“The Force” is still with ESPN’s 2015 Star Wars special

The ESPN panel at the Star Wars Celebration in Orlando (l-r) Craig Lazarus, Ben Houser, Mike Sciallis, Martin Khodabakhshian and actor/martial arts expert Ray Park. (Photo courtesy of Christina Houser)
The ESPN panel at the Star Wars Celebration in Orlando: (L-R) Craig Lazarus, Ben Houser, Mike Sciallis, Martin Khodabakhshian and actor/martial arts expert Ray Park, who played Darth Maul. (Photo courtesy of Christina Houser)

A half-hour documentary ESPN aired in 2015 still is resonating with fans of the Star Wars franchise.

Promotional poster for the ESPN Star Wars special that aired in 2015.
Promotional poster for the ESPN “Star Wars” special that aired in 2015.

Prior to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December 2015, ESPN produced and aired an SC Featured special Star Wars: Evolution of the Lightsaber Duel”. Narrated by Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, the program examined how martial arts, including the sport of kendo, was used in the choreography and training in the making of Star Wars lightsaber duels.

Now, flash forward to April 2017: This past Sunday in Orlando, four people involved in the production of the program got to see the impact of Star Wars fandom first-hand when they spoke at a screening during “Star Wars Celebration,” a convention organized by Lucasfilm. (The Walt Disney Company owns Lucasfilm and ESPN.)

“It was really neat sitting in the room and hearing the audience’s reactions to what they saw on the screen,” said Ben Houser, ESPN coordinating producer, who worked on the project and organized the speaking engagement with Lucasfilm. About 500 people attended the screening.

“They were cheering and laughing and were very excited,” Houser said. “To see that in person and the energy that existed in that room for the product and the show that we produced was really special. It was a great event for all of us to be a part of.”

Houser was joined on the panel by ESPN Vice President, SportsCenter & News, Storytelling Units Craig Lazarus, who oversaw the project; Martin Khodabakhshian, an E:60 producer who directed the show, and Mike Sciallis, who edited the special at Victory Pictures. Amy Ratcliffe, a writer for starwars.com, moderated of the panel.

One of the highlights of the event was the introduction of actor/martial arts expert Ray Park, who played Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and was featured in the ESPN program. Park walked in from the back of the room, lightsaber in hand, and was wildly cheered as he slapped hands with fans on the way to the stage. After joining the ESPN crew, he was overcome by emotion when discussing how much being a part of “Star Wars” has meant to him.  

“I think he was a little overwhelmed with all the applause, so he started to cry. We were shocked,” Houser said. “And then he spoke about what it was like playing that role in the ‘Star Wars’ film.”

Park provided a comment on the day via text Sunday night:

“Today I had an amazing time at ESPN’s panel ‘The Evolution of the Lightsaber Duel,’” Park said. “The Force is definitely with you. Thank You. It was emotional.”

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