“A long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far away…”
That phrase has been etched into the hearts and minds of numerous generations. It is, of course, the opening words to George Lucas’ Star Wars saga. From casual fan to the “ultra passionate fan,” as Mark Hamill affectionately calls them, just hearing that phrase could send a fan into a nostalgic state of giddiness.
For one generation, it may bring them back to the classic films or “Legacy” films as they are now sometimes referred. For another it may bring back memories of the prequels. For some it may be thoughts about the television shows, such as Clone Wars and Rebels or video games, like The Force Unleashed and Knights of the Old Republic. Even non-fans can make the connection and can name characters or moments without having ever seen a single film. The bottom line is that the George Lucas franchise is a phenomenon, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is even a convention, no, a celebration, for all things Star Wars.
Star Wars Celebration was held in Anaheim, Calif., from April 16 to April 19. It was four fun-filled days where fans gathered to celebrate the thing they love, the Star Wars universe. There have been 10 celebrations to date; this is the seventh to be held in the United States. But the Celebration continues, as tickets have already gone on sale at www.starwarscelebration.com for Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 in ExCeL London July 15-17, 2016. And while they haven’t announced a date or location, you can be sure that with the eighth film and the saga’s 40th anniversary in 2017, there will be a Celebration long remembered.
At Celebration, fans can meet their favorite actors, writers, directors, animators and programmers from all incarnations of the franchise. They can shop for merchandise, check out exhibits, attend panels discussing various topics and even participate in speed dating. Not only that, you have the opportunity to meet other people, people from all corners of the globe, who share the same interests and perhaps even the same level of admiration for the universe as you do.
Unlike other pop-culture-centric conventions, this one is really for and about the fans. While there is merchandise being sold, there are a large number of exhibits that aren’t there to sell something or make a buck but to give fans opportunities to immerse themselves in their favorite worlds. On top of that, many of these exhibits are created by the fans.
Have you always wanted to be caught in the grasp of a life-size Rancor? Done. Ever wanted to grab a drink at the cantina in Mos Eisley? Well, there it is. Wanna play Holo-Chess on the Millenium Falcon? Here you go…just remember to let the Wookie win. Hey, would you like to help build a diorama of Bespin City? Come on in and join the fun. This little microcosm is just one contributing factor to the fostered atmosphere; it’s not just a fan base…it’s a family.
Star Wars Celebration is an opportunity for fans to, as the Ewoks so eloquently put it, “celebrate the love.” Fans traveled from all over the world and gathered in the happiest place on earth (sorry, Disneyland) to share an experience with like-minded individuals. They dressed as their favorite characters; they proudly wore their favorite shirts; and they came in all shapes, sizes and ages. They weren’t there to cheer on the latest superhero exploits, geek out over their favorite TV show stars or to consume merchandise. They were there for one thing, and one thing only, Star Wars.
The beloved saga that has touched multiple generations will continue to do so for those to come, as was proven by one fan who got choked up when he shared how his father introduced him to Star Wars and now he’s there with his own kids, introducing them to the galaxy far, far away.
If you’ve ever been to San Diego Comic-Con, the annual pop-culture event, you know the realities of the necessity to camp out overnight for a panel. Kudos must go out to anyone who can handle camping out on the sidewalk for every night of that convention. However, this being the year a new film arrives in theatres (The Force Awakens opens Dec. 18) and the fact that the opening ceremony would be attended by that film’s director, J.J. Abrams; Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy; and other guests, fans already knew they would need to camp out.
It was reported that fans began queuing at about 2 p.m. the day before. In the late evening, Abrams and Kennedy had 200 pizzas delivered and distributed to the fans camping out as a show of appreciation. The plan was to distribute wristbands at 6 a.m. and have admittance begin at around 8:30 a.m. However, only 2,800 fans would get in to see the live presentation, and those who don’t get in would have to watch a simulcast.
Yours truly arrived at about 2:30 a.m., and there were already about 1,000 eager fans there waiting; by 5 a.m., there were 2,500. As the hours ticked by and the lines grew bigger, it was still a peaceful atmosphere. In one corner fans could be overheard speculating about what they might see, while in another, a father and daughter were playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”
As the hour grew closer, I spent time with a cluster of people where we talked about seemingly banal things, but it was always Star Wars related. Where did you get your shirt? How’d you get that pin? One fan wore an “I’m a force for change” T-shirt, which brought up the entire charity contest. You can find comfort amongst strangers because we were all there to share in the same experiences, and the Opening Ceremony was the one everyone couldn’t wait to see.
After finally being let in, one could feel the energy in the room. It was nothing but eager anticipation and sheer joy at the fact that the moment was finally here. Fans were not disappointed as they were introduced to director J.J. Abrams and producer/president Kathleen Kennedy. The esteemed duo was truly humbled by the outpouring of affection they had been receiving.
Fans were introduced to the newest additions to the saga as John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac took to the stage. Not long after, the exuberant crowd was introduced to a familiar droid, R2-D2, and a new one, BB-8 – the little spherical droid you see speeding across the desert in the first teaser. Many believed he was a CGI creation, but no, he is 100-percent practical, and is a sight to behold.
Fans then got to see the new stormtroopers of the First Order. Finally, the roof blew off for the first time as Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Mark Hamill took the stage. It was then that Hamill declared that those there were more than just fans – they were family.
And as a family, the roof was obliterated as we witnessed the new teaser trailer, and amidst the screams excitement, there were many tears of joy, from this stoic reporter and fan included. The celebration of all things Star Wars had begun.
Celebration not only focuses on the Star Wars motion pictures, but rather all facets of the legacy – books, TV shows, comic books, video games and, of course, more movies. There were panels scheduled throughout the four-day event that highlighted a specific medium, and notable individuals from each were present to discuss them.
Alan Dean Foster, author of many highly-regarded novels, discussed his work and his return to the universe with his novelization of The Force Awakens. Visual effects wizards Dennis Muren and John Knoll shared their wisdom and recounted their experiences working on the saga. In Muren’s case, instead of talking about his accomplishments, he wanted to give a lesson in visual effects. He created a six-minute clip reel of effects scenes from Return of the Jedi and then proceeded to break things down into shot compositions, including how it was done, lighting, etc. He was really kind to the audience, and his responses to questions were never condescending, rather were concise, encouraging and practical.
Howard Kazanjian, producer of Return of the Jedi, shared funny and insightful stories about the making of that film. Nothing was off limits as David Lynch, the Special Editions, the “Revenge” title, amongst other things, were discussed. Marvel comics had a panel, which I unfortunately could not attend, where they went into the return of the brand to Marvel and what’s in store for the future, including a Lando comic. The eagerly anticipated video game Battlefront was showcased, but I couldn’t make it into that one, as it was to capacity. However, I did see the trailer and was able to watch 5 min. of gameplay at the exhibit on the exhibitor floor. Let’s just say, it’s time to invest in a PS4.
However, the biggest draw was the opportunity to see, listen to or perhaps interact with the stars of this beloved franchise. Hundreds of people waited in line at any given time of the day to obtain an autograph in the huge autograph hall. Meanwhile, the Arena, a stadium at the end of the convention center, hosted the hour-long conversation panels with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Ray Park, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams.
Fans would line up a good hour or two in advance of the panel to ensure they would make it into the stadium. Their patience was greatly rewarded, as the few panels I myself made it into were very entertaining and could have gone on for hours. The actors were clearly humbled and appreciative of their fan base.
For anyone who has been to Comic-Con, you know how irritating it can be when some fan asks for a picture or autograph and it is met with groans from the crowd and/or hesitance from the talent. Not here, the talent more than happily accepted, and when they did, the crowd would cheer for that individual who was able to create their Star Wars moment of a lifetime. It was just as endearing to see a fan dressed as R2-D2 sharing the stage with Anthony Daniels, and she could only emit gleeful squeals – much like R2 could only beep and whistle.
Ian McDiarmid read passages from Star Wars in Shakespeare. Hamill shared his stories about working with Sir Alec Guinness. Ray Park did a lightsaber demonstration with host James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Obi-Wan on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Billy Dee Williams, was, well, smooth as a Colt 45. And nobody will ever forget when Carrie Fisher planted a big kiss on the lips of a fan who only wanted a photo he was promised several years ago.
Celebration was just as much about embracing the past as it was about looking ahead to the future. There is plenty to look forward to. And now that Lucasfilm is under new management, everything from this point on is considered canon. Canon, meaning that what you see, read or play is a part of the mythos it is part of the Star Wars historical record. The animated TV series Star Wars: Clone Wars, available on Netflix, and Star Wars: Rebels, airing on Disney XD, are a part of canon. Characters and events depicted in these shows could turn up or be referenced in other mediums.
The second season of Rebels had its world premiere at Celebration, and it is steeped in the mythos, as characters from the classic trilogy, the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars come together. Dave Filoni and Simon Kinberg, producers and creators of Rebels, have stated that they are in constant contact with the Story Team as they plot out their adventures. And that was most evident when the show was discussed during the Rogue One panel. Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One not only takes place before A New Hope but may very well be taking place during the same time period as Rebels. Rebels would likely be in the midst of its third season when that film opens.
The new Anthology brand is likely one of the most exciting pieces of news to come out of the convention. Many referred to the non-episode films as “standalones” or “spinoffs,” but now they can be officially referred to as “Anthology.” Here, storytellers and filmmakers can present stories that take place in the universe, but events don’t necessarily tie into the predominant story arc of episodes. Rogue One (Dec. 16, 2016), the first film under this brand – to be directed by Gareth Edwards, will follow a group of resistance fighters who band together to stall the Death Star plans. Yes, the event that set the saga in motion is now going to a film, and according to Edwards, it will be a gritty war film. Josh Trank, director of Chronicle, is slated to direct the next Anthology film, and of course, Rian Johnson is directing Star Wars Episode VIII (May 26, 2017). The future of a galaxy far, far away is very bright.