"The Empire Strikes Back" 30th Anniversary Charity Screening
Arclight Cinemas – Hollywood, California
May 19th, 2010
RECAPTo commemorate the 30th anniversary of the “The Empire Strikes Back” Lucasfilm Ltd put together a charity initiative entitled “The Empire Gives Back”. Part of the initiative was a screening of the film in Los Angeles at the Arclight Cinemas – with a special Q&A session afterwards with none other than Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford. All proceeds from the event went to the St. Jude Children’s Hospital, a cause Harrison Ford cares about greatly.
The event was announced via The Los Angeles Times, and tickets, which cost between $100-$150 each, sold out in hours. Tickets for a second, alternate screen at the Arclight were eventually released at $75 each and those sold out quickly as well. It was no mystery why this quickly became the hottest ticket in town – after all, the event afforded fans a rare opportunity to hear Harrison Ford talk about Star Wars; something that he rarely, if ever, does. Luckily, I was able to secure a seat in the main theater.
Upon arrival, fans were greeted by none other than Darth Vader flanked by two Imperial Stormtroopers. The press line was absolutely a mob scene, with seemingly cameras from every major media outlet in the country (and even the world) on hand to get a taste of The Force and catch a glimpse of celebrity arrivals – none more important than that of Harrison Ford. Flashbulbs popped and an organized form of chaos ensued as Ford, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew, Ewan McGregor and many other celebrities walked the carpet and gamely answered questions for the media. Several even stopped and signed a few quick autographs for some lucky fans.
Before the screening, Harrison was taken to a green room, where he met with other VIPs and signed a gorgeous piece of Star Wars artwork by ACME Archives, Lucasfilm’s fine art licensee. The piece, entitled “Solo” was created by artist Brian Rood, and depicts Han in front of his beloved Millennium Falcon. The piece was auctioned off for charity via charitybuzz.com and raised and impressive sum, with all proceeds going to St. Jude Children’s Center. The winner truly got a Star Wars treasure!
Before the screening, Kathleen Talbot of St. Jude’s thanked the audience for their generosity and supporting such a worthy cause. She introduced an eleven year old young woman with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (aka brittle bone disease) and the girl’s family. The wheelchair bound young girl’s father spoke of their amazing journey the family has had at St. Jude’s and how the organization essentially saved his daughter’s life. He then announced that the doctors had found a cure (FDA approved) for his daughter’s condition and that he would soon have his bone marrow removed and given to his daughter to help cure his daughter and set her recovery in motion. The crowd gave a roar of applause for the bravery of this family and for St. Jude’s. For most in attendance, who arrived thinking about Wookiees and droids, suddenly the true meaning of the evening came crashing into focus. The young girl ended by saying, “May the Force be with you!”… and the film began.
The presentation of the film itself was astounding. It looked tremendous on the big screen and every member of the audience, despite having seen the film at least a dozen times, was instantly transported back to everyone’s favorite galaxy far, far away. When Han Solo jumps down from his tauntaun and removes his goggles in Echo Base (essentially Harrison Ford’s first visible moment on screen), the crowd went nuts - rousing applause for the man of the hour! The crowd soaked in every moment of silver-screen goodness and cheered the arrival of the major heroes on screen – including Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, Princess Leia and of course, Lando Calrissian. Hearing the crowd’s enthusiasm and love for the film created a truly cinematic experience – something you cannot get watching at home, even on the biggest of flat screen televisions. I realized I was truly sharing something special with everyone there.
After the screening, Geoff Boucher of the Los Angeles Times took to the front of the theater for his job as interviewer for the evening. After giving a quick “shout out” to several of the major celebrities in attendance, including having the audience due a Wookiee roar in honor of Peter Mayhew’s birthday that day, he introduced Harrison Ford by giving a quick run-through of all the unforgettable characters he has portrayed. Then, Ford took the stage to thunderous applause from all in attendance.
THE Q&AWorking in the entertainment industry, I have been to many, many Q&A sessions in my life. But I must admit, I think this was one of the most anticipated ones I ever attended. While Harrison Ford’s somewhat reserved demeanor didn’t create the most “alive” Q&A session ever, getting to hear someone of his prominence in the industry talk about the role that he so rarely mentions, yet made him so famous… created a “kid on Christmas morning” mentality with yours truly (and I dare so with almost everyone in attendance).
While recording the event was not permitted, I took furious notes and managed to pull some quotes (with an assist from Youtube). So here’s a detailed review:
Ford began by stating he was a “very lucky guy”, and Boucher asked him about his thoughts about “being in the middle of” something that wasn’t “just a movie franchise”. Boucher phrased his question by adding that, “…at some point this became something that was almost religious for people.”
Ford answered, “Well, I don’t know that I understood it very well, and I’m not sure that I understand it yet. But I think the invention of it, even albeit thirty years old... the originality of it was very striking for the time.” He continued:
“I think, you know, the mythology of it is what makes it work as much as anything else. And I think George tapped into some psychic vein which made the whole thing work, and that plus John Williams incredible music. And what I noticed tonight, as much as anything else, is the contribution that sound made, the THX system that George innovated was a really – was remarkable at that time and really went a long way to creating the kind of energy that the film has.”Boucher reiterated how important the contributions of folks like Ben Burtt and John Williams really is and said, “It’s like a whole ‘nother character. It’s impossible to imagine the films without them. Ford responded, “It’s the glue of the piece I think.”
Boucher then went on to ask Ford about how he came to the role. Ford laughed and said, “It’s an old story.” Ford mentioned how he had worked with George on “American Graffiti” and then said:
“…I had gone back to carpentry as a way of making a living. I was unhappy with the kind of roles that were coming my so I was determined to find another way of making a living. I was a carpenter. I was installing an electric portico entrance for Francis Coppola in his offices, and George came in one morning early. I worked at night because I didn’t want a lot of people around while I was trying to do this work… and George came in with Richard Dreyfus, the first of the interviews for Star Wars. And we said hello and chatted briefly. And then Fred Roos, who was George’s casting director, asked me if I would do them the favor of reading with the prospective actors that they were testing for the part. And I did that with no real expectation that I might be involved. And after I read with probably three hundred actors they asked me if I wanted to play the part and I said sure.”Boucher then went on to ask him about his knowledge of the major revelation in “Empire” – that Darth Vader is Luke’s father – and when that “secret” was revealed to him. After jokingly saying, “Well, I read the whole script,” (which got a big laugh) he said he was aware of it before shooting and thought, “it was a cool twist”.
Boucher then talked about Han’s character in the film and stated that Han had the coolest lines. Ford answered that, “I was pleased to be part of an ensemble. I never thought I had the best lines.” He then talked about how Han’s role worked “en suite” with the other characters in the film. He added:
“I had a part to play that had a kind of a, you know, a keystone effect amongst the callow youth and the wise old warrior and the princess – there was this character that I thought I thought the luck of the character was that he probably represented something close to the audience’s sensibility because of his distance from the mythology, because of his resistance to the mythology.”Boucher then turned the question to Ford’s feelings toward Coppola, Lucas and Spielberg and what makes them special, claiming they represent a “pivot point in cinema history in the seventies.” Ford answered:
“Film at that time was a very vital part of our lives… There was such a strong audience for theatrical films. The innovations which came along which allowed you to see so much of what we see now at home weren’t available and the theater was – you know, the movie theater – was still a very strong part of our lives. I think that has a lot to do with it. I think there were a lot of wonderfully talented people that were involved at that time. I was just glad to be there at the time.”Boucher then went on to enquire about the actual shooting of “Empire”. Ford said it, “It wasn’t terribly arduous.” He reflected that the one part that was a little “uncomfortable” was Norway, where the Hoth snow scenes were shot, and how his costumes had been built for the stage because he wasn’t expected to work there. But then due to weather conditions and a chance of schedule, he had to shoot outside. He added that he had to be taken to the set in the blizzard on a snow plow with a, “giant auger on the front of it” and that there were times where, “…the conditions were so severe that they put the camera at the back door of the hotel we were staying in and shot out the door. So we were twelve feet from the hotel out in the blizzard. Other than that it was a piece of cake.”
Boucher then asked Ford about Irvin Kershner, the director of the film. Ford called Kershner, “…a wonderful person to work with. He was very sympathetic to actors and a really generous, generous man. Lovely man.”
Boucher then asked about working with “Chewbacca”, and Ford answered that Peter Mayhew was “the hardest working man in showbiz at the time. It was miserable to be locked in that suit.” To the delight of the crowd, Ford then went on to talk about his remembrances of the crew building the set of the Millennium Falcon and being there with Peter. He said:
“I was anxious to get into it (the cockpit) and see what ‘my office’ looked like. But they kept saying that it wasn’t finished, and they’d let us in as soon as we could. Well, we didn’t get in until the morning that we shot. And of course it was impossible for Peter, built on the scale that he is, to get in the seat. And so every time you see Peter in the seat, it’s been ‘edited’ into it. It was really difficult.”Ford then got a laugh as he talked about how when he got into the cockpit he asked, “How do you drive this thing?” and nobody really knew. He then detailed how they had bought toggles switches without springs for the levers on the Falcon. So when he flipped up a few switches, if he didn’t get out the frame quickly enough, the switches would just droop back down. He sarcastically added that, “The film was made on a budget.”
Boucher then asked Ford about having heard that he had encouraged Lucas to have Han die at the end of the trilogy. Ford suggested that he felt it would, “supply some emotional bottom to it all and give it a grounding. George didn’t agree. So that did not happen.”
After the formal Q&A, Boucher opened up the discussion and mentioned that Ford would next be working with Jon Favreau (who was in attendance) on “Cowboys and Aliens”. Ford graciously had Favreau stand for the audience and said, “The luck of my career has always been that, somehow or other, I have managed to work with some of the great directors. And obviously Jon is at the crest of the wave right now, and I’m just thrilled that I have the opportunity to work with him.”
Ford then took a few questions from the audience. The first question from the audience was if Ford had watched “Empire” with his children when it came out and if his children though he was a superstar. Ford answered that he has children of various ages now, but at the time he had a ten year old and a twelve year old, and that they very much appreciated the film. And he added to them he’s just dad.
The next question asked had to do with the famous “I love you… I know” exchange between Leia and Han. Ford answered:
“Film is a collaborative process, and I was happy that I was able to make a small contribution. It didn’t go down so well with George at the time. He would have been a lot happier with the scripted line which is, ‘I love you too.’ But I felt, and Kersh agreed, that it was the opportunity for a more ‘character smelling’ moment. And so we shot that and other versions. We did shoot ‘I love you too.’ But when Kersh presented his cut he used the line, ‘I know,’ and George said well that’s gonna get a laugh. That’s not good. And Kersh and I both said it could be, it could be a good laugh at that moment. I remember being at that test screening in San Francisco sitting next to George – Kershner on the other side – and he went into the screening predicting this was going to be a bad laugh. But I think the audience convinced him it was not so bad. But I take no ownership. If Kersh hadn’t thought that it was a good idea we wouldn’t have shot it. So there you are. It is a collaborative process.”After fielding a question about the character he’ll be playing in “Cowboys and Aliens”, the next audience question pertained to any advice Ford may have received from Alec Guinness during the filming of Star Wars. Ford described the veteran actor as a “very kind man” and said he gave him advice mostly on finding housing in London (where the film was being shot) because he hadn’t been able to find a place to say on the money he was being paid. Ford then said he had watched the film in the days leading up to the Q&A, something he hadn’t done in some time, and remembered how he thought Guinness was an old man when they shot. He then figured out the age of Guinness during the shoot and calculated that he’s currently six years older than Guinness was then. He added, “It gave me pause!”
The final question of the night from the audience was an enquiry if Ford knew about any footage or scenes that might exist that we as an audience aren’t aware of. Ford politely said no and added, “George used everything he paid for.”
With that Boucher ended the Q&A session, and Ford thanked everyone in attendance for the contribution they had made to the evening and thanked George for his, “generous impulse” of using the anniversary of the film to create the opportunity for the event.
Fans scooped up their goody bags (compliments of Junk Food Apparel) and headed into the lobby abuzz. And a magical evening, which everyone in attendance won’t soon forget, came to an end.
CELEBRITY SIGHTINGSHere’s a list of celebrities and notable people in attendance:
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