Now here’s something you don’t see every day: The “Star Wars” universe taking over Hollywood Boulevard, that storied (and, not too long ago, fairly scummy) thoroughfare down below the Hollywood sign. The premiere of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” was an event with enough razzle-dazzle to fire up even the most hardened denizens of whatever wretched hive of scum and villainy you’d care to name.
I milled among clone warriors who brandished an assortment of blaster weaponry and passed by an Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi posing for happy snaps. Cast, crew, friends and fans, including “Clone Wars” director Dave Filoni and “Star Wars” patriarch George Lucas, who arrived in Marin County-casual for the opening at the Egyptian Theatre.
For me, it had the out-of-body feel of a twisted journey through time and space.
It was 31 years ago that on this very same strip of asphalt I was pulled into the universe of the Jedi Knights and the Force. I attended the premiere of the first “Star Wars” film. It was certainly a less hectic affair: At that time, the solo presence of a Darth Vader strolling the theater aisles and breathing heavily was all it took to stir the crowd. I was covering the event that day for Cash Box magazine (now long gone) and there was no sense before I arrived that I was going to see history in the making. I walked in cold but from the very first few frames I was mesmerized.
This time, a few hundred invitees rubbed shoulders in the Egyptian’s courtyard, sampled snowcones, gourmet hot dogs and ice cream and chit-chatted with those clone troopers and other characters. Lucas himself expressed surprise at the seemingly eternal appeal of his cinematic baby, which has seeped into practically every nook and cranny of pop culture through the decades.
“I am amazed at how it continues,” he said on his way into the afternoon screening following a quick photo shoot with members of the cast and crew. “It’s not something I expected to happen, and not something we spend a lot of time thinking about trying to expand. This was created because I wanted to stimulate kids’ imaginations, inspire them to be creative and to think outside the box. I’m like the tar baby … I’ve gotten into the toy box and now I can’t get out.”
Those who’ve jumped into that world seem utterly content to stay there forever. “Robot Chicken” creators Seth Green and Matt Senreich both relished and marveled at the turnout, especially when my sons, 16 and 12, sidled up and started spouting dialogue from their "Star Wars"-loving spoof series.
“It’s like a fan reunion,” Senreich said. Green added: “I am these kids. I’ve been going to Comic-Con for 13 years, and I was a guy on a panel last year. We’re fighting for the same things they care about. We’re the same people.”
The packed crowd cheered, as expected, from the opening titles, but after the curtain dropped, Filoni paused in the Egyptian’s courtyard, and patiently signed autographs. What was it like to see the movie inside with the big crowd? He confessed that he hadn’t watched it this time around.
“It’s too difficult,” he said, smiling sheepishly. “I guess I’m old school. I can’t watch with the audience. It’s hard to keep your perspective.”
As a visual artist and longtime animator, Filoni admitted he didn’t quite know what to do with the antic reception from fans and press. “You don’t see this kind of thing a lot in animation."
The film’s composer, Kevin Kiner, took cues from John Williams’ original music and expanded on them with a rich variety of sounds drawing on Japanese, African, Egyptian and other world-music strains to help establish the character of various worlds that Kenobi, Skywalker and their cohorts encounter.
“It’s a combination of fear and excitement,” Kiner said heading in. “One thing we’ve done with this is establish a different theme for each planet, so that’s something new in the animated version.”
One revelation: Apparently no matter how long ago or far away the latest Lucas galaxy, every dive bar still relies on a bluesy tenor saxophone to set the mood for denizens ready for drink and mayhem.
The great new character this time around is Ahsoka Tano, the young Padawan who joins the Jedi circle for "Clone Wars," which opens nationwide Friday. In the film, Ahsoka is anything but tongue-tied, anxious to prove to her seasoned superiors that she’s not too young for the job.
Outside the theater, however, her doppelganger went silent when asked how long it took to get into the feline-like headgear and the rust-colored body makeup that complemented the burgundy boots, miniskirt and bandeau top. A publicist quickly stepped up to keep things in character: “She just rolled out of bed that way today.”
The best news of all: No Jar Jar Binks.
– Randy Lewis
Photo: At the Hollywood premiere of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." Credit: Randy Lewis