To celebrate Star Wars Day, employees from Lucasfilm and ILM reflect on what made them fans and what keeps them enthralled with the galaxy far, far away.
It’s been more than 40 years since George Lucas first introduced the world to Star Wars, but the timeless stories are just as relevant today as they were in 1977. Star Wars binds us, as families discover the saga together and strangers become instant friends over the shared language of quoting the films. And in the decades since the first film’s debut, many fans have grown up to take their own journey to Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic, where their love of Star Wars translated into their work as artists, writers, and editors.
To celebrate Star Wars Day, we asked a few current Lucasfilm employees to search their feelings and answer one simple question: “What does Star Wars mean to you?” Here are their powerful and heartfelt responses, in their own words.
Director of Cinematography : Lighting & FX, Lucasfilm Animation
Spring of 1977, in the suburbs of Indianapolis, Indiana. My father made mention of a movie that he wanted us to see. I don't think he knew why, other than it was a movie to take his two young sons to. I was 10 years old when my father presented the full page black & white Star Wars poster image in the Indianapolis Star newspaper to me and my younger brother. I remember clearly sitting at the kitchen table, looking at the poster image, and wanting to draw all of it, and I hadn't even seen the movie. I put sheets of tracing paper over the X-wings in the image in the newspaper, and began to trace the outlines of them, as well as for Darth Vader. I had no idea what I was tracing, or who was in the poster. It just felt right.
That year, my brother and I were caught in between a series of custody battles between our parents, who had been divorced for over 5 years. It had all flared up in 1977 when our mother resurfaced after being away for years, to claim us. I was too young to understand the ramifications of what was about to happen, as it was later in the year that I would have to leave the comfortable world with my father, and live with my mother. My life was about to change, and the only constant was my sketch pad and the traced silhouettes of X-wings and Darth Vader.
My father took me and my brother to see Star Wars; it was May 25th, 1977. School had just let out for the summer, and my sketch pad was nearly full of my own illustrations of what I thought Star Wars was going to be. The movie changed my life. I related to Luke on a level that I had never encountered before. I wanted to be with him on his journey, and most of all, I wanted to know how the movie was created. With all that was crumbling around me in my childhood that summer, -- facing the move to my mother’s house, a new school, a new part of town, new friends, and not being able to go to movies with my father, -- I sank into the world of Star Wars, asking to buy every magazine that had anything to do with Star Wars. In an issue of Starlog Magazine, there were photos of how the space scenes were shot, and how the models were built for shooting. I was not even 11, and I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
As fate usually works, after years of bouncing between cities and custody with my parents, I ended up living with my mother in San Rafael, California in the 1980s, where ILM was located. I was still drawing rebel ships on attack over the Death Star, while listening to my record player spinning the movie score. It was, and still is, my happy place.
In the summer of 1991, I applied and was hired at ILM, and with me on my first day was my sketch pad. I wish that it was still with me, but water damage put an end to it when the garage flooded a few years later. What remains is my absolute love for Star Wars. I will always remember tracing those X-wings at the kitchen table, and how the saga of Luke Skywalker escorted me through my young life, and led me to Lucasfilm where to this day, I supervise how all things Star Wars are lit and rendered for the animated TV shows. There is never a day where I am not excited about creating Star Wars, as I hope there’s some 10-year-old somewhere just like me, studying how we make it all happen.
Content Strategist, StarWars.com
I’ve known I wanted to be a writer and storyteller since I was 8 years old, and it was around the same time that I discovered Star Wars and became immediately entranced by the magic of the saga. My dad and I had always bonded over our shared love of science fiction, but this was different. There was something about Star Wars that spoke to me in a way that no other film or TV show had. Princess Leia made me believe I could do anything I put my mind to. Han Solo assured me that you could still do good and have a biting sarcastic wit. And Luke Skywalker? I was a kid in a rural Pennsylvania town feeling like it was probably the furthest point from the bright center of the universe, but Luke showed me I didn’t have to stay there.
After the prequels, I figured the tradition my best friend since middle school and I had of going to see the new Star Wars films in the theater had reached its end, and I was transitioning into being an adult with a real job at a newspaper, writing serious stories about serious things. I was a grown up with responsibilities, for a time. Then The Force Awakens hit. Opening weekend, there we were in a New Jersey movie theater to uphold our tradition. But I didn’t know then that the entire trajectory of my life was about to change. The first notes of the epic score rang out and I was utterly transported. Every time I watch Star Wars, I feel like a kid again, watching it for the first time, transfixed and hanging on every word. But there’s a special magic in seeing new Star Wars for the first time in the theater. I’ve watched and rewatched the films countless times, always looking for that quiet line I’ve missed or the background alien who suddenly seems like he needs his own spin-off and backstory. Yet, here was a story I didn’t yet know. In Rey, I found yet another stunning example of the characters that make Star Wars feel so accessible. I had tears running down my face by the end, and as we left the theater we circled back to the box office to get tickets for a second showing, then bolted to the parking lot to unpack our emotions in the safety of the car.
The experience had stirred something in me that perhaps I had forgotten was there -- a passion for fiction, and a belief that all stories are important, not just the ones that are true. It wasn’t long before my professional path led me to StarWars.com, an opportunity that I still think was great timing, a little luck, and another example of the ways that Star Wars had taught me that through perseverance and hope, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. And I am so thankful to spend my working days in the company of the brilliance and staggering talent of the artists, storytellers, and special effects wizards who have expanded the magic and the myth far beyond the big screen.
When I started with the company in 2000, I was in film school and my interest in Star Wars was really focused on George Lucas and the independent spirit of Lucasfilm. How did these amazing ideas all come from one person? The same person who provided an environment that fostered creativity in every employee by surrounding them with nature, books, and art while continuing to push the technical boundaries of storytelling? My love for the saga and the amazing people who make it started on my first day and has continued for almost two decades. Star Wars is part of my family. It’s influenced every aspect of my life. The stories and characters have taught me so much about sacrifice, friendship and loyalty. Star Wars fills me with joy, occasionally breaks my heart -- I’m looking at you, Clone Wars and Rebels -- and always gives me hope. I’m forever thankful!
Amy Beth Christenson
Art Director, Industrial Light & Magic
Star Wars has been a part of my life since I was born. It was the first movie that I ever saw in a theater, and my first real memory was watching the AT-AT’s come through the fog on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s been an important part of my life throughout, and not just because it was through Star Wars that I became interested in drawing and designing. The most important thing about Star Wars to me, is that it’s something that my entire family, (extended family included), bonded over in my childhood, and continues to bond over in the current generations. I have so many family-related memories of Star Wars: Drawing Luke Skywalker with my Aunt Dana on the weekends, listening to the movies on record at my Grandma’s house, arguing with my brother over who got to play with our Star Wars toys and video games, driving over two hours to get to a bookstore with my parents and brother just to get Shadows of the Empire as soon as it hit the shelves. We all loved Star Wars, and it brought us closer together. And it’s still going on today, as I can spend time with the younger generation, watching animated series with my daughter, watching my cousins draw Star Wars characters, and having the experience of watching the new Star Wars movies as a family, all continues on the tradition. It’s the greatest part of being a Star Wars fan for me, and the fact that I’ve had a part in working on Star Wars for the past 19 years, and continue to do so, has meant so much to me. Happy Star Wars Day!
Jenny Safay Ely and Adam Ely
Associated Project Manager, ILMxLAB, and Senior Concept Artist, Industrial Light & Magic
Having grown up in the same city, our childhoods ran pretty much parallel. We attended the same schools from first grade through college, but we didn't actually meet until we were in our mid-twenties. It wasn't until we'd both left our hometown and moved to opposite coastlines that we connected on social media. We developed a close friendship and discovered that we both had a passionate love for Star Wars that stretched back to early childhood. In a conversation about our favorite characters I mentioned that for my 4th birthday (waaaaay back in the early 80s) I had an R2-D2 cake. Adam was delighted and told me that for his 4th birthday the exact same year he had a C-3P0 cake! This turned out to be the first in a long series of signs that we were meant to be. After over a decade of long distance friendship we finally got together when we were able to achieve our lifelong dreams of working for the company that inspired us so much as children and brought us together as adults. To us, Star Wars was the spark that ignited a close friendship and led to an epic love. We are both proud members of the Lucasfilm family and we were married last October with R2-D2 serving as ring bearer and our rescue dog, Endor, as the pup of honor.
Senior Editor, Lucasfilm Publishing
When I sat down to write this I thought that my answer to the question “What does Star Wars mean to me?” would be different now than it would have been ten years ago, but the truth is, Star Wars has always been something I’d define as life-changing for me. It did literally change my life, of course, in that I moved from New York to California to take a job editing Star Wars books -- and anyone who knows how much I love my native city knows what a big deal that was for me. And while living out here on the west coast I met the man I’m going to marry, which is as big a change as it gets. But in a more abstract sense, Star Wars changed my life from the very beginning. Being introduced to Star Wars in 1977, when I was 4 years old, meant that from a very young age my mind was opened to endless possibilities. And the character of Princess Leia, both as created by George Lucas and as embodied by Carrie Fisher -- the two are inextricable for me -- meant that I never knew a time when I didn’t think I could be anything I wanted to be.
Throughout my life, Star Wars gave me and my family something to bond over, gave me comfort viewing and reading in tough times, gave me characters to look up to and relate to. One of my college application essays was about Princess Leia. It kindled my love of science fiction and led me to my career in genre publishing. I’ve met some of my closest friends through Star Wars fandom. Quoting the films is like a shorthand language for me. So what does Star Wars mean to me? It means it is a part of me, like my New York-ness or my sarcasm or my anxiety or my love of ice cream. It just is.
QA Brand Tester, Lucasfilm
There are so many things I love about Star Wars that it is hard to put into words. I, of course, love all of the ships, blasters, lightsabers, Jedi, and mysticism. They have had such a huge impact on me as kid and they continue to fuel my imagination to this day. However, something that has kept me engaged and kept my passion for Star Wars fueled are the characters and underlying fundamental ideas that permeate throughout the stories that are told in this universe. The tales of hope, family, good vs evil, perseverance, etc. that resonate and make the universe feel so real and as a result there is a tangible connection to what is happening in these stories. The characters that we have and that continue to be introduced not only through the movies but through the TV shows, comics, books, and games allow for people to identify and feel connected to them and their journeys. I hope that as stories continue to be told more people will become engaged and join the community as I think the only way Star Wars will truly grow is by having everyone feel that they can see themselves in this universe. These things are a bright spot in this world, something that is sorely needed these days, and if we can all be inspired and feel connected then we are truly on our way to being the "luminous beings" Yoda was talking about.
Publicity Coordinator and Executive Assistant, Lucasfilm
I love Star Wars because it brings people together. Whether you express your fandom by marathoning the movies, creating cosplay, or podcasting about your favorite characters, there's always an opportunity to connect with other fans. Star Wars transcends the screen and the pages of the books. I have always felt like it’s a community -- a community of fans, filmmakers, actors, authors, and all of the people at Lucasfilm who help bring the stories to life.
I first journeyed to the galaxy far, far away when I was two years old. My dad and I watched the original trilogy together, and I quickly became attached to the characters -- particularly Yoda, R2-D2, and Darth Vader. While I was too young to comprehend the movies’ themes, these characters helped me connect with the films. After my brothers were born, I wanted to share my love of Star Wars with them, too. They became my Padawans. (I may or may not have instructed them to practice the lightsaber forms while wearing my parents' college graduation gowns as Padawan robes....) We expressed our love for Star Wars in different ways. I enjoyed reading the novels and Star Wars Insider, they loved building LEGO sets and collecting the action figures. We all came together to watch the films and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. As I got older, I connected to a broader community of fans at events like Star Wars Celebration and Star Wars Weekends. I went to my first Star Wars Celebration when I was in middle school. While waiting in a long line for pizza, someone in front of me said, “Stay on target!” It instantly made me feel welcome, and part of a larger community of fans. I’m still friends with people who I met over 10 years ago at these events.
In fact, I pursued a career in publicity because of my love for Star Wars and the Star Wars community. I love how Star Wars is something that people are able to experience with their friends and family, and I wanted to help play a small part in connecting people with the characters and the stories that bring so many people together.
Lucas O. Seastrom
Writer and Historian, Lucasfilm
A good myth is like a good friend. Star Wars has always been a friend to me. Like many kids, I watched the sun go down and dreamed of heading out, somewhere. Little did I know the saga itself would play the role it has in my adventures, gifting new opportunities and treasured friendships. It’s all thanks to George Lucas, just a kid from California’s Central Valley. His mythology has enriched my sense of wonder at this world and all that surrounds it.
Creative Director, Lucasfilm Publishing
Star Wars means the world to me. It's my childhood, my family, and my friends. It's pure escapism and unbridled imagination. It's fun and hopeful and exciting and it has appealed to me at every age, from first seeing it on my uncle's Super 8 projector, to seeing it in theaters, to watching it every single time it comes on TV. It's both a comfort on a bad day and a never-ending source of inspiration on a good one.
Star Wars is my father reading The Maverick Moon to me and my sister at bedtime and changing the ending every night to make us laugh. It's waiting in a line around the block with my uncle to see The Empire Strikes Back. It's my mother taking me and my sister to see Darth Vader at our local Toys “R” Us on Long Island, and leaving us home from school to see the first showing of Return of the Jedi at the RKO. It's playing Star Wars with my best friend every day in the summer and pretending that we were on Hoth in the winter. It's reading and rereading the comic adaptations from Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson. It's collecting Kenner proofs-of-purchase to send away for exclusive action figures. It's watching and rewatching the films, over and over and over again, studying every frame, always looking for something new. It's the music, the script books, and the storyboards. It's the midnight screenings of the prequels at the Midway in Queens. It's the joy of seeing a galaxy far, far away through the eyes of my children -- and smiling from ear to ear at the way they bounce off the couch with excitement when Rey catches Luke's saber in The Force Awakens. It's the exhilaration of the new films and TV shows. (And books -- especially the Luminous ones!) And it's the pride, honor, and thrill I get every single day when I do my job.
To put it simply, Star Wars is magic. It means the world to me, and I suspect that it means the world to you, too. May the 4th be with you.
Creative Art Manager, Lucasfilm
Like every other child growing up in the original trilogy era, George Lucas’s Star Wars hit me like an atom bomb (or perhaps a well-placed proton torpedo) and nothing has been the same since. For the most formative years of my existence, Star Wars was the common language and belief system of everyone I knew, an instant connection point between friends I’d known forever and ones I just met. It was a way for my parents to bond with me and my two brothers, be it the waiting list for the latest Star Wars VHS at our local video store, a surprise trip to Toys “R” Us or Child World (or both) to pick up a new Kenner action figure or piano lessons plunking out one of John Williams’s familiar themes. The heroism of Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo inspired countless hours of play and, as I grew older, to take chances, to believe in something greater, a life beyond my small suburban New Jersey hometown.
And what’s amazing is that, all these years later, those same formative life lessons ingrained in Lucas’s modern mythology have just as much power, if not more, than they did then. Star Wars still connects me in a very meaningful way to the people I’m closest to and to fellow fans all around the world. The magic of Star Wars, the Force, is as real as it was over four decades ago.
Senior Publicity Writer, Lucasfilm
Over the last four decades, my answer to this question has probably changed a few times. As a kid, it was a total shock to my being, rising so far above the mediocre film and television fair of the day that it fully consumed me and my entire generation. Later, Star Wars became a collecting focus, which had started small in the early years but quickly snowballed into a second career of sorts through my teens and twenties. Now, as a veteran fan and dad, I get to see my son engaged in the adventure, able to consume far more than I ever could have at his age with eleven films, multiple animated and live-action TV shows, games, theme parks, books, collectibles, and something I never enjoyed at his age -- the social consensus that being a Star Wars fan is cool.
What does Star Wars mean to you? Let us know in the comments!
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