Earlier today at Star Wars Celebration, the weekend-long celebration of all things intergalactic, Warwick Davis (who played Ewok Wicket in “Return of the Jedi” and assorted characters ever since) hosted a panel dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the series. It was a surprisingly touching and starry 90-minute panel, one that emphasized the enduring legacy of the franchise and paid particular tribute to Carrie Fisher, whose death late last year has added a dimension of poignancy to this Celebration’s otherwise spirited mood. The panel brought out a cavalcade of the series’ original actors, including Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, Hayden Christensen, Anthony Daniels and Harrison Ford, who sat on stage alongside George Lucas – swapping stories and reflecting on their time in arguably the most important film franchise of all time.
And for such well-worn material, the panel did offer some illuminating surprises. Also, at the end of the panel, a portion of the stage peeled away and revealed legendary composer John Williams, who began with “Princess Leia’s Theme” before launching into a full-fledged assortment of classic cues and themes from the series – a stirring conclusion to a sweet and sentimental panel.
1. George Lucas Still Hates Studios
It’s interesting that George Lucas, who worked for/alongside major Hollywood studios for most of his career, and who sold his company to one of the largest conglomerates in the world, still has the punkish “fuck you” attitude of a recent film school graduate. He again took out his frustration on the system during the panel, when he was recounting the story of how both “American Graffiti” (and the option for “Star Wars“) were part of a larger deal with United Artists. (Universal ultimately released “American Graffiti” , “Star Wars” was made with Fox.) “What you have to learn about studios is if you get your break they say, ‘We want to own you,'” Lucas explained, before adding: “Until you get to the next level and you realize you’ve signed away your life.” Well George, tell us how you really feel.
2. Lucas Says the Original Was Meant For Little Kids Too
The prequels have come under fire from fans of the franchise for being too kid-oriented, a claim that started during “Return of the Jedi” when the Empire was defeated with the aid of what we can charitably consider sentient teddy bears, but today Lucas reaffirmed that all of the movies were for little kids. “It’s hard to realize this, and I’m not supposed to say this, but it’s a film for 12 year-olds,” Lucas began, after a retrospective montage was run on the auditorium’s huge screens. “It was designed to be a film, like mythology, of this is what we stand for. You’re about to enter the real world, you’re moving away from your parents being the center focus, you’re probably scared, and here’s an idea of what you should pay attention to – friendships, honesty, trust, doing the right thing, living on the light side, avoiding the dark side. Those are things it was meant to do.” And with that Lucas beautifully summed up the original film, one about the transition from childhood to adulthood, and how it all came from a movie designed for small fries.
3. He Also Still Really Hates Critics
When recounting a story from the filming of “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones,” when the production was mobbed by fans while shooting in Spain (yes, apparently they shot some of that movie on location and not in a blue sound stage), he still managed to sneak in a jab against his detractors. “In the real world certain fans and critics aren’t very kind but these little kids and when you see the look on their face, it forgives everything,” Lucas said, again channeling that anarchic spirit.
4. Star Wars Animation Guru Dave Filoni Learned from Lucas
One of the most unexpectedly great moments of the panel was when Dave Filoni, the guru behind Lucasfilm’s animation output, which includes the uniformly excellent “Star Wars Rebels” animated series and the just-announced “Star Wars: Forces of Destiny” shorts, talked about what he learned from Lucas. As it turns out, in Lucas’ mind, fear really is the first step to the dark side. “The most important lesson there is he’d always used to tell me ‘don’t be afraid.’ It seems very simple but when you’re coming on board to direct this major franchise, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by that idea,” Filoni said, very humbly. “That’s going to limit you and limit your creativity. You can never be afraid to try things, to experiment, to do things that have never been done. Never make any decision out of fear. That’s key.” Another applicable life lesson from Dave Filoni and George Lucas, folks.
5. According to Lucas, TV is “An Experimental Cauldron”
At one point Lucas spoke lovingly of his television output, not only “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” an animated series that ran for years and helped bridge the gap between the second and third chapters in the saga, but also of “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” his ballsy and frequently overlooked live action series that told the story of the archaeologist’s early days. “It’s a great experimental cauldron. There’s not that much at stake,” Lucas said. “It’s a way to put out a lot of stories.” Lucas said the intent with “Clone Wars” was to do feature-quality animation and storytelling on a TV-budget, something that he hopes the team had achieved over the course of the series and a state of mind that has very much influenced “Star Wars Rebels.” In fact, Lucas spoke so lovingly of the small screen format that it lent a lot of authenticity to the frequent rumors that Lucas was working on an ambitious live action “Star Wars” television series when the company was sold to Disney.
6. The Opera Sequence Was Ian McDiarmid’s Favorite Emperor Moment
When Warwick Davis asked Ian McDiarmid, who was joined onstage by Hayden Christensen, what his favorite deliciously evil Emperor moment was, he pointed to the scene in “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” when he and Anakin Skywalker attend an intergalactic opera. “The one that stands out for me is in ‘Revenge of the Sith’ and that’s when we go to the opera,” McDiarmid said, adding a flourish of viciousness. “George wrote that scene in another office and then he said, ‘I think we should go somewhere else for a change.’ 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. I was really able to connect.” (For his part, Christiansen said working with McDiarmid was “a real treat.”)
7. McDiarmid Said That He Knew He Got the Part When George Lucas Complimented His Nose
Lucas is notoriously terse, even when auditioning actors for roles. This was true with McDiarmid, who wasn’t sure if he’d gotten the job (and what the job was) until he returned home from meeting with George Lucas. But he did have an inkling, based on an offhanded remark Lucas made to the actor about his appearance. When we left that very short and agreeable meeting you said, ‘Hey, great nose.’ I thought, Maybe that means I’m going to get me somewhere,” McDiarmid recounted. Lucas, who was sitting right next to him, seemed genuinely baffled by this detail but the actor assured him it was true and, like any good actor, told it so convincingly it didn’t matter either way.