Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. My first day at Star Wars Celebration was an unexpectedly emotional one. I mean, I expected there to be some nostalgia and a big wow factor at the first big panel, which had the sole purpose of celebrating 40 years of Star Wars. I suppose even in the back of my mind I expected a reunion of sorts, which should have prepared me for the inevitable Carrie Fisher tribute, but what they delivered was so much more than even my subconscious could have guessed.
The big shocker of the panel was that George Lucas showed up and actually stayed up on stage throughout the whole event, which kinda played out like an episode of This Is Your Life as many of his collaborators from over the past four decades came up and told stories with him. If you missed the livestream of the event I'll talk a little about those encounters in a moment, but lets get back to the capper, the bittersweet send off to Carrie Fisher.
George Lucas is many things. A genius, a truly fearless businessman and artist and someone that rock the shit out of a plaid shirt. But he's not the most socially relaxed person in the world and you could kind of tell he was miserable through some stretches of the panel. I think of him a little like the Brian Wilson of the movie geek world. He's not super comfortable on stage, in the spotlight, but at the end of the presentation he and Kathleen Kennedy stepped up to talk about Carrie Fisher. Both were emotional and George in particular seemed choked up as he talked about his ball-busting collaborator.
They introduced a pretty spectacular tribute clipshow, which they have since released online. Check it out, but make sure to grab a box of tissues and steel yourself for a little smile-crying.
Not only was that beautifully done, but the biggest shocker of the day came next. A curtain to the right of the stage slowly parted revealing a full orchestra (the Orlando Philharmonic) and none other than John Williams.
When the first notes of Princess Leia's Theme rang out into the crowd the hair on my arms stood on end. I imagine most of the rest of the room had the same experience. It was almost spiritual, sharing that emotional resonance with a roomful of strangers. Images of Carrie faded in and out on the screen and with each one came a staggeringly deep memory of seeing her in action all throughout my childhood.
I know it sounds dramatic and it is a little bit, I'll admit, but that emotion was very real and was truly the perfect capper to an event all about the legacy of this incredible franchise that has touched and inspired so many people around the world over multiple generations.
Williams stayed around and got a hug from Lucas, who called him the “Secret sauce of Star Wars” and then conducted the orchestra through the full opening title music from the very first Star Wars.
It's amazing watching the maestro work and I feel blessed to have been in the crowd. I've seen him conduct at the Hollywood Bowl a few years back and it was an amazing evening (he did a big chunk of Jaws, so I was in hog heaven, of course), but this was a cut above. More intimate, more personal.
The whole event had the ring of emotion. I've had some rough critiques of George Lucas' later works, but I've never lost faith in him as a world-builder and storyteller. He is undeniably unparalleled in the modern age. Even the movies of his I outright don't like have fascinating, complex ideas and characters in them. It's impossible for me to look at the man and not see the guy that I looked up to as a kid; one of the first figures that made me realize that cinema came from somewhere. It was crafted by visionaries, not just willed into existence.
So the This Is Your Life structure of the event was great. Seeing him interact with Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams and Peter Mayhew was a treat. Daniels asked him about the art deco design of 3PO and Lucas said it was a nod to how robots were portrayed famously in classic sci-fi (the Metropolis influence is unquestionable). He also said that it was important to him that 3PO's face be completely neutral. He wanted the character of the droid to come from the body language and voice and in order to get that he spent a lot of time getting the face perfectly neutral in expression.
Lucas also relayed the famous story of Chewbacca being based on his dog, Indiana, a big ol' pooch that used to ride shotgun with George when he was hotrodding around. He said that the dog was bigger than he was and that was the first time he thought of a big dog co-pilot.
Hayden Christensen and Ian McDiarmid came in to rep the prequels. Lucas talked a little bit about how he gets yelled at for saying it, but that Star Wars was always aimed right at 12 year olds, so when he sees kids still passionate about this world it makes up for all the “critics and certain fans” who were unkind to him. There's an endless debate to be had here, but I'll keep my prequel prejudices quiet for this moment.
Christensen and McDiarmid talked a bit about one of the best scenes in the prequels, the conversation at the opera in Revenge of the Sith. McDiarmid talked about how at the beginning it was just another conversation to be had in Palpatine's ever-expanding office (which gets bigger as Palpatine grabs more and more power), but Lucas changed location late in the game and really brought a new life to Palpatine's slow corruption of Anakin Skywalker.
Liam Neeson recorded a hello video thanking the fans and saying he's on location shooting a secret Star Wars spin-off movie about Jar-Jar Binks who, spoiler alert, has become a Sith. A bit dad-jokey, but heartfelt. Samuel L. Jackson also recorded a video, once again pleading his case to bring back Mace Windu, saying that Jedi have been known to fall from great heights and survive as well as lose an arm only to have a more badass robot arm put on in its place.
Clone Wars and Rebels' head honcho Dave Filoni joined George on stage as well. Upon embracing each other Lucas told us that Filoni was “another one of my kids.” He wasn't up on stage for long, but he did talk well of George's collaboration on Clone Wars and how often he'd force him to not make decisions out of fear as he undertook this massive gig.
The real fun began when Mark Hamill joined George on stage. He was shortly joined by Harrison Ford and the crowd went full on apeshit. Ford was actually pretty relaxed as he sat with his iconic counterparts (after walking over and giving Billy Dee a handshake and respectful scoundrel bow, then hugging his co-pilot, Mayhew, of course).
When moderator Warwick Davis asked about Harrison's presence at the Star Wars auditions, George Lucas talked about how he was convinced by his casting agent that Ford was placed there on purpose, pretending to build something, so that George would see him and ask him to audition.
Ford called bullshit on that. “I love you, George, but I'm not gonna wait outside for you.” He said he was installing a door for Francis Ford Coppola as a favor for his art director at the time and chose to work at night so people wouldn't be constantly walking through his project zone. He was finishing up in the morning when Lucas was coming through (he thought it was Richard Dreyfuss, but Lucas didn't seem to remember that) about to do the Star Wars auditions and the rest is movie history.
It was a pretty exciting couple of hours sitting in that room as walking, talking film history came out one by one, for this Star Wars nerd it was anyway.
Day One was all about the history of Star Wars. Day Two is going to be about the future. Tomorrow at 11am EST the panel for The Last Jedi will begin and dollars to donuts we'll be getting the trailer. They'll be livestreaming it again and I'll make sure to throw up a story with an embed of the livestream for you guys to follow along with before I leave for the panel in the morning. I'll be livetweeting the events as well (provided they let us keep our electronic devices) if you want to follow along with that.
Prepare yourselves, folks. Trailer or not, we're getting our first real deal look at Motherfuckin' Episode VIII in just a few short hours.
I've said it before and I'll keep saying it until it's not true anymore, but this is an incredible time to be a Star Wars fan. We've had 40 years of epic, world-changing storytelling and here's to another 40!