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President Barack Obama honored a glittering array of stars from the arts and humanities Wednesday, including the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas.
The distinguished panoply of leading figures in American arts and culture were gathered in East Room of the White House, where the chief executive made the annual presentation of the National Medals of Art and the National Humanities Medals.
In his remarks during the afternoon ceremony, Obama seemed to take particular delight in giving an arts award to Lucas, who received a hug and wide smile from the president. “I remember when I first saw Star Wars,” Obama said during his opening remarks. “There’s a whole generation that thinks special effects always looked like they do today. But it used to be you’d see, like, the string on the little model spaceships.” At one point, the president referred to cinematic spacecraft as “planes in space.”
Lucas was one of a number of medal recipients with deep Hollywood connections, including writer Joan Didion, who was honored with a Humanities Medal. Comic writer Elaine May, musician-recording executive Herb Alpert and playwright-screenwriter Tony Kushner also received arts medals, along with writer Ernest Gaines, opera diva Renee Fleming, painter Ellsworth Kelly, landscape architect Laurie Olin and New Orleans-based composer Allen Toussaint.
Along with Didion, Humanities medal recipients included Robert Silvers — founder and editor of the New York Review of Books — historian Edward L. Ayers, economist William G. Bowen, historians Jill Ker Conway and Natalie Zemon Davis, sportswriter Frank Deford, sociologist Robert Putnam, novelist Marilynne Robinson, poet Kay Ryan, performance artist Anna Deavere Smith and visual artist Camilo Jose Vergara.
The awards’ formal citations singled out Didion “for her mastery of style in writing”; Lucas for “combining the art of storytelling with boundless imagination and cutting-edge techniques”; and May for her “groundbreaking wit and a keen understanding of how humor can illuminate our lives.”
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