On top of all the other fantastical computer-generated things that appeared in the first trailer for J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, everyone seems to assume that the simple little “ball droid” was also CGI. According to Mark Hamill, that isn’t the case.
That ball droid, which we now know as BB-8, is actually a physical prop that Hamill has seen rolling around the studio lot. As he stated in an interview with Yahoo:
And when they were demonstrating how they did this thing, live on set — because it’s not CGI, that’s a live prop — I was just amazed. They let me play around with it. [Laughs] I was running it all around at the creature shop up in Pinewood. I’m telling you, it’s an absolute delight. And not having thought that I’d ever go back there, to go back into that world, is just – I get the chills. It’s just so much fun.
Outside of maybe the “claymore lightsaber,” BB-8 was the most controversial aspect of the trailer. Fans were grumbling about how something like that wouldn’t actually work, or how it’s just a blatant attempt to make something adorable. Those fears are mostly put to rest now, as the (still adroable) little ball bot is a real working prop, and it absolutely does work in the environment when you think about it. R2-D2 somehow managed to make it around the desert with his tiny wheels, but a ball with a much larger surface area like BB-8 has is a far better design for the desert. Assuming it packs all its needed tools in that little floating head and can stop on a dime, it is the perfect bot to zip around a desert landscape and perform minor fixes on ships and other parts.
Regardless of your opinion on the appearance of BB-8, or if it’s even practical, the fact that it’s a real prop is another huge testament to J.J. Abrams and his dedication to bringing the Star Wars film brand back to its trilogy roots. Now to sit back and wait for it to be revealed that he got real working X-Wings to fly across Lake Michigan.