A galaxy, far, far away came to London last weekend for the four-day Star Wars Celebration Europe 2023. Packed with announcements, cosplay, panels, and plenty of places to spend your hard-earned credits, the event saw thousands descend on London’s ExCel Conference Center to celebrate all things Star Wars.
Related: ‘Star Wars’ Celebration Returning to East Asia After 17 Years
Star Wars Celebration Europe 2023
What is Star Wars Celebration?
Star Wars Celebration is a typically multi-day event which brings fans together to celebrate everything in the Star Wars galaxy, from the classic films, and huge shows such as the Clone Wars to ongoing projects and future additions in the worlds of film, Disney+ TV, comics, books and more. There’s exclusive merchandise, immersive exhibitions, autograph and meet-and-greet opportunities and competitions across the span of the weekend. Stars such as Ewan McGregor are in attendance to see fans in person and discuss their involvement.
Since Star Wars Celebration V, Lucasfilm has teamed up with ReedPop who organize New York Comic Con, PAX and more to create the fan event. The 2022 event was Star Wars Celebration Anaheim; this year’s was the first Star Wars Celebration Europe since 2016. Celebration Europe marks a good opportunity for fans from across the continent to get involved in the typically US-centric franchise. The now rotating international venue selections play a big part in embracing the global appeal of the universe George Lucas created.
The panels are the skeleton around which your Star Wars Celebration experience will be built. Identifying which you want to go to (and which you can get into) and ones you’d like to get to if you can make it, will inform how you build out the rest of your schedule. We armed ourselves in advance with a spreadsheet, but the SWCE23 official app let you build out one on your smartphone and even had handy reminders to tell you when you were closing in on something you’d like. The biggest panels took place on the main Celebration Stage (which also had the largest capacity), followed by the Galaxy Stage, and then the smallest Twin Suns Stage.
How was the process of getting into panels?
For the big panels, all of which took place at 11am, you had the chance to book a spot in advance. Entering into the ballots was a chance to get a prebooked space in either the stage in which the panel was taking place, or in one of the two smaller stages which would receive a live stream of it directly. If you missed out on the ballot, you did have a chance to queue for a Standby slot, but these were limited. The smaller panels all operated on a standby, first come first served basis.
The ballot system worked nicely to save you time queuing, but it meant competition for the standby slots was even more fierce, and the queues for those even more intense. You would regularly have to be in line one to two hours before the start time to stand a chance. That might seem small fry to veterans of San Diego Comic Con, but for Celebration, which ran 10am-7pm, it means a big chunk of your day could be spent waiting to get into these main events. Although that is the reality of these conventions: a good portion of it is spent in queue warfare.
What panels did I experience?
I managed to get into the Galaxy Stage for Friday’s Studios panel live stream on the Friday and the same stage again for Monday’s The Bad Batch panel. Outside of those big events, we queued and were successful in getting into the Saturday High Republic panel as well as Sunday’s Parks panel in the Celebration Stage and Monday’s Star Wars: Visions Season Two panel.
I’d have liked to have caught one or two of the smaller fan-led panels, which were hosted either in smaller spaces on the main show floor, or upstairs in the conference suites — but having an ambitious schedule of seeing as many of the bigger Lucasfilm-led events as we could made it quite restrictive to fit in any of those alongside also getting to experience the show floor too. It’s a question of priority and balance when it comes to working out your schedule.
In terms of stars in attendance, the panels had everyone from key talent celebrity guests such as Diego Luna, Ian McDiarmid, Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein and Dee Bradley Baker, to start production staff like Athena Portillo, Tony Gilroy and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. Hosts such as Amy Ratcliffe lead the conversation with a similar level of fan fervor to everyone in the crowd.
What was the atmosphere like?
There was never anything less than total enthusiasm across the panels we were in, with fans igniting lightsabers and showcasing their cosplay as part of their excitement at the announcements taking place. Friday’s Studios panel, which saw a relentless stream of first looks and reveals take place across roughly two hours — including the announcement of Daisy Ridley’s return to the franchise as Rey, Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau revealing glimpses at their Mandoverse plans, and first looks at upcoming shows The Acolyte, Skeleton Crew and Ahsoka — received a rapturous response, even on our livestreamed stage.
Part of that is down to the hype crews they have manning each hall before the events. We spent a good portion of the weekend with ‘Aussie Dave’, an Australian emcee who had audience members participating in various games and sharing their love of all things Star Wars before the shows began. But I think mostly it’s attributed to the crowd being people who just live and breath everything George Lucas started way back in 1977.
Whether you’re interested in the main films; love the animated shows, from the Clone Wars to the Bad Batch; or are deep in the book lore of the High Republic, there’s truly something for everyone at Celebration. And if you’ve been dedicated enough to queue up and get into one of these show floors, then in with like-minded people. Lucasfilm know that too.
The High Republic panel was a special highlight for me. Not only did the authors of Project Luminous get an overwhelming response from the book-loving audience, but they were all treated to maybe my highlight from the entire event: a special look at showrunner Leslye Headland’s The Acolyte, set in the High Republic period and coming to Disney+ next year. They went wild at the chance to see the ‘In Production’ sizzle again and Leslye gave them an exclusive tidbit of their own, revealing the casting of her wife Rebecca Henderson as Jedi Vernestra Rwoh.
The panels are given a bit of an extra spice by occasionally throwing in the odd freebie too. Parks panel attendees got a free print of a Gaya tour poster, the Twi’lek performer who gives an evening show on the Galactic Starcruiser experience. Fans who attended the Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi 40 Years panel got a poster by artist Matt Ferguson. Studios panel visitors got a poster for this season of The Mandalorian. (Okay, so it was a lot of posters. But you’re dealing with a poster-friendly crowd.)
One big surprise was how much Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) we got to see. It makes sense as the other big Lucasfilm property. We saw a chunk from the middle of the movie of a vehicle chase, as well as the debut of the newest trailer.
Not everything needed an announcement, but all of them had one in some form or another, even if it might be one you were anticipating — yes, The Bad Batch is coming back for season three… but it will be it’s final season. That left people gagged a little.
The Show Floor
If the panels are the main saga installments, then the show floor is the expanded universe. This year’s Star Wars Celebration Europe spanned the entire ExCel, with two larger halls containing most additional activities.
What was there to experience?
There were the usual roster of stalls selling classic memorabilia, as well as the bigger hitter exhibitors of LEGO, Funko, and even luxury tech and fashion brands selling Star Wars tie-in merchandise. Conspicuously absent was anywhere to buy any of the official Galaxy’s Edge or Parks merchandise in exhibitor form: that seems like an easy win but is perhaps restricted to being sold on Disney property only. The official store itself was never less than very busy right up until the final day, when reduced stock and a slightly smaller attendance meant you could stroll straight in. The official store operated a fast pass system, booked similar to the large panels in advance. It was essential as it meant you could skip both the wait line to enter and the long queue to check out inside as well.
There’s also plenty of photo opportunities, usually linked to exhibitor brands but pleasingly, not always. Return of the Jedi’s big anniversary meant there was the chance to renact Luke and Vader’s fateful duel in front of Palpatine both in LEGO form, and without. Ahsoka‘s impending appearance on our screens meant the mural from the end of Rebels was there too, a prop taken directly from the show to the show floor. And authentic props from the saga were all over the venue, from a scale TIE Fighter, to Taun Tauns and the Endor shield bunker.
A bounty hunt game encouraged you to search the show floor for standees that gave you riddles to answer. Get them all right and you could redeem them for a portrait of The Mandalorian Din Djarin and Grogu in vintage hunting style. It made you explore every nook and cranny, from the food vendors to the fan-built droid exhibition and the extensive art gallery, where you could meet artists firsthand to purchase their work — sometimes even framed already.
How was it on the ground?
The convention was sprawling and densely packed. Crowds of people made it nearly impossible to just casually browse: you had to have intention in your decisions, as no one enters a 50-minute LEGO queue lightly. Occasionally you could take advantage of a particularly busy panel meaning the floor was slightly lighter, but it was never anything less than rammed up until the end of the day on Sunday and the Monday final day.
The cosplay is brilliant and part of the fun of wandering around is spotting some of your favorite characters rendered real by fans. Most creators are very welcoming if you’d like to get a photo, but make sure you ask permission: cosplay is not consent, and that applies across touching your fellow attendees as well as photographing them. The creativity on show is amazing, from caged Porgs, to Grogu in Carbonite, more Mandalorians than you can shake a Mythosaur at, and enough Ahsokas that even Ashley Eckstein would be overwhelmed. You’re as likely to run into Boba Fett on the show floor as you are a Lego Star Wars homage.
Overall Thoughts and Top Tips
The Star Wars Celebration Europe 2023 experience is one which I think will take some processing. You soon take for granted the ability to share space with thousands of like-minded individuals, all kind-hearted and embracing of one another and the excitement generated by being together.
The Fandom Menace is real, and we all know there are plenty of hideous trolls online to level insults at Kathleen Kennedy, Daisy Ridley, Rosario Dawson and more for daring to make the galaxy a diverse space. But that wasn’t the side of the fandom I saw over those four days in London. I saw the side that addresses you as ‘Master Jedi’ when you’re in costume (yes, I cosplayed for a day, and yes, it was REALLY fun); that hands out kyber crystals to Jedi in the crowd (yep, my Jedi cosplay got one too); that organizes large scale duels with our light-up sabers.
If you are planning on attending the 2025 Japan event, I’d defy anyone remotely in love with the saga not to have a brilliant time. Yes there’s merch on sale and to a certain extent, it’s a marketing exercise, but this is as much about the fans as it is Lucasfilm. You can find panels covering everything from representation in the Star Wars galaxy to fashion. It really is what you make it.
What are my top tips?
Plan ahead. It is possible just to rock up and take things on the fly, but you will inevitably miss out, whether that’s on certain panels or just on knowing the full extent of what you can get up to on the day.
Take cosplay. Give it a go and throw as much into it as you can, because trust me, you’ll get outfit envy at some of the others people turn up in. It’s also a really fun part of the experience that you’ll want to be a part of.
Don’t burn out. If you’re going for the full four days, don’t feel like you need to be there 10am until 7pm every day. Pace yourself — you will find time to do everything.
Equally, don’t put off getting that thing. I spent two days ducking grabbing one of the limited edition copies of Lydia Kang’s Cataclysm. I got one of the last three copies when I got round to it. Things do sell out and the good stuff goes quick, especially in the official store and for timed releases.
Enjoy it. The event will fly by. Soak up the excitement and atmosphere while you can. It’s a pretty rare and unique chance to share space with people who love something just as much as you do. Take it all in, and then get planning for the next one…
Will you be going to Star Wars Celebration Japan 2025? Tell us in the comments below.