‘Star Wars’ franchise celebrates 40th anniversary

Kathleen Kennedy and George Lucas attend the 40 YEARS OF STAR WARS PANEL during the 2017 STAR WARS CELEBRATION at Orange County Convention Center on April 13, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo and Caption by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images for Disney)

Colin Vandenberg

Associate Arts and Culture Editor

On April 14-16, Disney and Lucasfim held their annual “Star Wars” Celebration convention in Orlando, Florida. The twelfth such convention since its genesis in 1999, 2017’s Celebration was significant for marking the 40th Anniversary of the original “Star Wars” film in 1977.

Celebration began on Thursday, April 14, with the “Star Wars” 40th Anniversary Panel. The panel was hosted by Warrick Davis. Disney/Lucasfilm streamed most of the panels on Youtube, so those unable to attend the Florida convention could watch the panels, and still feel the atmosphere and energy of the crowd.

The 40th Anniversary special opened with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy introducing “My Yoda,” George Lucas. Lucasfilm kept the guest-list a relative secret, so every name elicited a roar from the crowd; Lucas himself was not a guaranteed participant, as the Star Wars creator had not appeared in Celebration since he sold the company to Disney in 2012.

As the Master-of-Ceremonies, Davis ran the anniversary special much like a roast, except the overall mood was celebratory as opposed to derisive. Each subsequent guest—including Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Billy Dee Williams (Calrissian)—reminisced about their experiences with the film franchise and with Lucas himself. Lucas described his original idea for “Star Wars” as being a movie which combined Saturday matinee serials from his childhood with “Mythological, psychological motifs.” Lucas also stressed (“…and I’m not supposed to say this…”) that “Star Wars” is “a film for 12-year-olds.” “It was designed to be a film… of ‘this what we stand for… you’re moving away from parents being your central focus…and here’s a little idea of some of the things you should pay attention to.’”

The audience was amazingly receptive to Lucas describing his films as being for kids, considering that that philosophy was one of fans’ biggest complaints about the controversial “Star Wars” Prequel trilogy. The 40th Anniversary Celebration seemed like the perfect opportunities for die-hard fans to let go of their negative feelings and celebrate those films as the being part of the Star Wars legacy. In fact, the fans cheered just as fervently for the previously maligned Hayden Chistensen (Anakin Skywalker in Episodes 2 and 3) as they did for fan-favorite Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker). For Hamill, “I can’t get over the fans. They’re supportive; they’re with you in good times, in bad times. They’re more supportive than my actual family…I’m honestly just stunned at the passion that’s lasted all these years.”

The most enthusiastic applause came when Davis introduced Harrison Ford (Han Solo). Ford made his first ever Celebration appearance, and had made no secret in the past that he much preferred his role as Indiana Jones –as well as those films—to his role as Han Solo in “Star Wars”. Ford began by mocking the dialogue that Lucas had written for him in the original film: “I said to George, you can type this… stuff… but you can’t say it.”

By the end of the panel, Ford embraced what Star Wars means to so many people: “…You can have the most brilliant cast in the world, but they have a story to tell. And the story we had to tell was more than sufficient. It was full of humor, and emotion, and conflict…it was a brilliant invention of a mythology that has sustained interest for more than 40 years.”