May 21, 2014 at 1:37 PM ET
The Force is with "Star Wars" fans today. Not only did director J.J. Abrams offer them a chance to win a walk-on role in "Episode VII," he also gave them a sneak peek at one of that movie's creatures.
In a YouTube video shot on the movie's Abu Dhabi set (which could pass for Tatooine...), Abrams stands amidst tents and equipment as he explains the contest for a walk-on part in the movie.
"You get to meet the cast, go behind the scenes, see the whole moviemaking process," he said. "But more than that, we'll put you in hair and makeup and wardrobe and you get to be in the movie."
The contest is to help launch the new initiative, "Star Wars: Force For Change," which Abrams said is "dedicated to finding creative solutions for some of the world's biggest problems. It's about helping kids all around the world by supporting UNICEF Innovation Labs and Programs."
Abrams directs fans to omaze.com/starwars, which offers different donation levels with corresponding rewards, from $10 to $50,000. Those donating $10 receive a "Star Wars digital badge," while those giving $50,000 get a hometown advance public screening.
But those hoping for a hint at how the new movie will look already received their reward. While Abrams speaks, a puppetlike creature walks into the frame and exchanges a glance with the director. The critter looks kind of like an elderly bearded turtle, and is carrying on his back a complicated pile of crates, one of which is carrying what appear to be a half-dozen long-necked birds of some kind. We're assuming this is one of Luke and Leia's new friends — or enemies — but we've got a long wait to find out. "Star Wars: Episode VII" opens Dec. 18, 2015.