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“This is more of a walk down memory lane than a true history course.” With this modest disclaimer, Lucasfilm Creative Executive Matt Martin kicked off a look at the over 40-year history of Star Wars. The hotels of the Disneyland Resort hosted the event. Presented on Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You), it was the first of what is hoped will be a series of guest enhancement experiences.

Images were shown on a screen during the presentation

Disneyland Ambassador Mikey Trujillo warmly greeted the crowd of Star Wars fans in the Sequoia Ballroom of the Grand Californian Hotel. He explained that Martin had begun his Star Wars “career” as a volunteer at fan conventions. In 2007 he was officially hired at Lucasfilm as part of StarWars.com. Today he is a member of the Story Group.

Mikey Trujillo and Matt Martin

Martin took the stage, saying that there was no better time to be talking about Star Wars. Last year, 2017, was the 40th anniversary of the film that started it all, and in this 41st year a brand new film was set to debut. He then talked about himself and his work with the Story Group, a Lucasfilm division that manages storytelling across all the fields in which the Star Wars story is told.

The Story Group at Lucasfilm

Part of their charge is to maintain the integrity of characters and plotlines, something, he noted, that was not done with Marvel. In addition, Martin also works with the Lucasfilm Store, as well as on digital content. He noted that when they launched on Instagram, their first official post received “only” 72,000 likes.

The first official Star Wars Instagram image

Martin stated that he did not intend to offer a comprehensive history of the franchise, but rather his own perspective—a look at things he loved. The talk would cover the Star Wars phenomenon in six distinct eras: Before Star Wars (1973-1976); The Original Trilogy (1977-1983); The Dark Times (1984-19996); The Prequel Era (1997-2012); The Modern Era (2013-Now); and The Future.

Star Wars was the idea of one man, George Lucas. Before creating this film, he had made just two feature films, THX 1138 and American Graffiti. THX 1138 was a somewhat bleak science fiction film, based on one of Lucas’s own student projects. American Graffiti was a different kind of film, one that examined the intertwining lives of teenagers living in Southern California on the final night of summer in 1962. What united these two very different films was the personal vision of George Lucas.

Posters for THX 1138 and American Graffiti

For his next film, Lucas wanted to make another very personal film, but one that would address bigger themes. It was a return to science fiction, with a mash-up of myth, popular culture, and Lucas’s “need for speed.” Martin also noted that the influence of Akira Kurasawa should be given major consideration.

Ralph McQuarrie, an industrial designer for Boeing, was entrusted to create the look of Star Wars. He began by painting a series of evocative images that captured characters and settings suggested by the story. These images were to form the basis of the Star Wars universe for over 40 years.

The first image created by McQuarrie was the upper left painting of R2-D2 and C-3PO

To ensure that these images would make it onto the screen Lucas created his own special effects studio, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). He hired a young cast, with Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher as his leads. The third lead, Han Solo was more elusive. Harrison Ford was originally hired to feed lines to other actors for the audition process, but Lucas eventually decided he was the best person to play Solo. Shooting began in March, 1976 in Tunisia before moving to sound stages in England.

“Sound is 50% of the movie going experience,” Martin continued. Lucas hired composer John Williams, fresh off his work on Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws. His evocative themes would serve the entire film series, and will again be heard in the newest Star Wars release, Solo. Lucas also recognized that sound effects were just as important in maintaining an audience’s suspension of disbelief. Sound designer Ben Burtt is another member of the team who has remained with Star Wars through the last 40 years.

Ben Burtt creates the sound of blaster bolts by striking power cables with wrenches

Martin explained that Lucas also understood the power of fandom. Before the first Star Wars film appeared he took part in conventions. The first Star Wars poster was sold for one dollar at an early San Diego Comic Con.

Early fan conventions and the first Star Wars poster

While Lucas was out meeting fans directly, 20th Century Fox was marketing the film in a way that Martin described as “a little bit weird.” It was apparent that they didn’t quite know what they were promoting, and fell back on tag lines like, “The story of a boy, a girl, and a universe.” Martin then showed a restored version of the first Star Wars trailer.

The original trilogy opened with Star Wars in 1977. It was shown in 40 theaters, first in 70mm, then in 35mm. Audience members could have prepared themselves for the experience with either the novelization or the limited run comic book series, both of which appeared just before the film opened.

The audience reaction was somewhat unexpected for the studio. Fans lined up outside theaters and filled theaters where it was shown. It became an event in its own right. Press coverage noted the popularity of the film and the passion of its fans.

Star Wars fans outside the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood

The first Christmas following the opening of the film found retailers unprepared for the demand for Star Wars-themed gifts. Kenner actually sold a handsomely decorated box, containing a display stand and certificate that guaranteed delivery of the toys within 3-5 months. A board game was rushed into production, essentially because it was based on an existing item in the inventory. Lucas’s favorite item was a mug based on Chewbacca.

After the success of Star Wars, a sequel was inevitable. Before the appearance of Empire Strikes Back, however, one important character, Boba Fett, was seen in a parade in Marin County,

Martin quickly scrolled through a series of images of Wookies at home as he explained that Boba had made one other appearance ahead of the sequel. The audience, in on the joke, realized he was skipping as quickly as possible through the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, a TV production that has since been disavowed by Lucas. The rapid display of images ended with a still shot from the animated portion of the show, with a closeup look at Boba Fett in cartoon form.

Animated Boba Fett from the Star Wars Holiday Special

In a final animated note from 1979, Martin mentioned the appearance of a short film, The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. The experimental film was produced by a spin-off from ILM named Pixar, directed by a former Disney animator, John Lasseter.

The Adventures of Andre and Wally B

That same year, filming began on Empire Strikes Back in Norway, this time in -20 degree weather. The schedule had been delayed after a fire on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining held up the arrival of some key personnel. The film itself debuted on May 21, 1980.

Production stills from The Empire Strikes Back

Following the second film, it would be three years before anxious Star Wars fans would learn whether or not Darth Vader really was Luke Skywalker’s father. During that time, Lucas produced the first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. And in the interim, Star Wars penetrated virtually every facet of popular culture, with characters and references turning up in such diverse places as Sesame Street, Saturday Night Live, The Muppet Show, and the Donny and Marie Osmond variety show.

Star Wars swept the nation

Production began on what was assumed to be the final Star Wars movie in January, 1992. The first day was shot in a sandstorm, although the scene ended up being cut from the film. The rest of the shoot went smoother, and the last film, originally announced as Revenge of the Jedi, was released on May 25, 1983 as Return of the Jedi.

“And then things got a little quiet,” said Martin. The next 12 years are referred to as “The Dark Times” by fans. For many (including our host), this was when they first discovered the world of Star Wars, despite the fact that no feature films were on the horizon. There were two TV films starring the Ewoks– Caravan of Courage in 1984 and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor in 1985. Each did receive a limited theatrical run after their appearance on American television. This was followed up by two animated series in 1985, Ewoks and Droids: The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO. You could even see Ewoks on Ice in a touring arena show.

During this period of time Lucas was also busy with feature films, including two more Indiana Jones adventures, Willow, and the comic-book-to-film version of Howard the Duck in 1986. The same year he collaborated with Disney, Francis Ford Coppola, and the King of Pop Music Michael Jackson to bring Captain EO to Disneyland. The following year he returned to Disney theme parks with Star Tours.

These images promoted Star Tours and Captain EO

LucasFilm entered the burgeoning field of home video games, developing the SCUMM Engine for Maniac Mansion. Martin noted that another title, Monkey Island, had obvious influences on the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise. Star Wars games also appeared, kicking off a series with X-Wing in 1993.

First titles from LucasFilm Games

Star Wars: X-Wing kicked off a popular series of video games

Another way the franchise was kept active during The Dark Times was through literature. The Expanded Universe (now Legends) included original novels and comic books. In 1995 action figures returned to toy shelves. In 1996 the first Star Wars websites appeared. At this time Star Wars also touted their first “trans-media” property, Shadows of the Empire, a story that was told across a variety of platforms.

It is possible to assemble a whole Star Wars library

1997 is considered the first year of the Prequel Era. It kicked off with the awaited return of all three original films to the big screen, as The Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition. Now numbered episodes four through six, many fans saw these films for the first time in theaters.

In June, 1997 shooting began on Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This origin story premiered on May 19, 1999.

With the new films scheduled for regular appearances, there was a rise in Star Wars fandom. The first official Star Wars Celebration was held in Denver, Colorado, timed to take place just before Phantom Menace hit theaters. It had taken a full year to plan the event, but it was worth it. The official Celebrations have continued. Martin shared images of the 2017 event from Orlando.

Shooting for Episode II: Attack of the Clones began in 2000. It was the most expensive Star Wars movie to date. Despite all the digital effects, Martin pointed out that Lucas still used a great deal of miniature work, as well as on-set creatures. Attack of the Clones debuted on May 16, 2002.

Production shots from Attack of the Clones

Star Wars was once again everywhere in pop culture. With so many platforms for entertainment, the characters from both the original trilogy and the new films could turn up almost anywhere.

Star Wars was everywhere

The next “last” Star Wars movie was begun in June 2003. After nearly two years of production, Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith was released to an eager public on May 19, 2005.

Production shots from Revenge of the Sith

Although no more new films were announced following Revenge of the Sith, interest in Star Wars was unabated. 2007 marked the 30th anniversary of the appearance of the original film. The celebration kicked off with an elaborate appearance in that year’s Rose Parade on January 1st. Martin chuckled as images of the event appeared on the screen. He was actually part of the event—as an “Ewok wrangler” inside one of the floats, doling out bottled water to fatigued marchers.

The Star Wars 30th anniversary appearance in the Rose Parade

Also participating in the Rose Parade, and subsequent events in the years since was the 501st Legion fan group. Other organized groups include the Rebel Legion and droid builders.

A gathering of the 501st Legion

The Rebel Legion in Anaheim

A collection of fan-built droids

Star Wars returned to television in 2008 with a new series, The Clone Wars. It ran for six seasons and 121 individual episodes. Martin shared the trailer for the 100th episode of the popular series.

2012 saw some big changes for Star Wars and LucasFilm. Kathleen Kennedy, a producer associated with the franchise for many years, was brought in as President of the company. And at the end of the year, George Lucas decided to entrust the future of Star Wars to the Walt Disney Company. LucasFilm was sold for just over $4 billion.

Disney CEO Bob Iger and George Lucas

Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars kicked off the Modern Era, which continues to this day. The announcement that at least one new feature film would appear each year set off a new wave of anticipation among the fans. The first project to appear was the animated TV series Star Wars: Rebels, for Disney XD.

Matt Martin showed the trailer for the final season of Star Wars: Rebels, which ended in March of this year. He also admitted that he was a particular fan of one character in the series, a young pilot named Mart Mattin, named in tribute to his many years with the franchise.

Pilot Mart Mattin first appeared in the episode Rebel Assault

True to their word, Disney released the first of the third trilogy of Star Wars films within a year. When The Force Awakens opened in 2015, it broke box office records (“Until last week,” quipped Martin, alluding to Avengers: Infinity War). Martin found that many in the crowd had seen it multiple times in the theater, though not as many as he had—14.

2016 saw the first “stand-alone” Star Wars movie, Rogue One. Set between episodes 3 and 4, it was essentially based on two lines of dialogue in the original 1977 Star Wars. It detailed how the Rebels acquired the plans for the Death Star, and relayed them to Princess Leia.

As the poster for the latest episode filled the screen, Martin promised that he could offer “The Last Jedi therapy” for anyone who was left feeling anxious about events in the film. He stated that he personally loved the film, and was, of course, looking forward to Episode IX.

Before looking at the future of Star Wars, Martin mentioned one other experience currently available for fans. Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is an interactive experience offered at The Void in Disney Springs in Orlando and Downtown Disney in Anaheim. After showing the trailer, Martin pointed out that it was playing just beyond the doors of the Grand Californian Hotel.

In looking to the future of Star Wars, Martin cautioned that he could not reveal as much as he would like. He then showed the latest trailer for Solo, directed by Ron Howard, who had starred in the pre-Star Wars George Lucas film American Graffiti. (“Tickets are on sale now,” he helpfully added.)

Martin also spoke of the upcoming series Star Wars: Resistance, coming in Fall, 2018. The anime-inspired series will be seen exclusively on the Disney Channel.

Other Star Wars inspired projects are also in the works. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is under construction at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. It will be the largest single-themed land in any Disney theme park. As had been previously announced, guests will be able to explore an outpost on the planet Batuu, a location now officially part of the Star Wars canon.

Also coming to Walt Disney World is a Star Wars themed hotel. Guests are promised an immersive experience from the moment they check in.

The Star Wars Resort at Walt Disney World

Again cautioning that he could reveal no further details, Martin shared an image of J.J. Abrams, the director of Star Wars: Episode 9. Not even the title of this film has been announced at this time.

J.J. Abrams

And, of course, there was mention of the recently announced live-action Star Wars television series. Jon Favreau will produce and will work with director Rian Johnson, as well as David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the creative team behind Game of Thrones. Again, no further details were offered.

The creative team behind the Star Wars TV series

Acknowledging that it had been a whirlwind tour through the history of Star Wars, Martin then opened the floor to questions. The first was fairly straightforward: Where did the upcoming Solo fall within the Star Wars timeline. Martin explained that the events would take place about ten years before A New Hope. Mostly.

Would Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge contain Easter Eggs related to the Star Wars theatrical films? Martin cautioned that he could not go into specifics, but there would be so many Star Wars Easter Eggs. Some, he said, would be very specific, inscrutably mentioning beverages found in some of the books. “Just go inside and look around,” was his advice.

Batuu, the new planet from Galaxy’s Edge figures in the latest book from Timothy Zahn. What was the input from the Story Group? Martin stated that they worked closely with Zahn, and had even suggested using the new planet. In doing so, they also ensured that the book would be an accurate depiction of the theme park attraction.

On the subject of video games, a question was asked about ones that “don’t work out well.” What was LucasFilm doing to avoid that? Martin replied that they worked with licensees on many of the games, who sometimes had to make business choices. As far as new games, he mentioned Ewok Hunt, as well as upcoming free content based on Solo. He teased that there was other stuff in the works that hasn’t been released yet.

There were inevitable questions about The Last Jedi. After Supreme Leader Snoke’s unexpected death at the hand of Kylo Ren, was there any chance audiences would learn more of Snoke’s back story, as well as the origin of the First Order in the upcoming series Resistance? Martin cautioned, “Wait for Episode 9.” He explained that they did not want to step on its toes by revealing too much about what was coming. He pointed out that we had to wait two decades to learn about Emperor Palpatine’s origin. All you need to know about Snoke, he concluded, was that he was a big, bad guy who ran everything. The story is always first.

And there was an anxious inquiry: “When Kylo Ren said that Rey’s parents were nobody, nothing—he was lying? Right?” Martin shook his head, saying, “That’s the future.” He did add that anyone could lie, but not to lie awake at night thinking about it.

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