Star Wars Celebration Orlando kicked off with a bang at its 40th anniversary panel. The panel started by introducing Warwick Davis as our host and played an amazing behind-the-scenes featurette that was full of goodies. Davis then brought out many cast members of previous Star Wars films, including Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford.
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy came on stage to thank the crowd for making 40 years of Star Wars possible and then she introduced the man who started it all: George Lucas, who gave us the story on how he created the franchise. He also told the honest truth that it was created for 12-year-olds:
“I’m not supposed to say this and I wasn’t supposed to say this then… You know, it’s a film for 12 year-olds”
Right afterwards, Lucas introduced us to the executive producer of Star Wars Rebels, Dave Filoni. He then continued to talk about the program that created The Clone Wars and now Rebels.
“We did it and the show got incredibly better because of it. It really came out of the idea that there’s a lot of stories there, I would come in in the morning and say we’re gonna do this and this and this and this and their jaws would drop and they’d say, ‘We’re not really gonna do this are we?’ A lot of the things we’d done had never been done before. With ILM, we went from old fashioned visual effects to digital effects and created the digital cinema. It was the same thing with animation, especially the Clone Wars, which we were trying very hard and I think we succeeded in doing a feature quality TV show. The lighting, the characters, and animation was all feature quality and we did it on a TV budget.”
The panel went to a hilarious video message from Liam Neeson, who gave us a huge spoiler: Jar Jar Binks has turned to the dark side. After the video, Hayden Christensen and Ian McDiarmid (Darth Vader and The Emperor) talked about their part in the 40 years of Star Wars. McDiarmid said the following:
“The one that stands out for me is in Revenge of the Sith and that’s when we got to go to the opera, Hayden and I could really sit down and — from my point of view anyway — have an evil chat. I think it’s one of the longest dialogue scenes in the whole of the saga. I was allowed to tell a story and really connect.”
Meanwhile, Christensen spoke about his love for lightsabers:
“All of the lightsaber work was some of my favorite parts of getting to play this character and be a part of the Star Wars world. It was just a childhood dream come true. I had been conditioned from a very young age to make the sound effect when you’re swinging a ligthsaber… it was a difficult habit to break. Lucas would come over and say, ‘that looks really great but I can see your mouth moving and you don’t have to do that, we add the sound effects in afterwards.’”
As McDiarmid and Christensen left we were treated to another video message, this time from the legendary Samuel L. Jackson. In the video, Jackson gave us his take on why Mace Windu didn’t die and how they could use him in future Star Wars films.
Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels then hit the stage and Lucas told us how he created the Wookiee race:
“Originally, the Wookies were what the Ewoks became. They weren’t technical at all — they were primitive, but I decided to save one and make him the co-pilot and that’s really how we ended up with his [Mayhew] starring role.”
Davis then brought Mark Hamill to the stage to add to the conversation with his former and current co-stars. Hamill talked a bit about the fans and his audition process to which there was a video that was displayed on the big screen for the crowd to see. Then his scene-stealing co-star Harrison Ford took the stage and the crowd went nuts. Davis proceeded to make joke about Ford’s recent piloting snafus, saying:
“I can’t believe we managed to keep it a secret considering you landed your plane on I-4.”
Ford continued to play on the piloting rift after Lucas told a story about how he got the role of Han Solo. “It was the beginning of an incredible ride. It’s been a good ride,” said the actor.
When Lucas asked Ford if he knew how to fly, the Han Solo actor in a joking manner stated: “I said, ‘Fly? Yeah. Land?’”
After all was said and done the panel moved on to a somber note that touched the entire crowd — a tribute to Carrie Fisher. Lucas led the tribute by saying a few words:
“She wasn’t just an actress with guys’ clothes on and she becomes a hero. She was a princess, a senator and she played a part that was very smart, and she had to hold her own against tow big lugs, two big goofballs. She was the boss — it was her war. I wanted someone young to play the part. When Carrie was the character, she was very smart, very bold, very thoughtful. There really wasn’t much of a question. There aren’t that many people like her. There’s one in a billion.”
Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, who was also in attendance, took the stage and gave an emotional speech dedicated to her mother that concluded with her reciting Fisher’s iconic lines, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” The panel concluded with a huge surprise: a live orchestra tribute led by John Williams.
For more news from Star Wars Celebration Orlando tune into Heroic Hollywood and follow me @NateBrail on Twitter, where I’ll be live tweeting during all the major panels.