I’ve been away for a while. Away from everything, including writing. I was in Southern California, back in my old stomping grounds, attending the Star Wars Celebration, an event for which I’d been waiting for two long years. I bought my 4-day pass the day tickets went on sale, and it seemed like the day would never come. But finally it did. But was it worth the wait? Read on and see.
I love Star Wars. Seeing Episode IV in 1977 is one of my earliest memories. And it was a life changing experience (I’m not kidding). It was the first movie I ever connected with in the sense that it set my imagination on fire. I wanted to be Luke Skywalker and travel the galaxy, learning the ways of the Force. But for a long time, it seemed like I was relatively alone in my love for Star Wars. I don’t remember anyone, throughout my childhood, loving it as much as I did. I mean, I knew the movies were popular, but it didn’t seem like anyone cared about it as much as I did, was as big a fan as I was. Well, I was wrong. And a great many of those fans descended on the Anaheim Convention Center last week to take part in the seventh stateside incarnation of the biggest Star Wars party on the planet.
I’ve been to the Celebration once before, back when it was in Los Angeles for Celebration IV. Between then and now, two more conventions have been held, a few years apart and both in Florida. But when I heard the convention would be in California this year, I knew I had to double my efforts to get there. And I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Maybe it was the excitement over the next theatrical installment in the Star Wars saga—Episode VII: The Force Awakens—that caused such an increase in attendance (around 60k attendees each day), but whatever the case, Star Wars fandom turned up en masse. I really didn’t think it would be so massively attended. I’ve only been to one other convention with as many participants—San Diego Comic Con. And unfortunately, I don’t think Reed Pop (the Celebration organizers) was wholly prepared for the onslaught that awaited it. More on that later.
Many people elected to wait all night for the big opening event: The Force Awakens panel with director J.J. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy. And while I considered doing this myself, I decided against it. All night queues are a young man’s game. But I did show up around 5:30 AM and managed to get in line soon enough to earn my place in the convention center arena where I’d soon be breathing the same air as Abrams. It was a four plus hour wait, but it was totally worth it. For me, the opening panel was the highlight of the convention.
Not only did Abrams and Kennedy show the TFA trailer (as expected), which was amazing by the way, they also brought out three new cast members from the new film: Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, and John Boyega. I was thrilled these three made an appearance; their exuberance was exciting. Then, “legacy” cast members, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, and Peter Mayhew, came out on stage to join the others. I have to say, seeing them all there together was a bit of an emotional experience for me. Harrison Ford was still recovering from his recent plane accident, but if he’d been there too, I don’t think anyone could have held me responsible for what I might’ve done in reaction. It would have been my Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment.
Unfortunately, in many ways, my experience went down from there. A lot of the convention was a logistical nightmare. Crowd control was a mess, especially as it related to the running of the Celebration Store. I won’t go into it, but a lot of people were prevented from getting much hoped for items because of the insane crowds (and also Ebay resellers going unchecked when it came to the quantities they were allowed to purchase). I was able to get in Thursday evening without too much trouble, though, and managed to snag a lanyard and a Celebration special edition Rebels t-shirt. Better than nothing, I suppose.
I headed for the autograph area, planning to get one autograph and one autograph only: Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano from The Clone Wars and Rebels. Over the course of watching Clone Wars, Ahsoka became one of my favorite characters, and I wanted to meet the person responsible for bringing her to life. As I expected, Ashley was great. When I got to the front of the line, she gave me a funny look and then asked if we’d met before. Trust me, Ashley, if we’d met before I would’ve remembered.
I had originally planned to stay for the 3D screenings of Episodes I and II, but by the evening of the first day, I was pretty wiped. In the morning I was back and ready for day 2. The first thing I did was head for the Force Awakens exhibit. Fortunately, I got there early enough, well before the huge lines formed later on (resulting in several hours wait, I heard). This was another highlight of the convention. Check out the photos below.
After attending the Carrie Fisher panel, I decided I wanted to catch the 3D screening (the premiere screening, actually) of Revenge of the Sith. I had to wait in line a couple hours for this, but I ended up getting a pretty great seat. The screening was introduced by the Emperor himself, Ian McDiarmid, and 3D conversion director, Dennis Muren. The screening itself was pretty awesome, and I’m really glad I got to see it.
On Saturday, I was determined to get in a few panels. Most important was the Rebels panel. I got a decent seat in the arena and was excited to see the cast since I really love the show. The first season was awesome. Later on I attended the live audio play, Smuggler’s Bounty, a completely original Han Solo adventure, directed by Kyle Newman and featuring some great voice actors. The show was enjoyable, but attending was kind of a mistake. The one thing I really wanted to see (besides the opening panel) was the Rebels season 2 premiere. By the time I got there (more than two hours early), the queue was already at capacity. Turns out it was way more popular than the organizers anticipated. It kind of stinks that to get in I would have needed to sacrifice the majority of my day.
On Sunday I did nothing but roam the convention, checking out the various exhibitors, looking at cosplayers. I thought hard about getting autographs from the Rebels cast, and I would’ve done if Freddy Prinze Jr. had been present. I’m not sure why he wasn’t there, but I didn’t really want to spend the money unless I was getting everyone’s signature. I ended up spending a good deal of time in the artists’ area and ultimately purchased an amazing, signed, limited edition Rebels lithograph by Steve Anderson.
All in all, Star Wars Celebration was a great experience. Honestly, I think my enjoyment was hindered by several factors, including Reed Pop’s mismanagement. But I really love Star Wars and would like to attend the next stateside convention, as long as the organizers are able to smooth out some of the problems they had this year.
I wish I’d made myself take more pictures. There was a lot of great cosplay there—a lot of Jedi, a lot of Mandalorians, a lot of Stormtroopers—but I wish Star Wars cosplayers would vary their choices a bit more. Where are the Ponda Babas? Where’s Dr. Evazan? I’m kidding, but in all seriousness, I’d love to see a Yuuzhan Vong cosplay at some point. Come on Star Wars cosplayers, get on that. In the meantime, enjoy some more of the pics I did take throughout the four days.
If you attended Star Wars Celebration this year, let me know what your favorite moments were and whether you plan on going again. Feel free to post your pics, too. I love looking at them.