8 things we learned from Star Wars Day

Special guests and awe-inspiring fancy dress made back-to-back screenings of the original Star Wars trilogy at BFI Southbank a day to remember. Here’s what we’ll take away from it.

Matthew Thrift
Updated:

Star Wars Day

Star Wars Day
Credit: Yves Salmon

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Well, ok, last Saturday at BFI Southbank …

“We’re not going to be talking about the prequels, or the upcoming film. Today is just about the original trilogy.”

This was going to be a good day.

Playing to a sold out NFT1 as part of the current sci-fi season, here was Star Wars, back on the big screen where it belonged … Sure, it was the special editions, but it’s still a little early for Christmas miracles.

In any case, a few superfluous CGI flourishes weren’t going to detract from the atmosphere in the room as the BFI’s Laura Adams and Justin “I’ve come as the Death Star” Johnson took to the stage to announce the day’s programme.

With special guests ranging from The Empire Strikes Back’s 2nd assistant director and “left arm and tongue” puppeteer of Jabba the Hut, to script supervisors, Mos Eisley roadblock stormtroopers, Garrick Hagon (the actor who plays Biggs Darklighter, the starfighter pilot that helps Luke destroy the Death Star), and even a certain Greedo – this was definitely a day for the fans.

With fancy dress encouraged – and plenty happy to oblige – it was refreshing to escape the incessant online speculation of a sequel still a year away and remember why we’re all excited about it in the first place.

Star Wars Day

Star Wars Day
Credit: Yves Salmon

Here are a few things we learned at BFI Southbank’s Star Wars Day …

1. These films really do belong on the big screen.

It’s not often you see cinema audiences whip out their camera phones like lighters at a concert to snap a picture of a film’s title card, but 37 years after its initial release, a big screen viewing of Star Wars remains an event. Despite the majority of Saturday’s audience knowing the films inside-out, the buzz in the room was palpable, not least when the first notes of John Williams’s magnificent score sounded out. In fact, for all the show-stopping set pieces and striking visuals, it was the stunningly immersive sound design that won the day. That and the shared experience of a terrific audience, something even the costliest home cinema setup couldn’t hope to replicate.

2. Some audience members had never seen a Star Wars film.

Judging by the volume of audible gasps elicited as a smattering of hands shot up in answer to whether there were audience members present who would be viewing Star Wars for the first time, one could be forgiven for thinking that a herd of unicorns had just tap-danced their way through NFT1. Yet here the first-timers were: some admittedly under 10 years old, others with no such excuse. It all led to some comic on-stage tiptoeing around a pretty big narrative reveal at the end of Empire, entirely worthwhile for the squeal of “No way!” from Row J as the conker of truth finally fell from Luke’s family tree.

Star Wars Day

Star Wars Day
Credit: Yves Salmon

3. Some people really know their Star Wars facts.

You may have seen the original trilogy a dozen times over the years, but unless you could recite the opening crawl of A New Hope word for word or roll call the names of the series’ bounty hunters, chances are you wouldn’t have left with any of the goodies handed out during the day’s numerous quizzes. There were plenty that could though, even if all finally paled in comparison to the young boy overheard near the bookshop, vigorously extolling the design intricacies of the Millennium Falcon to the patiently bemused parent staring wistfully into a depleted glass of Pinot.

4. The special editions remain as controversial as ever.

As more and more childhood favourites find themselves either rebooted or forced to share a home with their geriatrically challenged sequels, there’s always comfort in the fact that if we choose to, we can simply eschew the spray-tanned fakery of the latest incarnation and bask instead in the warm rays of nostalgia.

Yet, with the 1997 special editions of the Star Wars trilogy the only versions in official circulation, a big-screen viewing makes the dated anniversary additions stick out like a sore thumb. And didn’t the audience know it (the loudest boos saved for Hayden Christensen’s spectral appearance at the end of Return of the Jedi). Director George Lucas clearly meant to impose closer ties to his prequels retrospectively, but if you’ve just broken a leg, it’s hard to see the logic in breaking the other one in the name of symmetry.

5. Star Wars fans take their cosplay seriously.




Star Wars Day costumes

Star Wars Day costumes
Credit: Matthew Thrift

6. The cognoscenti’s favourite.

Yes, there were swooning sighs aplenty at Han Solo’s immortal “I know”, and chuckles at Lando’s ladies-man swagger, but the trilogy’s biggest cheers were saved for one Admiral Ackbar. He may not have rocked up until Return of the Jedi, but there was definitely something in his fish-eyed gaze and gruff delivery that was catnip for fans, the response to his entrance alone heralding him as the Mon Calamari Harry Styles of the Rebel Alliance.

7. Production minutiae continue to fascinate.

Script supervisor Ann Skinner was on hand to introduce the first of the films, explaining her role on the first production. And an idea of what it meant to monitor continuity on the original Star Wars film could be found in the Atrium (in an exhibition running until 4 January), where pages from her annotated shooting script are on display alongside numerous production Polaroids.

Polaroid of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker from Star Wars (1977)

Polaroid of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker from Star Wars (1977)
Credit: BFI National Archive/© & TM Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Used Under Authorization.

It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse at the work that goes into one of the less glamorous – but essential – roles on set, and a chance to decide for yourself if you agree with Harrison Ford’s famous complaint of Lucas’s script: “You can type this shit, George, but you sure can’t say it.”

8. Darth Vader doesn’t like to be touched.

Star Wars Day exhibit

Star Wars Day exhibit
Credit: Matthew Thrift

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