections, metal detectors, and men that looked eerily like members of the Secret Service perched in strategic locations to keep all under a watchful eye – I’d never seen anything like this set up in promotion for a film.
Inside, the junket was set-up like a private STAR WARS CELEBRATION or D23 meant only for a few hundred members of the press to enjoy – with couches and mood lighting, activity stations and reps from Disney Infinity, Disney Consumer Products, Google, and Hour of Code set-up to showcase their STAR WARS-related projects and products. C-3PO and R2-D2 were there along with the newest model of Astromech Droid, BB-8. There was a green screen photo op, screen-used costumes from the film, an art gallery, and Ample Hills Creamery even had an ice cream station set-up for attendees to experience their Light Side and Dark Side flavors first-hand.
In one corner there was something that had a bit of a family connection – a station for attendees to get custom screen-printed shirts, an idea presented by Abrams himself.
As I placed my order of a black t-shirt with THE FORCE AWAKENS logo printed on the front in classic yellow, the BAD ROBOT logo on the back in red, I couldn’t help thinking of my Great Grandfather, Bert Zahn – a pioneer in the field of screen printing, and a 1973 inaugural inductee into the Academy of Screen Printing Technology (since renamed the “Academy of Screen and Digital Printing Technologies”). In fact, it was my Great Grandfather that penned the 1935 book SILK SCREEN METHODS OF REPRODUCTION, an essential guide for craftsmen of the day – a book that was updated in many editions from the 30s-50s, and has copies currently held by the Library of Congress and Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Exciting as all of these festivities were, the real draw for me was my true purpose in being there – the chance to sit down with key filmmakers and cast to discuss THE FORCE AWAKENS as part of a hand-picked crew of 25 pop culture-minded writers from the parenting space. These breakout sessions were in addition to the main Global Press Conference, in which Mindy Kaling moderated a lively discussion that managed to engage and entertain while staying largely mum as to the secrets of The Force that have been closely guarded.
After a full day of interviews and activities that started with Harrison Ford and ended with J.J. Abrams, our group headed toward Anaheim for a surprise visit to SEASON OF THE FORCE at Disneyland Park. Surprisingly, out of a full crew of seasoned Disney vets, there were two people on the bus who had never before stepped inside “The Happiest Place on Earth” – one of them being me.
Overwhelming to take it all in with such a short time to do so, the park was beautifully decked out for Holidays at the Disneyland Resort combined with the sparkle of the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration. We made our way to dinner at the Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland, where a themed menu included items like The First Order (a burger on a black bun, served in a Han Solo in Carbonite block) and the decadent dessert, Darth by Chocolate. While we unfortunately arrived too late to experience the STAR WARS Launch Bay (said to be excellent), we rode Hyperspace Mountain, took a journey through THE PATH OF THE JEDI, and visited C-3PO and R2-D2 for an updated version of the famed STAR TOURS. With STAR WARS experiences now happening on both coasts, I hope to delve deeper into that world on a return visit to Disneyland at some point, and to explore it when I take my family to The Magic Kingdom in Florida this coming Spring. Since we started the day interviewing Harrison Ford, we closed it with him as well – an energetic trip through the INDIANA JONES ADVENTURE before heading out to begin crafting stories from an unbelievable day – becoming a part of the launch of the first-ever Disney STAR WARS movie!
In the days ahead, stay tuned as I roll out interviews and features with Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata) filmmaker J.J. Abrams and Head of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy. What secrets of THE FORCE AWAKENS might be revealed?
For the latest on THE FORCE AWAKENS, ROGUE ONE and more, keep your browser pointed at TheRockFather.com/StarWars
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS opens Friday, December 18, 2015. Get tickets now via Fandango.
Disclosure: THE ROCK FATHER Magazine has partnered with Disney/Lucasfilm for this coverage series. Travel and accommodations provided by Mickey Mouse.