LOS ANGELES

- With "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" among the most anticipated films of this decade, the stars - with the curious exception of Mark Hamill - recently discussed how "Force" aims to please a rabid fan base, and how they honored the love for the original characters and actors while putting the spotlight on new characters who will take the franchise forward.

"When Kathy Kennedy [president of Lucasfilm and the brand manager of the 'Star Wars' franchise] and Larry [Kasdan, legendary screenwriter of previous "Star Wars" films and this one] and I started talking about what this was at the very beginning, the fundamental question was, what did we want to feel and what did we want people to feel when they came to this movie," the film's director/producer/co-writer, J.J. Abrams, told reporters at a news conference in Los Angeles.

"That was really the beginning of the discussion, and the answer was . . . the sense of discovery, exhilaration, surprise [and] comedy that George Lucas put into 'Star Wars' . . . were the things that made me love the movie. When you look at all the things that he got right . . . it's stunning."

Abrams continued, "So for us, at the beginning, it was about knowing why we were telling this story, and it was to give people that sense of possibility and magic that we all felt when we first saw the original 'Star Wars.' But I will just say that this is all to tell a new story. Meaning, it's not a nostalgia trip.

"We had to go backward in order to go forwards - and if you look at [the original trilogy, Episodes] 4 ["Star Wars," later retitled "A New Hope"], 5 ["The Empire Strikes Back"], and 6 ["Return of the Jedi"], those are stories that continue. This is [Episode] 7, so the history of 7 is what we've seen before . . . the fabric needed to be that [which] we were familiar with, in order to tell a brand new story."

One of those generational bridges is Harrison Ford's reprisal of his Han Solo character - and Ford explained what made him decide to do that after decades of saying the character no longer interested him.

"It's what I like to do. It's what's fun for me," Ford said. "I had a chance to work with people that I really admire, doing something that I thought was going to be fun - and to work with J.J., whose work I had really admired and long known about."

Ford added, "It's gratifying to be asked to be part of this. There was an interesting story to tell . . . through the character. It's always nice to anticipate working in something that you know people will have an appetite for. This is not a crap shoot . . . This is a big casino. It's fun to play with these toys again."

And, he said, "it's been a great experience."

"The Force Awakens" has focused on Daisy Ridley's Rey and John Boyega's Finn characters as the stars of a new generation and an even more diverse cast that will take the franchise forward.

"Well, obviously, Carrie [Fisher] and [her portrayal of] Princess Leia [has been] a source of inspiration for girls for the past 38 years, and I'm definitely not quite there yet," said Ridley. "But I hope Rey will be something of a girl power figure. And I think with writing like J.J.'s and Larry's . . . with a story [into] which she is woven richly and holds an important role . . . she will have some impact in a girl power-y way."

Ridley described her character as "brave, and she's vulnerable and she's so nuanced. That's what's so exciting about playing a role like this.

"She doesn't have to be one thing to embody a woman in a film . . . For me, she's not important because she's a woman. She's just important. It just so happens that she's a woman. She transcends gender.

"It obviously all started with Leia, and Leia's still there kicking ass."

The British-born Boyega made it clear he is tired of answering questions about diversity and race in the "Star Wars" universe and is just enjoying "creating magic."

"I'm going to be honest. I really don't care about the 'black storm trooper' stuff," Boyega said in response to a question about the significance of his race in the film. "This is a movie about human beings. About Wookiees, spaceships and TIE fighters. It has an undertone and a message of courage - and a message of friendship and loyalty. I think that is something that is ultimately important.

"I watched the movie with Kathy just last week, and I really relate to Rey more than any of the characters. To be in a circumstance where you have to find something bigger than who you are within yourself is something that's an inspiration to me.

"I think that people take that away" from the film, Boyega concluded, adding with a laugh, "In terms of the kids, all they're going to be concentrating on is [the new droid] BB-8."