This year marks the 40th anniversary of “Star Wars.” It’s been 40 years of Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie, Vader, R2, 3PO, and rest of the Star Wars universe. So many of us have known this world our entire life. As far back as my memory goes, there’s Star Wars, and for many of the people in attendance at Star Wars Celebration in Orlando this weekend, that’s also the case. Thousands upon thousands of Star Wars fans are packing into convention halls this weekend to see panels covering everything from the movies to the TV shows to the toys of the saga.
No panel was more anticipated than yesterday’s 40th anniversary of Star Wars celebration featuring George Lucas. “The maker,” as some have called him, was clearly enjoying fans’ love and attention with that sly smile he gives. Sitting in front of a room where people slept on concrete for 13 hours just to get a seat, Lucas told how Star Wars came to be more than 40 years ago.
Throughout the morning he was joined by stars of a galaxy far, far away. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew, and more joined the bearded and plaid-clad man on stage. The event was hosted by Warwick Davis, who first joined Star Wars playing an Ewok in “Return of the Jedi.” His diminutive stature belies the big energy he brings to a stage. He was the perfect emcee for the event.
As Lucas was introduced, the crowd gave him a long and loud standing ovation, chanting, “Lucas, Lucas!” This is a man who not long ago was hated by many in the Star Wars community for messing with the classic films in their “Special Editions” and his not-so-loved prequels from the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Those films, which told the story of how Anakin Skywalker came to be Darth Vader, were green-screen-driven behemoths that featured more than their fair share of bad acting.
Recent Works Wash Away Fans’ Angry Nostalgia
Now, years later, Lucas is basking in the glow of the new Star Wars, the stories told since he sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4 billion in 2012. The last Star Wars Lucas was involved in was “The Clone Wars” cartoon series, which was fantastic, but not as well-known as the movies. With 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” last year’s “Rogue One,” and the ongoing “Rebels” TV series, Lucas is getting credit for today’s quality Star Wars productions.
For the most part that’s fair. None of this would be possible if not for Lucas’s imagination and vision 40 years ago, but it’s interesting to see the nostalgia for the original trilogy and the popularity of the recent movies washing away the memory of the prequels.
In just the few short years since Disney purchased Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy has revived the franchise, bringing us some of the best material from a galaxy far, far away, and allowing new talent to play within the sandbox Lucas created.
That started with J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens” in 2015, which brings us back to the Skywalker saga 30 years later. One of the biggest box office hits of all time, it was very well received by fans and critics alike.
Last year’s “Rogue One” was perhaps the best example of the post-Lucas Star Wars era. Kennedy brought on a young, energetic director in Gareth Edwards and let him make a movie based entirely around one line from the opening crawl of that first Star Wars movie in 1977.
By giving the reins to a fresh talent, a director who himself grew up as a big fan of the original movies, and letting him make a movie that more closely resembled a war film than a typical Star Wars movie, Kennedy and her team at Lucasfilm produced the best Star Wars movie since “The Empire Strikes Back.” Since it was the first movie not based on the Skywalker family it was a huge risk, one Lucas may never have taken.
A Surprise Tribute to Carrie Fisher
Yesterday Lucas and Kennedy also paid tribute to the first feisty heroine of Star Wars, Carrie Fisher. The woman who played Princess Leia in all eight of the Skywalker saga films died at the end of last year, leaving a big hole in the Star Wars universe. Honoring the first princess of Star Wars, Lucas noted the toughness Fisher brought to the original cast.
“She could hold her own against anything,” he said. “She wore a dress through the whole thing, but she was the toughest one of the group.” Kennedy illustrated just how enduring Fisher’s legacy will be: “She will not only be remembered forever by those luckiest to know her, but she will be remembered forever by those not yet old enough to say ‘May the Force be with you.’”
Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, said her mother always loved Star Wars and its galactic-sized community: “Nothing about her was a performance. She loved you, she loved these movies.”
Then they played a touching tribute video, and finished with a surprise performance of “Princess Leia’s Theme” by John Williams and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, who were hidden behind a curtain so well that no one in attendance, and most of the Lucasfilm staff, hadn’t known they were there. As Lucas mentioned during the tribute yesterday, Williams is “Star Wars’ secret sauce,” and he’s right. Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without the music Williams has brought to the franchise.
Today the latest of the Star Wars films not made by Lucas debuted a teaser trailer. This December’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” written and directed by Rian Johnson, tells the story of the moments after “The Force Awakens” ends. Rey trains with Luke, and the Resistance deals with the loss of The Republic. Here’s the sneak peek!
Other than the trailer and the tiniest bit of chatter a from today’s “Last Jedi” panel at Star Wars Celebration, this movie is hidden behind the same cloak of secrecy under which Lucasfilm has hidden all new projects. From Luke’s final line in the trailer, “It’s time for the Jedi to end,” it looks like Rain Johnson’s Star Wars will be pretty exciting. Welcome back to Star Wars, everybody!