May 20, 2010

The Empire Gives Back - 30th Anniversary Screening

Last night in Hollywood, fans and stars gathered to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back and to give to St. Jude.  Lucas is commemorating the 30th anniversary by having a year long campaign to raise funds for various charities. St. Jude was the beneficiary of this Empire Gives Back eventArclight Cinemas hosted the event.  Attendees to this event raised $40,000.

I arrived as early as I could, but once I realized that the seating was already assigned I dashed to the restroom.  This is important to note because on the way, I almost put my foot right in front of Peter Mayhew's cane.  Yes, I could have killed Chewbacca.  Fortunately I put the brakes on just in time.  One of his handlers gave me a look.  Mayhew didn't actually notice.

And yes, he is that tall in real life.

Soon, I saw Harrison Ford arrive.  He was followed by Billy Dee Williams and Ewan McGregor.  They all walked the red carpet and stopped to talk to reporters.  Fans were allowed to get pretty close, though my lack of height prevented me from getting many decent photos.  Surprisingly, I only saw one Jedi robe.  Vader and two Stormtroopers were on hand at the end of the carpet.  They kind of had to be there, it wouldn't be a Star Wars event without them.  I also spotted Dave Filoni, Jamie King (the voice of Aurra Sing), and Mark Hoppus of Blink 182.  I heard that Jon Favreau, Catherine Taber, and Christopher Nolan were there.  After I stared and tried to peek between the tall photographers for a while, I decided to head into the theater.

The film was being screened in two theaters.  I was in the smaller one as I had waited too long to purchase my ticket.  Billy Dee Williams came over and stood right in front of my seat to introduce the film and thank everyone for coming.  As for seeing it on the big screen, what can I say?  It was an amazing experience.  I was lucky enough to see the re-release back in the 90s, but my limited memory doesn't quite stretch back far enough to remember all the glory of seeing it big.  For me, the most stunning feature was the sound.  When it is so loud and rich, you really see and hear how much it contributes to the movie as a whole.  The crowd was also great, cheering in all the right places.  Star Wars fans are some of the nicest I have met.

Fans clapped and cheered as the film ended.  Harrison Ford was brought in front of the audience for a question and answer session with Geoff Boucher of Hero Complex.  It was simulcast into the second theater.  Ford was clever and seemed to be happy to be there.  He had to fess up and admit that he hadn't seen Empire since 30 years ago.  He watched Star Wars last week in preparation for the event, and he remembers thinking that Alec Guinness was a wonderful actor.  A wonderful, old, actor.  So he did the math.  Back then, Guinness was six years younger than Ford is now.  Realizing this "gave him pause."

Boucher asked some familiar questions, but I still heard some new things.  Ford feels like he's been a really lucky guy to be involved with Star Wars.  "The originality of it was very striking for the time.  The mythology really made it work."  He also said, that watching it in the theater really showed just how much the THX sound was the "glue of the piece." 

Ford related the story of how he got the part; he was building an elaborate portico for Francis Ford Coppola's office when George Lucas asked him to audition.  He read with tons of other potential actors, and eventually they offered him the part.  Boucher asked him when he found about the big Vader secret.  Ford kind of gave him a look and said he did read the whole script and knew along.  He thought it was a "cool twist."

Boucher mentioned that fans think Han Solo has the best lines.  Ford said he never thought that at all.  He was just happy to be involved and to have a part - "a keystone effect" - among the great ensemble of actors.  He thinks Solo represented something close to the audience's sensibility because of Solo's distance to the mythology.  They briefly discussed whether the filming was arduous.  Ford stated the only "uncomfortable" part was Norway.  He was originally supposed to shoot his snow scenes on a stage, and his costume was built for that.  Not for the Norwegian cold.  He got taken there at the last minute, and the only way they could get to set was on a snowplow train with an auger on the front.  The crew stood in the door of the hotel shooting because it was so cold.  He stated, "Other than that, it was a piece of cake."

One of my favorite moments was when Ford discussed Peter Mayhew and Chewbacca (it was also Mayhew's 66th birthday) and the crowd gave their wishes by making their best Wookiee sounds).  Ford had great sympathy for Mayhew being cooped up in that suit and said it must have been just miserable.  He said that the cockpit of the Milliennium Falcon wasn't finished until the first day of shooting in it.  They climbed in eagerly, Ford was excited to check out "his office," but Mayhew couldn't fit in the seat.  Oops.  I had no idea that he was edited in for the first film for the Falcon cockpit shots.  While on the subject of the Falcon, Ford also stated that no one knew how to drive the thing.  They sort of made up the flying sequence on the spot.  In the first movie, they also were on a strict budget.  They bought toggle switches for the Falcon.  So you could flip them, but then the camera had to switch frames because the switches would just fall back down.  He mentioned that was fixed after the first movie.

Ford did state that he told Lucas that Solo dying would supply an emotional bottom.  Lucas didn't agree, so it didn't happen.  He did get to prove Lucas wrong in one instance though.  For the "I love you," "I know" exchange, Ford and Irvin Kershner thought that "I know" worked much better than "I love you, too."  Lucas thought people were just going to laugh.  But Ford thought it was a "good character smelling moment" so when they test-screened, they used "I know."  It ended up in the film, so Lucas must have thought it was okay.

One of the final questions asked was whether Ford could think of any scenes that were deleted from final cut that were especially memorable.  He answered, "No.  George used everything he paid for."

It went too fast, but for this fan, it was a once in a life time event.  It could be topped by a visit to Skywalker Ranch.  I don't suppose anyone knows a guy who knows a guy?  Hey, it's worth a try.

Star has their report of the event here.


  1. I feel so lucky that I was able to go. I was practically jumping up and down squee'ing the whole time. :D

  2. Fajartoto very happy with your article... very interesting for me to read. Fajartoto will also always visit your website. Thank you for sharing this information with us.

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