ORLANDO — She's still strong in the Force.
The late Carrie Fisher's presence was felt right from the beginning of Star Wars Celebration Thursday, with a 40th anniversary panel at the four-day official convention for the franchise becoming a tribute to Princess Leia.
"In our world, Star Wars ultimately became our religion, our family and our way of life. I wanted to be here with all of you because I know many of you feel the same way," said Fisher's daughter Billie Lourd, who spoke emotionally in front of a crowd of fans wearing Leia's familiar white dress from the original 1977 Star Wars film.
Legendary Star Wars composer John Williams conducted a stirring performance of Leia's Theme, and a video package featuring behind-the-scenes material and interviews with Fisher over the years left the audience sniffling.
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and creator George Lucas were also on hand with a number of actors from the movie series, including Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams. Both Lucas and Kennedy teared up when speaking of Fisher near the end of the 90-minute panel.
"She had to hold her own against two big lugs, these goofballs who were screwing everything up. She was the boss and it was her war," Lucas said, recalling Fisher filming the first movie with Ford and Hamill, the Han and Luke to her Leia. "She wore a dress during the whole thing but she was the toughest one of the group."
Added Kennedy: "She will be remembered forever, even by those who are not old enough yet to say the words, 'May the Force be with you.' "
Lourd spoke about how much Star Wars and its fandom meant to her — she knows Fisher's entire "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi" speech by heart — as well as her mom.
"That was why she loved you, because you accepted and embraced all of her: the strong soldier of a woman she was and also the vulnerable side of her who often openly fought her own dark side, knowing early on that we all have a dark side of our own," Lourd said. "Nothing about her was a performance. She loved you, she loved these movies, she loved the people she got to make them with, and she loved this incredible character she got to create, this force called Leia."