Star Wars Celebration Episode II: The Beard Strikes Back

George Lucas is such a maddening individual.  On the one hand, I think the guy is a gifted visual storyteller.  He knows how to play the big themes, and knows how to say a lot with a few images.  On the other hand (and maybe as a function of the first part), he’s terrible with dialog, and can’t seem to put his technological toys down, step away, and admit when something is done.  His continued seeming embarrassment at the original Star Wars movies as they were released shows a profound lack of understanding of their place in cinematic and cultural history; I didn’t grow up with and become a fan of the saga seeing Greedo shoot first and Hayden Christiansen clumsily inserted into the end of Return of the Jedi.  I’ve never been one of those “George Lucas raped my childhood” guys, but he definitely tried to sell it cigarettes out behind the gymnasium.

But seeing the guy on stage in front of thousands of people who wouldn’t have been there if not for him, it was hard not to like the guy.  He seemed genuinely touched by the outpouring of appreciation, and to the fans’ credit, they didn’t let him have it over things like Jar Jar and the special editions (although they did take issue when he said that “everyone under 40 loves the new movies”).  They were whole lot more respectful towards him than Congress was to Obama.

The presence of Jon Stewart probably had a lot to do with that.  He just killed up there, poking fun at Lucas and the saga with the affectionate ribbing of a fan.  This wasn’t a case of some celebrity being offered a gig; Stewart knew his stuff, and seemed genuinely thrilled when Lucas presented him with his own custom action figure (complete with bearded and non-bearded heads).

Not being in the main room was a bit of an unusual experience.  The audience I was with was clapping and cheering as if they were right there.  Now granted, I’ve yelled at a football game or two in my day, but that strikes me as a little more normal than loudly cheering a clip from the new season of Clone Wars when the creator is one floor up and a couple of hundred feet over.  And when the big reveal in that clip is that the new bad guy is Darth Maul’s brother.  The whole thing has become too self-referential, too confined.  It’s the same problem that’s doomed the Star Trek books — the desire to make everything from the older material firmly linked to the newer material.  It’s getting to the point where we’re going to find out the Death Star is the Millennium Falcon’s father.

There was a moment when Stewart teased a special guest where I geeked out though.  The music from the asteroid scene in Empire kicked in, and I thought, “OMG HOLY CRAP THEY GOT HARRISON FORD TO COME.”  But it was just Mark Hamill, who apparently resisted the urge to charge everyone in the room for looking at him.  Then Carrie Fisher came out to complete the “Special Guest Appearances By People Who Were Here Anyway” portion of the show.  It was cool seeing them all on stage together (and there seemed to be truly happy to be around each other), but it was more than a little depressing to see how old they’ve gotten.  If Lucas does ever make Episode VII, Hamill’s got no choice but to take the Alec Guinness role.

Then Stewart gave communion and announced the recessional and it was off to the rest of the con.


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