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Reasons to get excited for 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

If you missed the star-studded panel for "The Force Awakens" at Comic-Con 2015, "Star Wars" expert Bonnie Burton is your guide to why we should all be freaking out like happy Jawas about the upcoming movie. Utinni!

Meet Bobbajo -- one of the many unusual characters from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

There's probably nothing more magical for a "Star Wars" fan than to sit in the theater and experience a new film in the series, surrounded by those who love everything about a galaxy far, far away and the characters who live there.

We all remember what it was like to see Darth Vader Force-choke a co-worker, or hear Chewbacca roar, or watch an action-packed lightsaber battle -- all for the first time. As a hard-core "Star Wars" fan, I wore my hair in Princess Leia buns for endless school photos and can do a perfect R2-D2 scream when I'm ecstatic.

It's those kinds of memorable moments that Lucasfilm, along with director J. J. Abrams, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and the talented cast and crew, want to give us with "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens," which hits theaters December 18. But are we going to get those goosebumps? I'm sensing...yes.

Fans attending San Diego Comic-Con International 2015 knew they would be in for a special treat during the "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" panel. In attendance were Abrams, Kasdan and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, as well as beloved "Star Wars" actors Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, who of course played the main characters of the first trilogy.

New faces Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Daisy Ridley (Rey), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), John Boyega (Finn), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) and Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux) also rounded out the panel. There was even a visit by a mysterious puppeteered character called Bobbajo.

Here's my take on some of the highlights from this panel, and the reasons why we should all be waving around our ignited lightsabers in celebration over "The Force Awakens" as fans who have been waiting way too long for a "Star Wars" movie worthy of our childhood memories.

Director J.J. Abrams is a lifelong 'Star Wars' fan:

Long before Abrams was asked to helm "The Force Awakens," I interviewed him multiple times when I worked for Lucasfilm. He always mentioned how much impact "Star Wars" had on him, both in his personal and professional life.

On this year's Comic-Con panel, Abrams recalled how "Star Wars" was such a pivotal part of his childhood. "I asked my mom to make me a Jawa costume for my 13th Halloween -- I did the eyes but she did the costume -- and it was great!"

"I've been a fan since I was a little kid; there is nothing normal about getting to write a movie with Lawrence Kasdan, or to direct a 'Star Wars' movie. I sat down with [composer] John Williams to show him scenes from another 'Star Wars' movie he hadn't seen yet, that I directed. There's nothing normal about anything that's been happening."

Lawrence Kasdan penned the script with Abrams:

No one knows Han Solo better than the man who originally wrote iconic scenes featuring our favorite smuggler getting frozen in carbonite or almost being eaten by Ewoks. As the screenwriter for both "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi," Kasdan not only understands Han Solo, but also completely gets the personalities of such "Star Wars" characters Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 -- who will all be in "The Force Awakens."

He's written some of the best dialogue from these films that as "Star Wars" fans we've been quoting ad nauseam for decades, which can only mean we can look forward to even more memorable lines to add to our lexicon with this upcoming film. Kasdan is so trusted with these characters, he's even writing the next Han Solo standalone anthology film.

"It was a little like it was before only we look more melted," Fisher joked. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia return:

Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), and Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) are appearing in the new movie and all three iconic "Star Wars" actors were on the panel to discuss what it was like to reunite in a galaxy far, far away.

"It should have felt ridiculous, it was 30-something years ago and I sort of grew up," Ford said. "Here I was doing something I did so long ago. It felt great. The company was the right company. The director was the right director. Larry wrote us a wonderful story. And I was proud and grateful to once again be involved."

Hamill joked, "I was just glad I didn't have to go to Tosche Station to pick up any power converters."

"It sort of felt like we picked up where we left off but it was a long leave off and then we're back," Fisher said. "It was great having the new people because they do it faster."

New actors mean new characters to pique our interest:

Actors Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Daisy Ridley (Rey), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), John Boyega (Finn), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) and Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux) were all on hand at the Comic-Con panel to talk a little about their new characters and share their experiences -- oftentimes grueling -- working on the "Star Wars" films.

"We were running in 125-degree heat and those explosions were real," Ridley said. Lucasfilm

Isaac made the point that he surmised that their characters were raised admiring Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca and Princess Leia as important figures in their universe, much like we did as fans.

"The character of Poe takes on that legacy not only of Han but of Luke, of being these heroic pilots," Isaac said. "These characters lived those stories we all grew up with. Poe was probably there watching at Yavin [during] the medal ceremony thinking, 'I want to be that; I want to be a hero and I want to take up that mantle,' and I think that's what he does, even sometimes recklessly so."

Being covered in armor -- which is not new for the "Game of Thrones" actress -- gave Christie an interesting perspective in playing the character Captain Phasma.

"I found it exciting that not only there was a female Stormtrooper, but it was the opportunity to explore a female character that is totally not about the way she looks in flesh, and that armor is exterior and it's more like the outside feeding in," Christie explained. "I found it very exciting that underneath that armor is a woman and it makes it more relevant than ever."

Expect some 'Star Wars' Easter eggs in the movie:

Gleeson let it slip, and Abrams confirmed, that one of the bases is named Starkiller after Luke Skywalker's original last name in the "Star Wars" script. Sadly, the cast didn't reveal any other tidbits for hard-ore fans to freak out over. But we don't want every secret to be spilled at the Comic-Con panel, do we?

Puppets are all over "The Force Awakens":

Mind-blowing as it is to have some of our favorite "Star Wars" actors return to the big screen in "The Force Awakens," we also get introduced to new characters like Bobbajo who are a combination of costumed actors and puppeteers. Instead of relying so heavily on computer-generated effects, the new movie will have more old-school puppeteering and animatronics, which were a big part of the Original Trilogy.

Fans attending San Diego Comic-Con were treated to seeing Bobbajo on stage in all his puppet glory during the "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" panel.

"There are five people operating that creature," Abrams explained. "This is one of hundreds of creatures that they built for this film. A lot of these creatures are background creatures, they're not even the main event. But what's so cool about them is it gives the actors who are in scenes things to actually deal with and interact with, play with, respond to."

While there will be CGI and green-screen acting in the new movie, it's the practical effects that harken back to the older "Star Wars" movies that get a lot of fans like me excited. So many movies depend on so much on special effects that the characters and events don't seem believable.

"The important thing for us was that we make this thing authentic; that we tell a story that allowed the actors interact with and be on a set with as much authentic, real, tangible construction as possible -- sets, props, creatures -- it helped the entire process look and feel like it was actually on screen, because it was," Abrams said.

A new movie trailer is coming:

Fans got a sneak peek of the filming, but what we really can't wait for is another official movie trailer for "The Force Awakens." Can you blame us? All we want to do is debate the new designs of lightsabers, Stormtrooper helmets and droids. So when will we get another trailer to dissect like a geeky CSI team?

"We aren't ready to show you scenes from the movie or a new trailer," Abrams told the audience. "We really want to wait and do a trailer later in the fall."

Behind-the-scenes footage shows real sets:

If the panel discussion wasn't enough to make hard-core "Star Wars" fans like me have hope that the "The Force Awakens" is destined to be as good as the original trilogy, the behind-the-scenes reel from the set did the trick.

This is the kind of film footage that makes us all feel like kids seeing all over again.

Here's the entire hour-long panel presentation, complete with Hamill lamenting over his character falling in love with his sister Princess Leia, and Ford replying, "How many times can I say I'm sorry?"

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opens in theaters on December 18 in the US. As a fan, what are you most excited about?