Long time host of Star Wars Celebration, David Collins, compèred the hour long and catchily titled "20 Years Of The LEGO Star Wars Story – A Retrospective And Forward Look" on the Galaxy Stage between 1:30 and 2:30 pm on Friday, April 12th.
Starting off the panel on an empty stage, David reminded the audience that the Star Wars license was the first time that LEGO licensed a property and turned someone else’s story and characters, instead of developing their own like they had done with Ninjago and Bionicles, into the wildly popular LEGO Star Wars theme. And as remarkable as that sounded the LEGO Star Wars theme is the only line that has never been out of production since day one!
Promising a "journey through LEGO Star Wars consumer products, content/animation and video game evolution from the beginning into present day and a glimpse into the future", the talk opened with a showreel of classic LEGO Star Wars TV commercials from the earliest years, whetting the appetite of the gathered audience.
With the short video clip over and the house lights back up, host David introduced the panel of talking heads (right to left): Jens Kronvold Frederiksen (Creative Director of the LEGO Star Wars line), Chris Gollaher (Heach of Product Development at Lucasfilm), Theresa Christoffersen (Senior Global Marketing Manager of the LEGO Star Wars line), Michael Price (creator of The Padawan Menace & LEGO Star Wars franchise writer at Lucasfilm), Keith Malone (Director of Entertainment and Content Development at LEGO), Josh Rimes (Creative Executive with Lucasfilm Story Group), Jeremy Pardon (Head of Animation at Traveller's Tales) and Doug Reilly (Vice President of Games at Lucasfilm).
Rather than being product review with a corporate feel, the content of the discussion was made personal by the first round of conversation as each of the panellists shared their early childhood experiences of LEGO and earliest Star Wars memories. Unsurprisingly, given the average age of the panel was in the mid-40s, most of the answers dated from viewings of Star Wars in the lates '70s/early '80s. The most original and interesting answer was given by Theresa, who shared that as a young girl she got to go to the LEGO factory in Billund on "take your child to work" days, because both her parents worked there.
Bridging the gap - but not quite - to the present day, Jens explained how he made his way on to the LEGO Star Wars team in 1998 after finding some early concept builds in one of the offices in Billund. This was before the contract between Lucasfilm and LEGO had been signed and he was still in his first year as a designer at LEGO. It wasn't until early 1998 when he was able to work on the Y-wing in 7140 TIE Fighter and Y-wing - which was to be his first LEGO Star Wars design.
Chris added to the story, recalling his first meeting with Jens when the LEGO contingent travelledfrom Billund to Skywalker Ranch to show the product development team their concept models for The Phantom Menace sets. When suggesting a modification to one of the podracers, Chris chuckled when he told the audience how Jens leapt out of his seat, dashed out of the room and reappeared less than a minute later with a fix. "That's when I knew this guy had every LEGO brick memorised!"
Being sure to stick to the three main talking points, host David reminded the audience that there have been a lot of milestone moments over the last twenty years of working together to develop construction toys and expand the LEGO Star Wars franchise, and gave the panel a chance to contribute their favourite moment of the previous two decades:
Michael Price explained that, for him, his main stand out experience was developing The Resistance Rises, a streamed animated prequel series set before The Force Awakens, without knowing what the movie was about, nor who any of the characters or situations were. Luckily it didn't mar his first viewing of the seventh Star Wars movie.
In a similar vein, Doug spoke about having to work with Jeremy at Traveller's Tales games in 2005 to convert the Star Wars saga into a whimsical version of itself and having to develop a means of delivering the storyline and developing the humour of the games without any dialogue. The greatest challenge was conveying the drama and emotion in the scene where Luke Skywalker discovers his parentage while still retaining the comedy.
All the talk of digital content segued into a tease for the "The Greatest Battles Are Built By You" project that LEGO was promoting to encourage kids to play with, rather than display, their LEGO Star Wars models.
Bringing the content of the discussion even closer to the present day, David asked the panel what they wanted to see LEGO come out with next and the usual round of full-size Boba Fett helmet and Ultimate Collectors Series AT-AT type answers were brought forth. In a demonstration of how well media trained Jens has become he deftly side-stepped these suggestions and commented that with the LEGO designers being able to use new elements all the time and working in such a content-rich environment there was plenty of chance to improve on older sets and there would be enough new material coming out that there was easily enough for another 20 years.
"Let's talk about the future" prompted David, allowing Jens to expand further on The Greatest Battles Are Built By You campaign before moving on to announcing that the next LEGO Star Wars set would be the Tantive IV, which would have a release date of May 4th.
As this was the end of the panel he invited the audience to come forward to have a closer look, and then in the next breath caused a huge gasp to go through those who were heading to the stage when he surprised everyone with the news that the LEGO booth would have 250 of these sets, signed by designer César Carvalhosa Soares, for sale during Star Wars Celebration 2019 Chicago.