It was Friday morning in Anaheim, California, and Disney CEO Bob Iger had just kicked off the company’s biennial fan festival: D23 Expo. "Now I know both from my own instinct, and from the applause that I heard earlier, that there are a lot of Star Wars fans out there," he said. The reaction was instantaneous: just that brief mention and the crowd was roaring.
"Now we’re just as excited as you are about Star Wars: Episode VII. In fact, we’re speechless. At least we’re going to be somewhat speechless at this Expo because we aren’t ready to share some of the details with you just yet." Applause gave way to the sound of united voices: Awww.
"But trust me, it’s going to be fantastic. Come on, Star Wars and Disney together. How could it not be fantastic?" As fans were about to learn, trust was going to be their only option.
Anticipation was high
Disney had been promoting the presence of Star Wars at this year’s D23 — it's the first such expo since the company acquired Lucasfilm last year — and a special Darth Vader exhibit and a Star Wars-focused panel were among the various activities. Disney had no presence at San Diego Comic-Con this year save for its Marvel panel, and while no Episode VII details had been promised it appeared the company was holding any announcements back for its own event. (Disney did something similar in 2011, when it saved footage from The Avengers for the D23 crowd.)
Despite Iger’s warning, or perhaps because of its particular phrasing, the audience in the arena Saturday morning was still hoping to hear some news during Disney’s live-action slate presentation. Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn took the stage and welcomed Lucasfilm to the Disney family, to rapturous applause. He then quickly rehashed the known facts about the film and reiterated the summer 2015 release date before telling the audience the bad news. "I do wish I could tell you more, but…" — the "Imperial March" thundered through the arena as one final tease — "there are dark forces. And they are watching." The audience booed as Horn moved on to introduce the Marvel presentation.
"I wish I could tell you more, but..."
Of course, there are a number of different films Disney is promoting at D23 this year, not the least of which is Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof’s mysterious Tomorrowland. Any kind of Star Wars news would undoubtedly take attention away from other announcements, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the company to want to give the rest of its slate room to breathe. Still, one only needed to witness the parade of attendees carrying lightsabers or dressed as Star Wars characters to gauge the massive interest this year, making the Episode VII no-show all the more conspicuous.
Someone that definitely seemed to recognize the passion of the fans was Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo, who presented his "Crash Course in the Force" panel on Saturday afternoon. "You know, I kinda feel the need to get this out of the way right at the top," he said, acknowledging the fervor. "People are dying to hear any information about what’s coming up next, so I can reveal to you today that that’s not what this panel is about. I’m really sorry."