My friends, it’s been forty years…
It at once seems an impossible thing, but now also an inevitability. Lucas’ “little space movie” could have fallen on its face, should have floundered in the theaters and faded into forgotten obscurity in the dusty recesses of VHS bargain bins tucked away in the waning years of the 1980’s. Yet George’s little Star Wars movie, and those that followed, have endeared themselves to the ages.
Star Wars truly has become a modern myth.
Think about that. Modern myth. The term’s thrown around a lot, but it’s true. Think about the power of the word ‘myth’. No joke, right? Myth refers to a sacred story, to godly stories, stories that teach fundamental facets of heroism and the human condition. Typically, when one utters myth or mythology, it conjures up images of Homer’s Iliad or the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, stories that have resonated throughout the ages. Ages… Despite my love for Star Wars, I hadn’t always truly considered it a story of that caliber, at least insofar as when comparing it to the tales scribed by the ancient Greeks. I mean, it’s hard to compete against stories that have been passed down through the centuries, reminding us that for all of our differences, we’re inherently the same in our fears and desires. Now Star Wars has seated itself alongside the ancient classics, and become a classic itself. There was never a doubt of its quality or significance, it was simply a matter of historical perspective.
Star Wars has also leaped its first generational hurdle, navigated across its first little ocean of time. Forty years on, and its tales have impacted the world in ways few stories in all of history have. The utterances of Yoda have infiltrated our culture, nestled themselves into our hearts, and planted themselves deeply into the collective soil of our generation. And if I was betting man, I’d say the beautifully simple words of wisdom imparted by that wonderful creation, spoken in the gravely, backwards tongue of Frank Oz, have settled in for the long haul.
I don’t know how popular Star Wars will be hundreds or thousands of years from now, but I’d wager characters like Yoda, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader will nonetheless be remembered by generations of the far future, and those civilizations will reflect on how thrilled we millions were, here, now; for these stories and imagined worlds have thrilled us, enlightened us, and carried the torch of our time. They embody us. They represent us. They are us. And thus Star Wars itself will be the myth by which future stories are measured, and the creation by which we are remembered.
Just think, my friends, you were here at or near the very beginning, within the first half century, in the era when the myth was born.
Modern myth, indeed.
Star Wars is our Odyssey, and how delightful that most of those around for its inception were with us when we celebrated its first major milestone on Thursday, April 13th, 2017, in Orlando Florida.
Let me tell ya’, the 40th Anniversary Celebration Panel held an especially exalted place in the hierarchy of Star Wars alumni gatherings. This was, as titled, a celebration, but it was also a recognition of the fact that we’re approaching especially haughty territory. Forty years on, and this thing is just gettin’ started. Hold on history books, looks like we got a live one here! This certainly wasn’t lost on any cast member or producer, and least of all its creator, the man who aimed high by desiring to fill a void that had long been empty, a void filled with the cynicism born of the previous decade. This man had some ideas, all right, but his foremost ambition was to bring wonder and joy back to young minds who for so long had dwelt on the mistakes and hard lessons that had divided generations and further marred an already hard fought history.
George Lucas knew: It was time for weary eyes to look up and look ahead instead of focusing on what was behind and down. It was time for a renaissance of imagination. It was time to enkindle the collective spirit of our nation with hope, pick ourselves up and carry on.
And oh, brother, did he succeed, in ways even he didn’t think possible…
Kathleen Kennedy, Lucas’ heir apparent, opened the celebration’s weekend festivities with the cordial grace we’ve come to familiarize ourselves with. Her enthusiasm is infectious, as is her calm but confident demeanor. As she took center on the celebration stage, she held an optimism for the future of Star Wars just as she praised its past. After all, Kathleen knows a little something about the impact of these movies; she’s worked with George nearly from the start. And her face lit and her smile went wide when she proudly introduced to a mostly surprised room of the arrival of George Lucas himself.
The crowd went wild.
Ah, this was so right! He just had to be here!
I loved Lucas’ anecdotes during the panel. Listening to George talk about the initial inspiration and ideas that turned his imagination towards Star Wars was an enlightening exercise in how the thought patterns of an innovator work. You see, what many young Padawans fail to realize is that George’s ideas spanned every direction, covered every facet of film making and storytelling. The wizards of ILM, which he created, hadn’t a clue of what he was going after until he keyed them in on the pace and look of the epic space battles. The inane dialogue that had the cast scratching their heads while they struggled to enunciate the lines? (Think of Harrison Ford’s famous quip: “You can type this s%#& but you can’t say it.”) Meaningless unless placed against the larger context of a story that no one had the slightest idea even existed. The archetypical characters and subplots based on ancient mythology? Not exactly your standard 70’s fare in a world that had forgotten how to hope, and forgotten the power of that hope. It’s an understatement to say that Star Wars took everyone by surprise, even those who had hands in assisting its creation.
Lucas was at the forefront of it all. He created how to create, in a sense, and that, as much as anything, is his genius.
Perhaps the most touching and lighthearted moment was when Lucas said he had done it for the kids, and Star Wars was essentially a movie for 12 year olds. He basically went on to say that any criticism or harsh detraction of his movies falls flat on its face before the wondrously awe-filled eyes of a child. I couldn’t agree more. We fans tend to obsess so harshly on a myriad of details that we forget to just sit back and enjoy the thing, to let our own imaginations fill in the gaps left by the so called ‘imperfections’ of the movies. Star Wars was created to transport one into a universe of wonder and awe. To work so hard on deconstructing the illusion is to struggle with the very soul of its intent, and let the magic pass you by….
Lucas was a trailblazer, indeed, even up to the Clone Wars animated show, which revolutionized how television was produced. Yep, it did that. Just listen to Executive Producer Dave Filoni on the panel, who spoke on how Lucas pushed him in ways he never thought possible, pushed him to improvise and say, “Yes, we can do that,” instead of, “Oh, there’s no way possible!” Filoni is something of the future of Star Wars, imbued with the tutelage of the past, and invigorated with the wide-eyed possibilities of the future. I didn’t realize how much Lucas had mentored him until I watched this panel. It was almost like the father urging on his son and setting him free armed with the conceptual ideologies to accomplish damn near anything. With Filoni, Star Wars is in good hands.
The surprises were just getting started. A wrong that had lingered for too long was made right on that Thursday as Hayden Christensen, the oft unfairly disparaged actor who played Anakin Skywalker in the Prequels, was introduced along with Ian Mcdiarmid, who played the wonderfully diabolical Emperor Palpatine. It was a delight to see Hayden, who hadn’t attended a Star Wars event since 2002, and the excitement was demonstrable ever since it was announced that he would be making some sort of appearance at the celebration. Regardless of opinions on his performance (he was just doin’ what George asked of him), his character plays a pivotal role in the saga; and taking into account the weight of this celebration, a celebration that covered the entire range of Star Wars, it was a pleasure to see him there, smiling and sharing stories of filming Revenge of the Sith (a personal fav). He seems a warm and friendly guy, and like everyone involved in Star Wars, he shares a deep appreciation for the fans and his place in the saga.
The 40th Anniversary Panel was enhanced tenfold as the familiar faces of Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, and Peter Mayhew made their way onto the stage. Our guys are getting up there in age, but their enthusiasm was strongly tangible, as each one, along with the characters they portrayed, has become a legend in their own right. They’re nothing short of Star Wars icons. They’re irreplaceable, and their presence further enriched what was already becoming quite a show.
And then came the man who in recent years has shared so much of himself with the fans as to make himself seem like family. On came Mark Hamill, who remains as gracious as ever. He stepped onstage to an uproarious welcome. I’d argue that nothing or no one embodies the spirit of Star Wars as much as Mark. And no one makes me more proud to be a fan. He is charitable and endlessly endearing. His continued appreciation and amazement over the fans’ adoration of him seems to constantly surprise him, and he expresses this with heartfelt gratitude. His acknowledgement of the impact of Star Wars and what it means to each and every fan has a way of making all of us feel special. He truly shares something of himself every time he finds himself illuminated by the limelight of stardom. He has a giving and self-depreciating manner that makes it difficult to not love the guy. It is clear: he gets it, and he walks the walk and talks the talk as much as the legendary character he portrays, Luke Skywalker.
If Star Wars had a torchbearer, it would be Hamill, and we are all chomping at the bit to witness Luke Skywalker in action once again in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
And yet, even with Hamill onstage, the surprises weren’t over.
Warwick Davis, who had taken over as moderator after Kathleen Kennedy’s introduction, looked around him and noted how fantastic it was to be sharing the stage with such personas, and how fortunate we all were. Nevertheless, the fanfare wasn’t over as he uplifted his voice and introduced none other than the man himself: Harrison Ford, who (of course) plays everyone’s favorite wisecracking smuggler, Han Solo.
Now the place erupted like a rock concert. Cheers went on long enough for Mark Hamill to give the audience a light-hearted shooshing gesture so that Harrison’s words could be discerned above the spirited clamor. Ford has been legendarily indifferent in his outward appearance when concerning Star Wars, but you wouldn’t have known it here. He was extraordinarily forthcoming when expressing the impact that Star Wars and Lucas have had on his career. Hell, if not for Lucas, Harrison might not have had a career. This isn’t lost on Ford and he, too, was extremely thankful to the fans while acknowledging the impact that Star Wars has also had on modern culture. To see Harrison Ford as genuine as I’ve ever witnessed when concerning his involvement with the franchise was something I think we fans really wanted, perhaps needed to see. He was as relaxed and loose as ever. Perhaps he’s come full circle and is resigned to resist eluding the simple truth that while he may be America’s top grossing box office star of all time, with dozens of successful movies under his belt, he will ever be remembered for Han Solo and Indiana Jones. He is a part of this mythology, and that, beyond any other achievements in his movie career, will live on in history.
As you can imagine, the 40th Anniversary Panel was quite an event, notable in that we may never see such a wide array of galactic stars gathered in one place, at one time, ever again. And yet, for the all the generations of Star Wars alumni represented, a great emptiness resonated throughout the celebration halls and mourning hearts of fandom.
Carrie Francis Fisher was absent.
Our Princess Leia wasn’t there, and that was just spirit crushing and flat out wrong. I have never before typed her full name thus: Carrie Francis Fisher. Yet now, posthumously, it seems appropriate, as if scribing her full name somehow imbues it with more significance. A futile effort, I admit, but a minuscule acknowledgement that things just aren’t the same. Everyone, from the famous guests to the fans’ children, pining to see through the masses of the crowd, could feel the empty spot upon the dais of our heroes.
Carrie shoulda’ been there.
And after Warwick Davis thanked the guests, and Lucas and Kathleen Kennedy offered their own touching tributes, it was with tremendous strength and gracility that Carrie’s daughter, Billie Lourd, addressed the crowd on her own. She spoke of her mother’s adoration for Star Wars lovingly, and how Carrie was so at home at the various conventions. She did a perfect imitation of Leia’s “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi” monologue, and quoted one of her mother’s greatest lessons to her: “If life isn’t funny, then it isn’t true. That is unacceptable.” It was a moving ceremony that closed with a beautiful video tribute.
The wound is still fresh, and it felt as though we needed her there perhaps more than she needed to be there herself. I don’t know. She was never the damsel in distress, but oh, how distressed are we who loved her…
As Mark Hamill explained in his own tribute, it still hurts, and to speak of her in this manner seemed as though we were discussing this thirty years too soon. But we remember, and we always will. The celebration was chock full of memories and stories of Carrie. As much as Star Wars has turned into a myth, and its stars and characters have turned into legend, Carrie Francis Fisher has turned immortal. She embodied one of the core principals and teachings of Star Wars: that anybody, of any age, of any size or stature, could seize courage, stare adversity in the face, and take on the universe. It’s all about heart. Her role was iconic in so many ways, for women, for those who walk to the left of the norm, and for those who embrace their imperfections, and hence become a perfect version of themselves. In a galaxy filled with aliens, Princess Leia was the most heroically, identifiably human.
Carrie will endure forever. She’s already a legend…
So there you have it, folks, forty years, with all its triumphs and tears.
Beyond the inspirational sparks of George Lucas’ budding genius, I don’t know exactly what it took to get here; the beauty of Star Wars’ magic is that its wondrous effects transcend description. I don’t know if the planets and stars were properly aligned, or the gods were smiling, the angels singing, or someone in some rural part of the world got up on the right side of bed, put both socks on the correct feet and tied his shoes just right, but now I do know we’re at the dawn of something that’s going to carry on a lot longer than we are. It’s a gift of the ages, a wonderful comfort to know that Star Wars will endure the length of our lives. Some friends you just can’t shake, and this is one I’ll gladly welcome along for the entire ride.
And some day, when scholars and philosophers look back into our era, they’ll say: “Star Wars; that was born in their time.” How proud I am that it’s yours, and it’s mine. There’s plenty about our age that historians may cringe over, but concerning the creation of this myth, we may celebrate from now until the end of time. The best of stories define us, and the 40th Anniversary Panel recognized the men and women who proudly contributed to the creation of the defining story of our time. In a sense, Stars Wars will carry something of all of us as it meanders down the river of time…
As always, friends, I’m honored that you spent these precious minutes with me, and I hope you take some time to watch the many various Star Wars 40th Celebration Panel videos. An event exactly like that will never come again. I wish you the best, and hope your lives are fulfilling, happy, and peaceful. Stand fast against the tides of eternity, for you are of the Star Wars generation!