Four decades of lightsabers, droids, and complex familial relationsWALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES

Perhaps the greatest testimony to the cultural reach of Star Wars is Celebration. Founded in 1999 to coincide with the release of The Phantom Menace, it has since seen fans through two more prequels, the first in the sequel trilogy (The Force Awakens) and the first anthology film (Rogue One) last year. With the 40th anniversary of that special opening night in ’77 coming next month, and the release of The Last Jedi in December, this is a particularly important year for Star Wars fans, and these two events have spawned the biggest panels of the weekend in Orlando.

The most notable change this year was the absence of the late Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa). Having been the life and soul of Star Wars from the start, none of the other guests, including Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), and George Lucas, quite match the wit and charm of our Princess. Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, announced a deeply moving tribute, featuring a brief glimpse of her mother in the next instalment, reminding us that her legacy will never be forgotten. As the curtains moved aside to reveal John Williams, the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra burst into Leia’s theme, and the audience into tears.

Appearances from beloved sidekicks Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) made another absence apparent, being the wonderful Kenny Baker (R2-D2), who passed away last summer. Seeing him at London Film and Comic Con the week before busily signing autographs and greeting fans, it was clear how important a life-source the saga is for all involved, cast and fans alike.

“As the curtains moved aside to reveal John Williams, the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra burst into Leia’s theme, and the audience into tears.”

The morning of the second day was rather special. From the appearance of Josh Gad (Frozen, Beauty and the Beast) as the guest presenter, fans knew they were in for a treat. Indeed, all that had previously been announced about The Last Jedi panel was that Looper director Rian Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy would be making an appearance. Naturally, the line-up would not have got very far without Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), and Hamill showing up, although Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron) remained absent. But surprises there were, and the first was Kelly Marie Tran joining the principal cast in the new role of Rose, a maintenance officer for the Resistance.

Of course, that was not all Johnson had to reveal. As the whole world is now aware, there is a new trailer and teaser poster. Much like the gorgeous azure of Rogue One’s Scariff poster last year, this is a real treat. Much of the (unjust) criticism aimed at The Force Awakens, was that the plot closely resembled the original 1977 classic, and if Episode VIII plans to follow suit, we can expect the depth and grit of The Empire Strikes Back with all the technical wizardry of modern cinema. With new shots of Fisher and Hamill, this promises to be the greatest Star Wars film yet, and will keep us all speculating until its December release. After all, who are/is the Last Jedi(s)? Will they, as Luke ominously states, meet their end?

The new poster for the Last Jedi is a retro treat for fans of the original trilogyWALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES

There have also been many panels devoted to the animated series, with shows including The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Executive producer and supervising director, Dave Filoni, appeared to discuss his most popular characters and hint at their destinies. With the final series of Rebels soon to be released, alongside the new Forces of Destiny shorts, it seems they have plenty more animation up their sleeves.

So too in the gaming world, highlighted at the Star Wars Battlefront II panel. This was certainly the most hyped game this year, with a release date of 17th November. Players will be able to take control of characters from across the franchise, and the multiplayer modes fans adored in the original will be making a return.

Other treats included a live performance of the final part in the Smuggler’s radio trilogy. Taking on the style of the old sci-fi radio dramas, such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it was a testament to the importance of music and sound design in these films. Further announcements came on the new Disney theme parks, which promise to place attendees in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon itself as they fly through a previously unseen planet.

To bring proceedings to a close, Warwick Davis (Wicket) reminded the fans that none of this would be possible without them, for they are, verily, the Force behind it all. With The Last Jedi coming this Christmas, and the Han Solo film next year, there will be plenty more costumes and guests to feature in 2019’s convention, wherever it may be