The word ‘magic’ gets thrown around a lot. It’s cheapened, especially in an age of rampant CGI making anything possible on the big screen. True magic is when you look at something that you know can’t be real but is, for all absolute intents and purposes, completely real and totally believable. It can’t be, but it is.
Sitting in the Anaheim Convention Center when new Star Wars droid BB-8 hit the stage, I felt magic.
The little droid is so small - a little bigger than a soccer ball - but completely rolling around under its own power. There is no person in there, and there are no wheels, no wire. It just is. But that isn’t what blew me away. What blew me away was the way BB-8’s little dome was perched on that ball, attached by seemingly nothing, moving and rotating on its own, independent of the ball bottom. I mean, I’m sure there are magnets holding the two pieces together, but in the moment, looking at it in person, BB-8 simply seems to be a totally futuristic little thing.
That’s part of the magic - I don’t know how it works (even though I can guess). But the rest of the magic comes from the way these two pieces of remote control puppetry interact to create a character who is filled with personality and even emotion. Just the way BB-8’s dome turns and spins gives the droid a sense of consciousness, of existence beyond being a prop or an object. BB-8 is a character.
Which is why it was a touch of genius to have BB-8 interact with R2D2 on stage. R2 is the previous benchmark in inanimate objects that we have come to love (sometimes more than the human characters in these films), and to have these two get together - and kind of seem to have a little fun beef - passed the baton. Just as the structure of The Force Awakens seems to be intended to let our old favorites cede the stage to newbies, this moment felt like the future of Star Wars meeting with its history.
We guessed this from a quick glimpse in the first teaser, but it’s clear now: BB-8 is the character of the year. I was kind of thinking that would be The Vision, who is so great in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but BB-8 overtakes Paul Bettany in make-up and a cape every day. BB-8 won Star Wars Celebration, and I’m saying that even with the trailer debuting after the droid.
There are many things about The Force Awakens that make me hopeful for not just the new film but the continued future of Star Wars, but nothing fills me with as much hope as BB-8. Nothing I have seen yet perfectly captures that feeling of walking into the Star Wars universe with a pair of robots - and loving them - as this little droid has. That’s Star Wars - our complete buy-in to this universe - and BB-8 personifies Star Wars.