Sometimes fate and filmmaking get tangled up together.
There were plenty of emotional moments within Star Wars: The Force Awakens during its world premiere on Monday night, but a few took place before the movie even began.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt showed up in Yoda facepaint, Rainn Wilson attended in a floor-sweeping brown Jedi robe, Han Solo and Lando Calrissian got a red carpet reunion as Harrison Ford hung out with Billy Dee Williams, and there were phalanxes of stormtroopers in gleaming white armor at seemingly every turn.
It was like a galactic Mardi Gras – minus the nudity. Except for BB-8. (He was nude the whole time.)
Then, just before The Force Awakens started in the Dolby Theatre, an actual mystical moment occurred onstage: Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy spoke to the crowd about the unlikely coincidences in these stories that might be difficult to believe, except they happen in real life, too.
She had a few examples that are as eerie as they are inspiring:
“I can’t believe we’re here!” Kennedy said as the audience cheered. “It’s a real privilege to make movies and everyone involved in The Force Awakens knows how lucky we’ve been to carry forward this incredible legacy that George [Lucas] began almost 40 years ago.
“The Star Wars saga is about a series of seemingly chance encounters. They impact the destiny of everyone involved. So… here’s a story for you.
“In 1962, an 18-year-old boy named George Lucas was drag-racing his car. He skidded out of control and wrapped his hotrod around a tree in Modesto. My step-brother’s grandfather pulled George from the wreckage that nearly killed him.”
This coincidence alone led to some shocked murmuring in the audience. But there was more to come.
“Fifteen years later, I stood in line for A New Hope, just like many of you, only to find myself later going to work with George Lucas and his best friend, Steven Spielberg,” Kennedy said. In the audience, Spielberg and Lucas happened to be seated side by side.
“Steven’s next movie was Raiders of the Lost Ark,” she went on, “which was produced by George Lucas and written by Lawrence Kasdan,” who has now co-written The Force Awakens.
“After its release in 1982, a box of super-8 movies Steven made as a kid had long been lost, but were found,” Kennedy said. “I hired two 16-year-old young filmmakers to restore them. One of those boys was J.J. Abrams.”
Again, an audible wave of surprise swept the audience.
“We paid him $300,” Kennedy said, laughing along with the crowd. “Then we watched for 30 years as his career flourished.
“When George offered to have me step into one of the greatest jobs in show business, taking the reins of Lucasfilm, ushering in new Star Wars films, only one person seemed perfect to direct that first movie,” she said. “J.J. has incredible talent, a love of Star Wars, and enormous respect for George.”
“And Destiny? Fate?” she said. “I had to ask myself: was every one of these events, this whole progression, moving toward this? Is it the Force? I think so. If I’m right, then tonight, may the Force be with us all.”
With Kennedy invoking the concept of powers beyond our ken influencing a group of people in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, her remark was a tough act to follow
But Abrams did it by paying tribute to the man who started it all – one who is no longer involved in the future of Star Wars, even though he has been responsible for its entire past up until now.
“It has been said, but it can’t be said nearly enough, that none of us would be here tonight except for one man,” Abrams said. “George Lucas, from the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of everyone involved in this film – thank you, sir.”
In his remarks introducing the filmmakers, Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger also singled out Lucas: “None of this would be possible without the sheer genius, talent, the guts, the vision of one individual who created perhaps the greatest mythology of our time.”
But Abrams also had kind words for another filmmaking giant, whose involvement in Star Wars has always been as a viewer and champion from the sidelines. “Steven Spielberg was more generous to me than he has any right to be,” Abrams said, addressing him directly. “I owed you everything already, before you lobbied for me to do this movie. So, dude… I’m tapped out. I have nothing more of value to offer you. But nonetheless, I will continue to say forever – thank you, sir.”
Before bringing out the cast and the droids, Abrams had two more people to thank. One of them was in the audience, the other died in 2012.
“To my father, who is here tonight, and to my mother, who is not …” Abrams said. “Thank you for taking me to see Star Wars when I was 10. That was a very good idea.”
No doubt there will be other future filmmakers whose parents do the same this weekend – the first step in their own journey of cosmic coincidences.