Earlier today, the annual Star Wars Celebration fan gathering kicked off with a huge panel called 40 Years of Star Wars. Moderated by Star Wars film series regular Warwick Davis, the event came with plenty of surprises: George Lucas showed up to talk about the origins of the franchise and reframe his legacy with the series, while Harrison Ford dropped in to joke about sneaking in on his own plane. But the real focus of the panel was to appreciate the fans, reminisce about the films’ productions, and pay tribute to Carrie Fisher, who died in December 2016.
The panel kicked off with a short video highlighting the moviegoers who lined up for Star Wars’ original 1977 release, cosplayers who dress up as characters, and fans who pass the films and franchise down to their children. “The love of the fans makes it a worthwhile job,” C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels said in one of the video’s interview clips. In another the late Carrie Fisher explained, “It’s about family, that’s what’s so powerful about it. They’re showing the films to their children and their grandchildren, they’re sharing something that moved them as a child. That does heal people, when you can have that thing in common.”
After the video, The Force Awakens and Rogue One producer Kathleen Kennedy came out to say that the Lucasfilm team considers the fans a part of their family. The rest of the event was a tribute to four decades of the franchise. Lucas talked about the franchise’s origins and how it’s been innovative in the film industry. Other actors from the movie series turned up as surprise guests, including Daniels, Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Peter Mayhew, Billy Dee Williams, and Mark Hamill.
Throughout the panel, participants talked about their admiration for the audiences that have kept the movies going for four decades. They also paid tribute to two series stalwarts: Fisher and original R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker, who also died in 2016. Lucas’ voice broke when he noted that Princess Leia was Carrie Fisher — “very strong, very smart, very funny, very bold, very tough” — and that there weren’t many people like her. “We’ll all love her forever and ever.”
Fisher’s daughter, Billy Lourd, came out onstage to talk briefly about her mother, and introduced a short tribute video of Fisher’s work and legacy on Star Wars, which closed out with a concert directed by none other than John Williams.
The panel proved to be a heartwarming and rousing opening to the convention, touching on the origins of the franchise, and where it’s going. There’ll be much, much more to see over the next couple of days.