Star Wars Celebration Anaheim wrapped up yesterday after a weekend filled with intergalactic fun.
Saturday tends to be the busiest day at any multi-day con, considering most people are off from work and/or school and have no obligations to worry about for the following day. That tradition certainly held true for Star Wars Celebration Anaheim today, because when I arrived at the convention center (once again around 10:00 AM) the line to enter the exhibit hall was snaking all the way around the back of the building and down through the courtyard.
For that reason I decided to forego entering the floor for the time being and focus on grabbing some photos of the various cosplayers gathering around the fountain outside the convention center’s main entrance – of which there were many fantastic costumes.
Saturday is the most popular day for cosplaying, as seasoned con veterans are aware that more people will have the chance to see their costumes. Every time I go to a convention these days I am more and more impressed by the volume of work and detail that clearly went into the making of these costumes. The amount of dedication necessary to pull off such impressive work is truly astounding.
After exhausting my cosplay resources for the day (and briefly checking out a nifty lightsaber battle demo I happened across), I decided to follow through on a promise I had made to myself the day prior: to visit the Rancho Obi-Wan booth on the main floor. Rancho Obi-Wan is the Northern California Star Wars memorabilia museum owned and operated by Steve Sansweet, who I also mentioned in yesterday’s recap. The museum’s booth on the con floor contained an intriguing selection of some of the rarer pieces from Mr. Sansweet’s collection, alongside a remarkable tapestry-style painting of many Star Wars characters (and lots of hidden Easter Eggs of other Star Wars-influenced– or influencing– pop-culture icons) depicted in action-figure form. This huge artwork, by Robert Xavier Burden, may very well only be fully appreciated in person, but believe me when I say it is truly something to behold.
The lone panel I committed myself to attending today was the big conversation with Mark Hamill in the main arena. I knew this particular affair was going to be Saturday’s hot ticket, and I wanted to try and get some good photos of the stage area, so I made sure to get in line extra early. This turned out to be a futile gesture, however, since many hundreds of people subsequently lined up in the priority medical-disabilities line, many of them just before the scheduled door-opening time. This resulted in even the very first people in the general line, some of whom had been waiting upwards up five hours, winding up with far poorer seats than expected. My line-mates and I opined about how this well-intentioned but poorly-executed and potentially-abused practice might be in need of an overhaul similar to the recent disability policy changes at the Disney theme parks.
Piggybacked onto the Mark Hamill panel was Star Wars Celebration emcee/panel moderator James Arnold Taylor’s intricately-assembled one-man show about his life as a successful voice-over actor. Mr. Taylor is indeed a very talented man, and his story is an interesting and often inspiring one, but the inclusion of this presentation as part one of a “double feature” alongside Hamill’s appearance felt more than a little forced, considering it was at best only tangentially related to Star Wars.
Once the keenly-anticipated moment arrived and Mark Hamill himself finally did take the stage, he received an extremely enthusiastic welcome from the crowd. His discussion was an entertaining one, but sadly felt a little on the short side, especially after such a long wait.
Topics broached during this brisk chat included Mark’s favorite moments from the production of each installment in the original Star Wars trilogy, his own work as a voice actor and recent Emmy nomination for his cameo appearance as Sith Lord Darth Bane in the final episode of the Clone Wars animated series, and his reprised role as the Trickster on CW’s The Flash.
Much like his Star Wars costars in their respective panels before him, Hamill was hesitant to touch on any potential spoiler material for The Force Awakens, but he did confirm that he had recorded the voice-over narration for the new teaser trailer mere weeks ago, and that the audio was merged with the original recording of his similar dialogue from Return of the Jedi to accomplish that unique reverb effect. When the time quickly arrived to end the panel, the abrupt announcement by James Arnold Taylor was so unexpected that Mark Hamill could be heard remarking over the microphone, “That’s it? It’s over?”
After reluctantly shambling out of the arena into the cold evening Anaheim air, I stopped by the Saturday Night Fan Mixer in the convention center’s Grand Plaza, with pumping electronic music and geek-themed sonic mashups provided by the effervescent DJ Elliott.
An open-air curfew meant the party had to wrap up at 10 PM, but regardless a good time was had by all.
In stark contrast to the bustling and happy Saturday, the final day of Star Wars Celebration Anaheim was a bittersweet one. A highly memorable, history-making weekend was drawing to a close, attendees who had flown in from just about every part of the country and many areas of the world were getting ready to make their ways back home, and merchandise dealers were offering the usual last-minute bargains on their wares in order to save on return shipping costs.
Adding mild discontent to the innate melancholy of a pop-culture convention in its waning hours, what few major panels there were remaining in the main arena on Sunday were almost treated like afterthoughts, giving a perceived second-tier status to what under different circumstances and execution could have felt like parts of the main event.
First was a showcase for what was intended to be two of the upcoming Star Wars spinoff movies, now collectively known as Star Wars: Anthology. Scheduled to appear were the directors of the first two films in the series, Gareth Edwards and Josh Trank. After a short delay upon entering the arena, we were informed that Josh Trank was feeling under the weather and unfortunately could not attend. We were also asked not to take any photos or record any video during this presentation, an announcement I had not yet heard made before any panel at this convention. Could this innocuous-seeming and now, due to Trank’s absence, already disappointing panel wind up more revealing than initially expected?
All that really needs to be said is this: Gareth Edwards is delightful, and I can only hope that observation will indicate what kind of movie we’ll be receiving from him when Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One hits theaters in December 2016.
Edwards, joined by recently-appointed Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and vice-president of development Kiri Hart, revealed his storied history as a certified Star Wars enthusiast: most notably, he once made a pilgrimage to the deserts of Tunisia just to drink self-made blue milk and stare at the Tatooine sunset from the dusty, abandoned set of the original film’s Lars homestead.
He then revealed to the audience a brief but tantalizing plot synopsis of Rogue One (it’s the story of the rebel military strike team that stole the plans for the original Death Star before the events of A New Hope) along with a truly unexpected surprise: the world premiere of a top-secret first-look teaser trailer for the movie. The trailer consisted of little more than a TIE fighter fly-by over what I assume were the jungles of Yavin, and then the camera panning up to reveal the Death Star, hovering huge and ominously on the horizon of the daytime sky, but it– partnered with Gareth’s sheer likeability– was enough to get the crowd (and myself) excited for this next big step in the evolution of the Star Wars franchise.
Next up in the main arena was everyone’s favorite smooth-talking Cloud City administrator turned hot-shot Rebel Alliance general: Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams. At first I was dismayed to find that Williams’s panel, moderated by Celebration mainstay James Arnold Taylor, was rather sparsely attended compared to his Star Wars trilogy co-stars, but I soon discovered the reason behind that.
Williams laconically shrugged his way through most of the discussion, dodging fan questions about everything from his take on fame to the possibility of Lando being a part of the new movies. Even the characteristically hyperactive Taylor was unable to get much of a rise out of Billy Dee, resulting in a fairly unremarkable panel, aside from a handful of clips from his very funny contemporary television appearances.
Like many conventions of its type, the overall immensely enjoyable four-day Star Wars Celebration ended with more of a whimper than a bang. It’s incredibly important to acknowledge and honor the people responsible for putting the show together, but other than that, attending the closing ceremony offered extremely little in the way of new information. A couple of well-put-together montage videos from the weekend were debuted, the hosts from the various smaller stages were interviewed and recapped the panels many audience members may have missed, and the date for the next Star Wars Celebration was announced: July 2016, in London.
Star Wars is very important to me personally. There is something intangibly, inexhaustibly appealing about an intricate, sophisticated fantasy world that combines advanced technology with old-age mysticism, and the idea of a definitive barrier between good and evil (a concept that so rarely carries over to our real-world lives). For that reason it is an extraordinary thrill to be in the same place at the same time as so many other people whose lives have also been touched by Star Wars in some way. This was my first Star Wars Celebration as a reporter, and my second as a fan. The next time it returns to Southern California, I will happily make it a third.