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Harrison Ford, George Lucas surprise fans at Star Wars event

The Star Wars creator recalls building the movie empire, while actors Peter Mayhew, Hayden Christensen and Anthony Daniels share their own amusing memories.

George Lucas, this is your life.

The creator of the Star Wars saga surprised fans Thursday at the Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, Florida, appearing for the whole Star Wars at 40 panel alongside such familiar faces as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford (also a surprise), Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid and Hayden Christensen.

The conversations offered a look back at the makings of a galaxy far, far away, with Lucas and actors sharing memories. And as part of a tribute to the late Carrie Fisher, her daughter Billie Lourd took the stage to speak about her mom alongside an emotional video.

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Lucas spoke about the origins of the Star Wars franchise to host Warwick Davis, whom Lucas noted was hired to appear in 1983's "Return of the Jedi" at age 11 and now has gray hair. Lucas admitted that Star Wars was made as a film for 12-year-olds.

"The idea was simply to do a high adventure film with meaningful, psychological themes," Lucas said. Expanding on the 12-year-old motif, he said "A New Hope" was a way to show how a young character is told it's time to join the real world, and the various pieces of advice he's given to function within it.

When it came to casting the three lead characters of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa, Lucas said a variety of screen tests took place in an attempt to find which combination of actors could immediately become an ensemble.

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(L-R) Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, George Lucas and Warwick Davis at the Star Wars at 40 panel.

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"I wanted them to have the chemistry of working together built in," Lucas said.

In the case of Ford, being discovered may also have something to do with a very different job -- carpentry.

Ford had a small role in Lucas' 1973 film "American Graffiti," following which he returned to installing doors for people such as Francis Ford Coppola. While there was some debate on the exact details, Ford said Lucas happened to stop by during the install of Coppola's door and it led to them chatting about a science-fiction film being worked on.

"He got the part because in the end I asked him ... I said do you know how to fly," Lucas said.

"I said, fly yeah, land..." Ford deadpanned.

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Billie Lourd spoke of her mother, and delivered a great Leia monologue, at Star Wars Celebration.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

The event took a somber turn when paying tribute to Fisher, who passed away at age 60 in December after suffering a heart attack on an airplane. Lourd spoke of her mother's dedication to the fan base, and popped out a "You're my only hope" monologue as if she were Princess Leia, too.

"When she surrounded herself with fans at celebrations like this, she never felt more at home," Lourd said. "If left to her own devices, she would always be the last one to leave the convention center."

Other highlights from the Star Wars at 40 panel:

  • Actor Anthony Daniels described standing naked as part of the costume-making process for C-3PO. Lucas noted that picking the face for the robot was a particular challenge, as they wanted it to be absolutely neutral so Daniels' acting could come through in all situations.
  • Actor Peter Mayhew on playing Chewbacca: "The way I looked at it was as a mime character."
  • Actor Billy Dee Williams first became a fan of George Lucas from his film "THX 1138." He said the two components of making Lando Calrissian a smooth character were the cape and "Calrissian" -- the latter being an Armenian last name that he decided to use to help expand the character.
  • Actor Hayden Christensen had a difficult time not making the lightsaber sounds himself when rehearsing his battle scene for "Revenge of the Sith."
  • Actor Ian McDiarmid got the part of Emperor Palpatine after a lunch meeting with Lucas. He got the call from his agent he had received the part, but as details didn't come up during the meeting, he had no idea what the role was upon hearing the news.
  • When speaking with "Star Wars Rebels" Executive Producer Dave Filoni, Lucas described the Star Wars television projects like that series and "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" as "a great experimental cauldron because there's not that much at stake." The format allowed for telling stories that weren't big enough for the movies, but that they still aimed to make feature quality content on a television budget.
  • Composer John Williams appeared with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra to play "Princess Leia's Theme" at the conclusion of the tribute to Carrie Fisher.
  • In a video message, actor Samuel L. Jackson proclaimed that his character Mace Windu must still be alive and that he hopes to be back on screen one day. This isn't the first time he's advocated for the Jedi's return. He previously did so on Twitter in June 2016.
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Actors Hayden Christensen and Ian McDiarmid spoke about their time playing very Sith-like roles in the Star Wars saga.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

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