Star Wars Celebration: 9 Things We Learned at the 40th Anniversary Panel
Before Star Wars Celebration kicked off in Orlando Thursday with a massive panel celebrating the franchise's 40-year legacy, the emcee warned fans to grab a tissue. What ensued was a massive rollout of actors, surprise appearances, musical moments, and a very emotional tribute to the late Carrie Fisher.
Warwick Davis, the panel's host and a "Star Wars" veteran himself, began by welcoming Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy to the stage. Then she, in turn, surprised the crowd by bringing onto the stage the man who started it all: George Lucas.
1. Warwick Davis' Letter to George Lucas
"I hired you when you were 11 years old and now you have grey hair," Lucas told Davis.
As the two reminisced about how "Star Wars" was initially conceived, the timeline of getting it made, and their time together on the set, Davis shared a letter he wrote as a child actor to "Mr. Lucas."
Davis read is letter aloud: "My name is Warwick. I hope you remember me, I helped you make the new 'Star Wars' film last year. I hear that the film is being released in this country [the UK] on June 2nd and that a few of the toy shops in London have some of the new figures."
The letter continued: "I hope this is not too rude of me to ask you, but would it be possible for you to send me the very latest figures and walkers? I was hoping very much that there may be an Ewok or Jabba the Hut. I did enjoy myself with you and the members of the film unit, and I keep remembering what a terrific experience it was. Hoping to meet you again soon. Kindest regards -- Warwick."
More than 40 years later, Davis now shared a throwback photo of his childhood self posing with his collection of action figures. (Minus some of their capes, of course, from figures he still has.)
2. George Lucas Had to "Purge" Dave Filoni of "Bad Ideas"
"This is one of my kids," Lucas said of Dave Filoni, as the co-creator of "Star Wars Rebels" joined him on stage. Lucas joked that there were "bad ideas that had to be purged from his mind" as the pair collaborated together for TV.
Lucas said he saw television as "an experimental cauldron," one that would allow him to "put out a lot of product, a lot of stories" in a long-form format. "That's why we put out 'Clone Wars,'" he said, adding that he "would never have been able to put [his TV ideas] in the theater."
3. Liam Neeson's Top-Secret Project
— Nick Romano (@NickARomano) April 13, 2017
The Jar Jar Binks hate is real.
While Liam Neeson could not be present for Celebration, so the Qui-Gon Jinn actor recorded a special video message that also trolled fans with his top-secret project. As he said, he's "on location in the Canadian rocky" filming "a very unofficial movie about Jar Jar Binks."
"Spoiler alert," Neeson added, "he did go to the Dark Side."
"The one that stands out for me is in 'Revenge of the Sith,' and that's when we go to the opera," the actor revealed. The scene involves his character's speech to a soon-to-be Darth Vader.
"George wrote that scene in another office and then he said, 'I think we should go somewhere else for a change,'" McDiarmid said. "So we went to the theater, and I loved that because Hayden and I could sit down and, from my point of view, have an evil chat. And I think it's one of the longest dialogue scenes in the whole of the saga."
Christensen also remembered "being so enraptured with the story [McDiarmid] was telling that I almost forgot I was acting in the scene."
5. Hayden Christensen Had a Lightsaber Problem on Set
Christensen lived out a childhood dream of playing a Star Wars character on the big screen, but such surreal experiences come with their own set of dilemmas.
"I had sort of been conditioned, from a very young age, to make the sound effect [for the lightsaber]," he said. So when he filmed fight sequences with his Jedi blade, he'd inadvertently ruin takes by making the sound. "It was a difficult habit to break," the actor joked.
Lucas eventually went up to Christensen on set and said, "that looks really great, but I can see your mouth moving...you don't have to do that."
6. Samuel L. Jackson's Wants Mace Windu's Return
"We know the long and rich history of Star Wars characters reappearing," he argued, before proclaiming to the powers that be: "Mace Windu is awaiting his return. Let's make it happen."
7. Harrison Ford Surprised Everyone
When you're Harrison Ford, you simply have to walk into a room to make headlines.
Han Solo (RIP) surprised the 40th Anniversary audience by joining Davis, Lucas, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Billy Dee Williams stage.
"It's made no difference in my life whatsoever," Ford joked of how the role had an impact. He recalled first working with Lucas on "American Graffiti" before seeing him again on a carpentry job.
"I was installing a door for Francis Ford Coppola as a favor to his art director. So I said, 'I'd do it, but only at night," he explained. "One morning, while I was finishing the door, in walked George with Richard Dreyfus." The two were there for the latter's "Star Wars" audition. Ford went on to say that: "We just chatted and said 'hello.' The story has gotten a little warped [over the years]. I was actually there working."
8. Carrie Fisher's Tribute Gave Us All the FeelsKennedy returned to the stage at the end of the panel, to join Lucas in honoring Carrie Fisher, who died in December 2016 at the age of 60.
"I've said many times now that she really is a modern woman, and she isn't just a woman that you put guys clothes on her and she becomes a hero," an emotional Lucas said. "She was a princess, she was a senator, she played a part that was very smart." He added, "She was the boss; it was her role."
They shortly made way for Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd, to join them on stage as she wore a very Princess Leia-esque white dress.
Fighting to remained composed through her tearjerking speech, Lourd finished by reciting her mother's iconic message to Obi-Wan Kenobi before Celebration revealed the tribute montage above.
9. John Williams' Surprise Concert
As the lights came back up following Fisher's tribute, the crowd was again stunned to see John Williams standing by to conduct the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra in a live rendition of Leia's classic theme, before launching into the Star Wars score proper.
And this was only the first day! Pace yourself, SWC.