Fans have been given a first glimpse of Han Solo in the new trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Harrison Ford, who plays space smuggler Solo, last appeared in a Star Wars film more than 30 years ago when Return of the Jedi was released in 1983. The footage from the new film was included in a trailer shown at an official fan convention in California.

The Force Awakens is set for release on 18 December and is the first in a new series of the sci-fi franchise. The event was also streamed live on the internet. Ford, 72, is still recovering after crashing his plane onto a golf course and was unable to attend the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim.

Original trilogy actors Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, who also return after three decades as Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in The Force Awakens, were on stage to answer fans’ questions. Hamill paid tribute to the franchise’s supporters. ‘Over the years, all my entire life, I’ve felt such love from you,’ he told the thousands in the audience.

‘You’re more than just fans. You’re family.’ Hamill and Fisher were joined by other cast members, including the two young British actors who play central roles in the film, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. The relatively unknown Ridley, speaking for the first time about her role in Star Wars as a scavenger called Rey, described her as ‘very solitary until she meets another character and an adventure begins’. She added: ‘I cannot wait to show you guys what we’ve done.’ John Boyega said he was excited but also nervous. ‘I was scared to tell my parents that I’d got the part of Finn’, he admitted. He added he had only told them once the official casting announcement had been made. The film’s director JJ Abrams was also on the special panel which launched the four-day Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim.

He said he had had a lot of fun making the movie as well as feeling a huge amount of pressure in ‘honouring the legacy’ of the Star Wars series. ‘Though there are moments of sheer horror, the opportunity far outweighs the risk,’ Abrams said. Disney bought Lucasfilm, the company behind the Star Wars films, in 2012. The first teaser trailer for the The Force Awakens was released in November. The film was shot last year at Pinewood Studios near London.