George Lucas Reunites With Original ‘Star Wars’ Cast For 40th Anniversary

Photo Credit: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

40 years ago next month, George Lucas changed the industry forever with Star Wars, a film that arguably created the modern blockbuster movie. Against all initial expectations, the first Star Wars film not only thrived, it became a true cultural phenomenon. Four decades later, Star Wars’ popularity has never been higher, and thousands of fans have journeyed to Florida for Star Wars Celebration Orlando.

The opening panel for the Celebration was one for the ages. Warwick Davis was introduced as the host for the Star Wars 40th Anniversary panel, and he was joined by several guests over the course of the next 90 minutes. The first to emerge was Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, who briefly spoke about her history at the company and how her tenure there has exceeded her wildest dreams. She credited the fans for inspiring her, and the vision of George Lucas. She followed that by introducing the man himself, as Lucas joined Davis for the majority of the panel.

When asked how he felt about Star Wars turning 40, Lucas quipped that he hired Davis when he was 11 and now Davis has grey hair. Davis took a moment to note the recent passing of Carrie Fisher and Kenny Baker, the performers behind Princess Leia and R2D2. Afterwards, Lucas shared the origin of the idea behind Star Wars. He noted that 20th Century Fox executive Alan Ladd, Jr. was an early champion of his career after American Graffiti. Ladd wanted to make Lucas’ next film, and that’s when he began fleshing out Star Wars. Lucas added his belief that the film was made for 12-year olds, and espoused the virtues of the main characters as inspiration for the fans. He then shared a story about filming one of the prequels in Spain, where he saw young fans clearly engaged in their passion for his movies.

Carrie Fisher and Kenny Baker tributePhoto Credit: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

Davis reminded Lucas that he saw the first film when he was only seven, and then shared an adorable letter written by Davis when he was 11 years old. Apparently, the much younger Davis thought that Lucas might forget him about him after he played Wicket in Return of the Jedi. So Davis wrote a very polite message in which he requested the latest Star Wars toys. Davis then took the opportunity to show off a picture of himself as a child playing with the figures before thanking Lucas for bringing Star Wars into his life.

Next, Star Wars animation guru Dave Filoni was welcomed to the stage, and he acknowledged that he views Lucas as a mentor. Filoni worked closely with Lucas on The Clone Wars animated series, and he is one of the primary executive producers of Star Wars Rebels. Filoni said that the most valuable lesson he learned from Lucas was “don’t be afraid.” He added that fear limits you and he cautioned fans not to make a decision out of fear.

Regarding television, Lucas said that TV is a great experimental cauldron, and he explored it because the medium allowed him to tell a lot of stories that he couldn’t do on the big screen. He mentioned that Filoni had to put up with his demands to do things that had never been done in animation before, while challenging the team to figure out how to pull off his demands. Filoni added that the messages of the original films resonated with him, and he will do his best to pass them on to new generations of fans.

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After Filoni left the stage, Liam Neeson’s taped message was played, in which he jokingly told the crowd that he was secretly making a Jar-Jar movie, and that everyone’s least favorite character had gone to the Dark Side. That was the cue to honor the prequel trilogy, and two of the key players from those films: Hayden Christensen and Ian McDiarmid. Both men received a hero’s welcome from the crowd of fans. This caused Lucas to dub them “Dark Side Rockstars.” McDiarmid explained that he loves playing the deliciously Emperor, and noted the opera scene from Revenge of the Sith as his favorite scene.

Christensen added that McDiarmid was an extremely generous co-star and that he took Christensen under his wing. McDiarmid said that he also learned from Christensen, while Lucas noted that McDiarmid is nothing like the evil Sith Lord he portrayed. Christensen then shared a humorous story from Revenge of the Sith, where Lucas had to repeatedly admonish him not to make the lightsaber sound while shooting Anakin’s fight with Obi-Wan. McDiarmid told the crowd that Christensen and his co-star, Ewan McGregor, were so well-trained for that battle that they could perform the entire fight in single takes. McDiarmid went on to share his memory of how he became the Emperor in the original trilogy and the prequels, both of which took him by surprise.

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Following the exit of Christensen and McDiarmid, a video greeting from Samuel L. Jackson was played, as he humorously suggested that his character, Mace Windu had survived his fall in Revenge of the Sith.

Next, Davis welcomed Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Billy Dee Williams to the stage. While sharing memories with Lucas, Daniels mentioned that he hated the C3P0 face when he first saw it, but Lucas countered that the face had to be completely neutral. That way, the performance had to come from Daniels and not the costume. They also told a humorous story about Daniels asking Lucas to “beep” for him while running his lines. Mayhew didn’t have much to say, but he paid tribute to his friend, Carrie Fisher. Lucas said that the rumors are true, he really did base Chewbacca on his dog, Indiana, as a photo of Lucas and his original co-pilot came on screen.

Mark Hamill and Harrison FordPhoto Credit: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

Although he only joined the saga in The Empire Strikes Back, Williams praised the cast for welcoming him into that world. He added that he was a fan of Lucas’ from as far back as THX 1138 and wanted to work with him ever since then. He also credited Lando’s cape and “Armenian name” as the basis for his smooth swagger. Next, Mark Hamill joined the panel, and he’s growing the Luke Skywalker beard again. Hamill told the fans that their support moves him and he doesn’t take it for granted. Why did Lucas cast Hamill as Luke Skywalker? Collectively, they recalled Hamill’s audition, in which he read incredibly awkward lines off of Harrison Ford. Then, to the surprise of the crowd, Ford joined the panel as well. They noted that this was his first Celebration appearance, and Davis joked that Ford landed his plane on the freeway.

Ford deadpanned that Star Wars hadn’t changed his life at all before taking a look back at the way he became involved with it. Lucas said that Ford was pretending to work on a door for Francis Ford Coppola, but Ford countered that he really was working as a carpenter that day that he and Lucas reunited after American Graffiti. Ford cited Lucas’ story as the main reason that the cast bonded so effectively. Davis then thank the cast members as they left the stage while Kennedy returned. It was time for the tribute to Carrie Fisher. Both Lucas and Kennedy shared memories of Fisher, but it was Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd who brought the crowd to mourn and remember Fisher with her.

Billie LourdPhoto Credit: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

Lourd was clearly emotional as she spoke about her mother before surprising the crowd with a perfect version of Leia’s original message for Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope. She told the crowd that Fisher never felt more at home than when she was with fans at Celebration or other conventions. She also quote her mother’s line: “if life isn’t funny, then it’s just true. That is unacceptable.” She then thanked the fans before a video tribute to her mother was played.

But there was one more shock awaiting the crowd. Much like Jabba hid behind the curtains in Return of the Jedi, John Williams and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra were revealed to have been on a side stage the entire time before they launched their own tribute to Fisher. First they played Leia’s theme, before moving into the famous Star Wars opening theme. Many fans were so captivated by the music that they did not notice the panelists emerge on the left side of the room to get a better glimpse of Williams and the orchestra. As an encore, Williams played the Imperial march, and fans were left with an experience that they will treasure forever.

John Williams Star Wars 40th Anniversary

Photo Credit: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images