Star Wars Celebration 2017: The Experience

Earlier this week, Monday, April 17th, 2017, the halls of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida were quiet.

The four days earlier, however, were a different story.

This year celebrates 40 years of one of the largest, most beloved film franchises of all time, Star Wars. Since 1999, just before the release of the first prequel movie, The Phantom Menace, there has been intermittent gatherings of the fans as the Star Wars Celebration conventions have been held all around the world.

America, Japan, England, Germany….the phenomena that is Star Wars knows no boundaries and can be found in the hearts of fans of every age, gender, race, religion, culture, and creed.  Many of them were in attendance at this past weekend’s Celebration, and Amanda and I were glad to be counted among the masses.

Day One – Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Acclimation. Learning the ropes. Looking around, eyes wide, and testing the waters before the real waves hit.

Exhausted from spending  the day before at Disneyworld (my first time!), we decided to sleep in and missed the line for the 40th Anniversary panel.  We watched the live stream from my phone where we joined other fans for breakfast at Denny’s near to the OCCC, and talked up all the fun appearances. It was an oddly wonderful experience in and of itself. Alas, I wish I hadn’t missed being live witness to seeing John Williams conduct, or laughing along with the fans as Mark Hamill and George Lucas took a few jabs at Harrison Ford and his flying shenanigans.  From there, we walked to the convention center when the Carrie Fisher tribute video was first shown. There was mention of Carrie’s talent for never forgetting her lines, and I broke and cried in the middle of the sidewalk when they showed clips of her throughout her years, reciting her famous speech from A New Hope, ending with Carrie, barely a year ago repeating, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”….my heart swells and I get a bit choked up just remembering and typing this.

We got to the convention and got in with no lines (yay!), there were barely any people on the floor and we really got a great chance to walk around comfortably and take a lot of it in. Knowing now what I did then, I’d have snatched up a few more exclusives when I had the opportunity to do so, but eh, you live and learn….next time, then. There were a lot of great sites. Artists painting locales, scenes, ships or characters from the films.

The Lego Falcon. Before and After.

A giant Lego Millennium Falcon just beginning to be built. The first of some really great costumes that I’d be seeing over the weekend. A bunch of personally owned vehicles painted and modded into either themes, or ships from the series. A few huge models of ANA’s (All Nippon Airways) new Star Wars droid-themed passenger planes. The tattoo artists alley. So much more…especially, the Star Wars Show Live stage, where after each panel, you get a second chance to see some of the guests up close and personal, as well as get “caught in the crowd” on the live stream.

It’s the STAR WARS SHOW!!

Suffice to say, I spent most of that day walking around looking like a damned tourist with my mouth hanging open. Alas, it would prepare me for:

Day 2 – The Celebration Awakens

Friday. The day most people’s vacations really started and the first day of “real” full-blown attendance. As well, it just so happened to be one of the most strongly looked toward days since the first panel was going to be the world premier of the teaser for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

The first official poster for The Last Jedi is simple, nostalgic, and glorious!

Having missed the 40th Anniversary panel, I did not want to repeat that mistake, so we got back to the hotel early on Thursday, got dinner and some rest, then head out for the overnight stay in line. Although we should have guessed so, by the time we arrived back at the convention center, around 8:30pm, the line was already around the building.

Do not underestimate my power….or patience.” – Star Wars fans

Upon arrival, it looked good. We weren’t that far from the entrance, but I couldn’t see inside the center, and misjudged the amount of people already in line.

It doesn’t look SO bad….does it?

The previous night, there was a now infamous situation involving miscommunication between the OCCC and ReedPop! (the company who ran SW:C) the night before, and there were a LOT of pissed off fans already. They’d claimed they’d reviewed the line issues and resolved them…..they didn’t. Misjudging lines aside, there was no way that we were so far back outside that we wouldn’t have gotten into the Last Jedi panel, however, by the time they let people in to the next queue inside, things had gotten chaotic and changed for the worst. The initial line fell apart and by the time we secured our place in the 3rd queue (there was the outside queue, the security queue, the overnight queue, and THEN the wristband queue…this I later described as Britporn. The British LOVE their queues), the seeds of concern had been planted in our minds.

This picture looks weird because I tried to do a full 360° pic while being shuffled around in the masses

As we were getting in the overnight line, the attendant guiding people told us that we were likely NOT going to even get into the 2nd stage (aka the Streaming stage. A live stream of the main stage). We sat for about an hour mulling this over before ultimately making the fatefully excellent decision to move over to the incredibly smaller line for Mark Hamill’s Tribute to Carrie Fisher. This move was good for a few reasons; First, we were guaranteed, with the amount of people now in this line to get into Mark’s primary stage panel with really good seats. Second, we went from being packed in with a bunch of either antisocial or sleeping people to making friends with a couple awesome British guys who we’d end up hanging out with for the rest of the weekend (and look forward to seeing again some day). Hence started the jokes about Brits having a natural love of queues and the start of our organizing what I came to call QueueCon! – A convention or those with a love for lines!

A rare sight. The queue hall…empty.

Tired and mildly disappointed at the mess with which these lines were handled.

So started our learning of what it is REALLY like to be in the overnight line for a Star Wars convention. A lot of it, at the time, was incredibly irritating, there were the environmental aspects, like incredibly bright lighting, the uncarpeted concrete floor and the fact that the queue hall was so cold we began not-so-affectionately referring to it as Hoth. Then there were the other distractions, (I am very grumpy when tired), such as the Lightsaber Fight Club. Basically, a large group of younger folks gathered together and started having lightsaber battles right near our line. Clack-whack-clacking away for 3 hours or so, shouting every five minutes….it was nerve wracking. Watching it later on YouTube, it was highly entertaining, and I’m glad they had fun, but at the time I felt like Anakin Skywalker in a Tusken Raider camp. Then, there was a more joyous distraction….Rian Johnson, the writer/director of The Last Jedi decided to come out and join us….he stayed there for FOUR HOURS to meet almost every fan in those giant halls. Even if it were possible that The Last Jedi sucked, I would still applaud him for that and continue supporting all his endeavors.

5am came. We’d managed, maybe, about 2 hours of sleep. The noise and bustle of people getting ready for the 6am wristbanding had us up and ready…..only to stand there for about another hour and a half before, for reasons I still CAN NOT fathom, being sent to another line 30 FEET AWAY….where we waited again until almost another hour when we finally got our wristbands.

We went back to the hotel, slept, streamed the Last Jedi panel, and went back to sleep until 2. We met our friends on the first of two lines to get into Mark’s panel.

Mark Hamill’s Tribute To Carrie Fisher was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. It was a very personal talk from Mark about his relationship with Carrie from then to now. Talking about the kind of person she was, telling stories about them, and so on. It was also the 2nd time I would watch and cry at Carrie’s tribute video. Then, the most touching part, the part I feared, came… I watched my childhood hero, Luke Skywalker, read a note he wrote about her immediately after her death. He cracked, he cried, I was a mess and need a tissue even writing this. It was beyond touching. Carrie was a hero to all of us fans. She was a role model to so many who don’t always feel strong. She was a loving presence in all our lives who was taken too soon. I love you, my Princess, Carrie Fisher, and thank you for being you.

MOVING ON……..

Day 3 – Goodbye, Phoenix Squadron & Sassy Tony

After Mark’s panel, dinner and sleep. We MUST be in the live room for the Star Wars: Rebels panel. We were up at 3am, out the door by 3:30am, on line by 4am. There was supposed to be no overnight camping allowed on the weekends, regardless, you can’t stop the fans, and we were outside waiting for the 6am opening of the doors.
Much more line chaos ensued, but we got our wristbands for the live panel (YUSSSS!!!!) AND scored the wristbands for another panel that we were really looking forward to, Anthony Daniels: 40 Years With Threepio. For those that don’t know, Anthony Daniels is an INFAMOUS ham. There are a lot of conflicting reports about how he is personally, but it cannot be said that he doesn’t put on one damned entertaining panel with the greatest counterpart he could have, Warwick Davis. Those two are a comedy dream team.

A Wild Pablo Hidalgo appears!

The Rebels panel was great. They cut the live stream immediately after showing the trailer, and we got to see

**SPOILERS FOR THIS WILL BE AFTER THE LAST JEDI TRAILER AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE**

So that was amazing.

Afterwards, a quick bite, then the true highlight of the day, Anthony Daniel’s panel. If you’ve watched any of his previous panels, you understand how ridiculous, impetuous, sassy, and fun he can be. His interactions with Warwick Davis (his…moderator of sorts) are the stuff of Star Wars Legends (sore topic?). From glitter cannons, him imitating one of the most infamous pieces of C3PO memorabilia, to a touching reading of the C3PO comic which tells the tale of his red arm, it’s always a panel worth catching.

Afterward, we went back to the show floor for a photo-op with Alan Tudyk, who somehow managed to make those scant few seconds feel just a little bit longer and not just a little bit pleasant.

We got to meet Wray Nerely!!! “I’ll SEE YOU IN HELL!”

We hit the floor for a bit longer, got some more pics, went out for dinner, then back to the hotel to CRASH.

Day 4 – The Last Celebration…For Now At Least

I’ll be honest….we’d had every intention of getting up early again to hit Mark’s panel, or at least the Closing Ceremony, but exhaustion at this point was high and we were going to have to get up at 4 again Monday morning to catch our flight, but we did make sure to take advantage of the waning crowds to hit the show floor proper one last time.

The 501st ran one of the best exhibits!

The 501st room. The 501st are a group of Imperial/Bad Guy cosplayers. They are also the largest organized group of cosplayers in the world. The charity work they do is beyond admirable, and the talent for not only costumes, but props and sets is impressive. MOST impressive.
They had their own room set up right outside of the show floor where they had not only a diorama museum of sorts, film accurate costumes to drool over, and a few fun photo sets for guests. They had an awesome trash compactor set up, an Imperial hallway to “run” down, one of the Death Star panels, and a 501st photo frame to stand in. Really one of the most fun sights at the con. The 501st also threw a sold-out bash including a performance by Weird Al Yankovic!!! Alas….Amanda and I found out about it while down there and didn’t get to go. *poo*

One piece of fun I had was walking around the show floor trying to hand off a lightsaber hilt to every “Old Hermit Luke” I found.

We tried to hit the Celebration store once again, but could see how bare it was from outside and decided not to bother. We looked in desperation for ANY adult sized Ahsoka Tano gear, but I’m thinking she may be one of the most popular characters at this point, because we found nothing. I looked for a deal on one of the Rebel backpacks, but everyone was charging about $20 more than what I could get them online for. Ultimately, the shopping was a bust. All the exclusives were LONG gone. I could go on a HUGE rant about my intense hate of the resellers and their immensely negative impact on conventions, but I’m not going to give into my hate…here. But truth be told, the retailers on the floor are no better by not limiting the per person purchases by attendees. There were 500 copies of the Celebration edition of the new Thrawn novel…I saw more than a few people walking away with 3, 5, 6 copies and mind you, there were around 70,000 people in attendance….I’m going to get off that topic now (Breathe….just….breathe……).

We took a few more pictures of costumes and sets (I’ve decided to save them all for a gallery post after this. I have a lot of editing and watermarking to do. I took A LOT of pictures). We walked out the front, looked back once more at the banners. Took a deep breath and that was it.

So Long, Star Wars Celebration! See you in 2019!

I’m writing most of this through my usual rose-tinted glasses. Were there a lot more frustrations? Yes. Regardless, according to some the long time attendees whose reviews I read on Facebook, Reddit, and other forums, this was one of the worst Celebrations since the beginning. Yet, I honestly really enjoyed it. I didn’t do or see nearly half of what I wanted to, but I’ll be damned if I’m not looking forward to what 2019 brings. I’ll be looking forward to the lines, the race for exclusives (just one, don’t be greedy), the panels, the people GODS THE PEOPLE…the fans are wonderful…that’s what really made it. You could feel the love. Next time, we’ll be a lot better prepared. We’ll have a better game plan, we’ll be more social, make more plans, etc. Suffice to say, I’m excited.

Until then, may the Force be with you.

***WARNING!!! THERE BE SPOILERS HERE!***

***SERIOUSLY? YOU DON’T WANT IT RUINED?***

*****I GUESS YOU DON’T LIKE SURPRISES…***

SO…Here’s the big reveals from the Rebels panels that you didn’t see from the Live Stream. After the news that The upcoming Season 4 would be the last season, we got an extra special surprise that everyone had been hoping for. The inimitable Dave Filoni had been wearing a t-shirt that read, “Ahsoka Lives?”, when the lights were out, we saw him slap a sticker on his shirt, covering the question mark with an exclamation point! AHSOKA LIVES!!!
The crowd went nuts as you might imagine. He then showed us the trailer again, warning us to stay in our seats. Afterwards, the real treat. We got to watch the first episode of the final season. Ezra finally gets his Jetpack, yet another familiar face returns from The Clone Wars, and a member of the family meets a very tragic demise. This IS going to be the final season after all. At least this time we’ll get our closure…maybe?

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