The brightest stars of the Star Wars universe are sparkling at the Star Wars Celebration 40th Anniversary panel
With the build-up to Star Wars: The Last Jedi in full flow, one can be forgiven for forgetting that Star Wars Celebration 2017 has arrived. It is hard to believe that it has been almost a year since the Excel Arena in London, England closed its doors for the last time on what was an incredible event…an event like no other! One that gave the greatest fans in the world their first insights into the wonders of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
And then, on day one…Kathleen Kennedy walked out onto the main celebration stage of the Star Wars 40th Anniversary panel and welcomed us to Star Wars Celebration Orlando, 2017!
She regaled us with stories of the past forty years…reflected upon her first involvement with Lucasfilm before its sale to Disney and reminded us of the man who had created it all…the man, who she regards as her own personal Yoda…the Godfather of the saga himself…the legendary George Lucas!
The packed auditorium erupted with stunned applause as George Lucas emerged from behind the curtain adjacent to the stage and received a standing ovation from the crowd. Kathleen Kennedy and panel host, Star Wars legend Warwick Davis, could only watch as the fans adored the creator of the world we all love to play in. It was a humbling experience, one that was not lost on Lucas himself, who finally sat down for an interview and revealed his personal experiences of creating the Star Wars mythology, as well as its legacy. He revealed that his intention back in 1977 was to create the ultimate space fantasy for twelve year old kids to immerse themselves in as they took their first steps into a larger world…
After an impressive confab, where he discussed the world he had created…as well as the transition of the franchise into the medium of television…Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels showrunner, Dave Filoni was introduced to the crowd and received a warm reception before taking his seat alongside the great man himself. Together, they discussed the brilliance of Filoni’s work on The Clone Wars before the transition into Star Wars Rebels and the series director thanked the maker for his incredible and inspirational support whilst crafting a motion picture worthy weekly serial.
The enlarged screen above the stars activated and revealed the face of none other than Qui-Gon Jinn himself, actor Liam Neeson. He offered the auditorium his best wishes and bade Star Wars a happy 40th Anniversary before offering his theory that Jar Jar Binks…really was a devious Sith lord all along!
Then we were treated to a reunion with the dark side…as both Hayden Christensen and Ian McDiarmid arrived upon the stage to rapturous applause. The Anakin Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine actors took their seats alongside Lucas and began to offer the stunned audience a window into what it was like filming the theatre sequence during Revenge of the Sith. It was incredibly revealing…but paled in comparison to the revelation that Hayden Christensen couldn’t stop himself from performing the sound effects of the lightsaber’s blade as he duelled with his co-star Ewan McGregor. In the climactic duel of the movies finale, Lucas was forced to suspend filming several times to remind the actor not to add his own sound effects. It was a comedic moment of brilliance…and the auditorium erupted with jovial laughter which was only accentuated by Ian McDiarmid’s recollection of his original audition for Return of the Jedi.
He revealed that he was completely unaware of what role he had been cast in…until he finally received his copy of the script and discovered he was set to portray the most-evil mastermind in the galaxy. Lucas added that it was a testament to McDiarmid’s incredible acting prowess that he managed to project the sinister persona of the Emperor, when the actor himself was one of the most benevolent and warm-hearted people he had ever worked with. The conversation continued for some time, with all three legends of the saga affording us more insights into their remarkable experiences crafting the galaxy far, far away but they soon departed…leaving the stage free for the next group of guests.
And, Warwick Davis did not disappoint…
The enlarged screen above the stars activated once again and revealed the face of none other than Mace Windu himself, actor Samuel L. Jackson. He offered the auditorium his regrets for not being at the event…but went on to ask Kathleen Kennedy to bring Mace Windu back from the dead for another run in the Star Wars universe. He alluded to characters like Darth Maul returning from the dead after surviving the long fall into the Naboo abyss…and shared his thoughts that if he can do it…why couldn’t Mace survive his fall from the Coruscant heights?
He had a valid point!
Emerging through the curtain were Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Billy Dee Williams…C-3PO, Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian themselves. As was the case in Europe in 2016, both Warwick and Daniels took pride in taunting one another over their inflated egos…but it was all in jest and the crowd ate it up like the devoted and mesmerised fans they are. When prompted about his personal memories of filming the original trilogy, Daniels eluded to an incident in 1976, when upon his first view of the C-3PO masks that had been finalised for the selection process…he pointed toward the unpainted and mundane mask in the corner and revealed to Lucas…his hatred for it.
And then, Lucas ironically confirmed that the mask he’d hated…was in fact the selected C-3PO face sculpt we all know and love today!
Peter Mayhew then regaled us with his memories of working with our beloved Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher. His heartfelt reflection of performing alongside her in the original trilogy and The Force Awakens was enough to move the fans to tears until Billy Dee Williams persuaded us back from the brink with his smooth temperament and charming personality. He reflected upon his fond memories of filming with his co-stars as well as his affinity for the behind-the-scenes crew, who he was extremely fond of.
George Lucas and Daniels then went on to discuss the journey to Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi where C-3PO and R2-D2 were scripted to walk along the winding path to the palace’s great doors. Unfortunately, with the confinement of Daniels’ helmet restricting his view…he was unable to determine where his droid companion was in relation to the scene. And so, amidst the desert landscape of the set…crouched on the floor…George Lucas himself walked alongside his star, making robotic noises for Daniels to respond to! Both men chuckled away at the story they were regaling the auditorium with as the memory of the event came flooding back detail by hilarious detail…and just as things settled back to normality…the iconic Mark Hamill was introduced and emerged from behind the curtain to join his co-stars on stage.
The jovial crowd erupted into raptures as Luke Skywalker himself sat alongside George Lucas and offered his own personal memories about filming the classic original trilogy. He explained that George’s scripts were incredibly imaginative but his characters’ speech left a lot to be desired. He reflected upon his screen test/audition where he was forced to repeat a speech with a tongue twisting line that proved to be a step too far for even Mark Hamill. It had taken weeks to perfect the line for filming, and in the aftermath of recording the scene it ironically ended up on the cutting room floor.
Hamill went on to confirm that only his tongue twisting scene was cut from the final version of Star Wars: A New Hope…citing Harrison Ford’s hyperspace quote from the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit for special consideration. Having to read the line “without precise calculations we’d fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova, and that’ll end your trip real quick wouldn’t it!” had proven to be the ultimate challenge for the Han Solo veteran. Sadly, he was unable to answer the claims made by his co-star…
Or so we thought…until Warwick Davis did the unthinkable and announced Harrison Ford!
The screen icon emerged from behind the curtain to an incredible eruption of applause…the loudest of the panel and he took his place between George Lucas and Mark Hamill. A hilarious exchange followed and Harrison Ford joked with his director and long-time friend about having the ability to “write this stuff, but you can’t say it!” and went as far as to suggest that he say the words aloud while he was typing them. Their repartee was electrifying…and just seeing Harrison Ford on the stage was a special moment for every fan.
It was incredible…the original cast were on the stage at the very same time at Star Wars Celebration 2017…all except our beloved Carrie Fisher. It seemed fitting then that the icons of an entire generation would depart the stage and leave George Lucas and Kathleen Kennedy to address the auditorium. The custodians of the Star Wars legacy paid the ultimate tribute to our beloved Princess Leia, and as the lights of the room faded into darkness…the giant screen reactivated and played a video tribute to her lasting memory.
It was a moving montage, one that reduced to many fans to tears…and just when we thought we had afforded her the perfect farewell…the lights grew in intensity and revealed an orchestra set alongside the stage…and stood upon the podium, ready to lead his musicians into a rendition of Princess Leia’s theme was none other than Star Wars orchestral supremo…John Williams.
The legendary composer led his gathered crowd of musicians through Leia’s theme before embarking on a rendition of The Throne Room/End Titles from Star Wars: A New Hope…climaxing with the musical finale of the Imperial March from Empire Strikes Back. It was beyond incredible…every fan’s dream combined into the perfect start to Star Wars Celebration 2017 and as the crowds spilled from the auditorium…the fans were left to marvel at the spectacle they had witnessed.
Star Wars Celebration 2017 had begun…and it was bigger than ever.
Whether you were there in the audience…or watching the live feed at home…the Force is truly with us all and we can all revel in the celebrations of the 40th Anniversary of our galaxy far, far away…
Until next time…
May The Force Be With You