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Everything That Happened at Star Wars Celebration’s 40th Anniversary Panel

Lucasfilm
Lucasfilm

For those of us who are old enough to remember the original Star Wars trilogy in its initial release, the fact that this May 25 marks the 40th anniversary of the first film’s release is absolutely staggering. (Want to feel old? This is what Darth Vader looked like 40 years ago.)

Star Wars is celebrating this momentous occasion — 40 is the “ruby anniversary,” by the way, so buy your beloved a red lightsaber this year — at the 2017 installment of Star Wars Celebration in Orlando with a very special panel with very special (and surprise) guests. Here’s the official description from the program:

A very special tribute to the 40th anniversary of Star Wars will kick start Celebration Orlando in grand fashion. The panel, hosted by Warwick Davis, will feature Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and discussions with some of the saga’s brightest stars, highlighting the impact of the galaxy far, far away and the fandom that has propelled it for the last four decades. As is tradition, this marquee Celebration event will undoubtedly include many not-to-be-missed surprises. 

And here’s the livestream of the panel straight from Orlando:

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Here are all the highlights:

-The panel’s host was Warwick Davis.  After a video celebrating Star Wars’ 40th anniversary (and 40 years of crazy Star Wars fans), Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy took the stage. “What I’ve experienced has really exceeded my wildest dreams,” she said.

-The first (not-too) surprising guest was George Lucas, who got a huge positive reaction from the crowd. Davis then paid tribute to Carrie Fisher and Kenny Baker, before shifting back to the early 1970s and when Lucas first created Star Wars. It all started with an idea, that he wanted to create “an action movie that was more like a Saturday matinee serial” imbued with mythological and psychological motifs. The studio thought American Graffiti was a disaster, and he was out of a job, until Alan Ladd of Fox loved the film and wanted to be in business with him. “I’ve got a thing with dogs driving spaceships,” he replied. Ladd bought it. “That’s when I began to own the idea,” Lucas said.

-“It’s a film for 12-year-olds” said Lucas of Star Wars. ˆ“This is what we stand for. You’re about to enter the real world. You’re moving away from your parents. You’re probably scared, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Here’s what you should pay attention to: Friendships, honesty, trust, doing the right thing. Living on the light side, avoiding the dark side.”

-“In the real world, certain critics and fans, they’re not exactly kind. But when you see kids react, it makes it all worth it,” Lucas added.

-Warwick Davis then read a letter he wrote to Lucas after they made Return of the Jedi. “Dear Mr. Lucas,” it began, “My name is Warwick. I hope you remember me. I helped you make the new Star Wars.”

-The next guest out was Star Wars Rebels producer Dave Filoni, who Lucas referred to as “one of his kids.” Filoni said the big lesson from Lucas was “Don’t be afraid.” It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the fans and the reactions and anticipation, Lucas explained. You have to ignore that and ignore the things you can and can’t do.

-“It’s a great experimental cauldron,” said Lucas of why he wanted to bring Star Wars to television. “It’s a way to put out a lot of product, a lot of stories … it really came out of the idea that there are a lot of stories out there.” He noted that some stories are better in long-form than short-form of a movie theater. “A lot of the things we did had never been done before,” Lucas continued. They didn’t know how to do things, but they just figured it out. They created digital effects, they created digital cinema.

-“Your films must have really worked,” Filoni said to Lucas in a nice heartfelt moment. “Because I really got the message they were trying to tell.” He also called Lucas “Master,” and promised to pass along his teachings.

-Next there was a videotaped message from Liam Neeson, who said he was in the Canadian Rockies filming a secret movie about Jar Jar Binks, who did, in fact, go to the Dark Side.

-Up next, a big standing ovation for Ian McDiarmid and Hayden Christensen. “It’s really great to see you guys,” Christensen said.

-Lucas insisted McDiarmid was not like the Emperor. Next, Christensen talked about shooting the epic lightsaber battle at the end of Revenge of the Sith, where he struggled with not making the lightsaber sound effects with his mouth during shooting. Lucas had to remind him not to make his own sound effects. To this day, he laughed, he still does it when he picks up a lightsaber.

-McDiarmid described the first time Lucas explained his character to him back in the days of Return of the Jedi. His agent called and said he had the part after one lunch meeting. “That’s great,” McDiarmid said, “What’s the part?” His agent had to explain he’d be playing the Emperor of the Universe.

-For the prequels, he met with Lucas again, who simply asked “Do you know anyone who wants to play an Emperor?” “That’s me,” McDiarmid said. He also remembered their first meeting, when Lucas said to him “Great nose,” although Lucas said he no memory of saying it.

-The next video message came from Samuel L. Jackson, who said it was an “honor and privilege” to be a part of the Star Wars community. He also insisted that Jedis can fall from great heights, and that Mace Windu is not dead.

-Up next: Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Billy Dee Williams (wearing sunglasses). Daniels recalled standing naked to have his body covered in plaster for the original C-3PO costume. He also remembered being presented with a bunch of different possible faces for the droid, and he loved all of them except the blank one at the end. “Hrm,” Lucas grumbled, “That’s the one we’re using.”

-The blank face, Lucas explained, allowed his acting in his movements to come through the physicality of the character. “It was very hard to come up with a face that was completely neutral,” he added. It wasn’t until Daniels put it on that you could tell what he was thinking.

-Lucas insisted that he had an old dog named Indiana that used to sit in the front seat of his car. He always loved the image of the big dog driving with him. And he thought to himself “That would be a fun character for Star Wars.” Originally the Wookies were what the Ewoks became; they weren’t technical at all. But when he cut the Ewoks out of the movie, he shifted things around, and kept one Wookie, who became Han Solo’s co-pilot.

-When asked if he was a Star Wars fan, Billy Dee Williams said he was actually a THX 1138 fan, and watching it was how he initially got “turned on” to George Lucas. He said the two big parts of the character was the cape and the last name, “Calrissian,” which he called “Armenian.” He also wore sunglasses the entire time.

-Mark Hamill joined the panel. “Meeting you and hearing your stories,” he said to the fans, “it’s really moving, and something I’ve never taken for granted. I’m just stunned by the passion that has lasted all these years.”

-Lucas recalled the original Star Wars audition process, where the finalists all tested with each other for the main trio of characters: Luke, Han, and Leia. He was trying to get a group that felt like old friends and had the chemistry of people who worked together as well. “That and the fact that he was shorter than I was,” Lucas quipped. They also showed a clip of Hamill’s original audition.

-Hamill poked a little fun at Lucas’ original dialogue, which was hard to understand and to speak. “He’s right,” Lucas said. Hamill showed impressive recall of his original lines.

-That was the cue for Harrison Ford to join the panel. “You can type this stuff,” Ford remembered telling Lucas, “but you can’t say it.

-“I can’t believe we managed to keep [your appearance] a secret, given that you landed your plane on I-4,” Davis quipped to Ford, who laughed.

-“I could tell on American Graffiti that he was a good actor, but he didn’t have much of a part,” Lucas explained of Ford’s casting. “I asked him,” Lucas recalled, “if he knew how to fly, cause this was a space movie.“ “Fly, yes,” Ford deadpanned. “Land … no.”

-The original cast left the stage and Kathleen Kennedy returned for a tribute to Carrie Fisher. “She was the boss, it was her war,” Lucas said. “She was that character; very bold, very smart, very tough.” He called Fisher “one in a billion” who could hold her own against anything. “She wore a dress through the whole thing, but she was the toughest one in the group … She’ll always be the princess who took command and never backed down.” Lucas seemed to be fighting back tears through the whole speech.

-To pay tribute to her mom, Kathleen Kennedy welcome Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, to the stage, wearing a dress that evoked Princess Leia’s classic Star Wars costume. She called Star Wars a religion and a way of life. She loved the character of Leia, Lourd added. She then recited Leia’s holographic message from the original Star Wars to huge roars of applause. Another lesson: “If life isn’t funny, then it’s just true and that is unacceptable.”

-A very touching video tribute to Fisher played next. The best line from Fischer: “I think I am Princess Leia. Princess Leia is me.” It also showed how throughout her entire life, she always remembered her lines from the original Star Wars. The tribute continued with maybe the biggest surprise yet: A performance by John Williams and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.

After Williams and the orchestra’s performance, the panel wrapped up. We’ll be back tomorrow with full coverage of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi panel, and plenty more from Star Wars Celebration throughout the weekend.

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