Back in 2012, Star Wars Celebration, that four-day extravaganza for fans of the galaxy far, far away, was held in Orlando. The only trouble with that was that I was a first-year teacher with nowhere near the financial means to get myself to the convention. Fast forward to last year, and my insurance underwriter’s salary and benefits ensured that I could grab the tickets when it came back to Orlando. Celebration 2017 finally happened last week, and I thought I’d do a reaction post on it, like I normally do when Dragon Con happens each year.
The main difference between Celebration and an event like D*C is that the entire con takes place in a single large building, in this case the Orange County Convention Center. Dragon Con, on the other hand, is spread out over five hotels and spans many different genres of geekdom, as opposed to just Star Wars. The main drawback with this is that for major panels and events, the entire con will converge on one place, and only the most hardcore fans will be able to enter. For the panels commemorating the 40th anniversary and talking about the next Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, the lines were such that in order to get in, one basically had to camp out starting the evening of the previous day. As anyone who knows me can attest, I was not having that. The price of going to sleep and getting up at a reasonable hour was a two-hour line just to get into the show floor that greeted me on the first day, making me uneasy about the rest of my Celebration experience. However, once I actually got in, the crowds weren’t as bad. The organizers also opened up additional entrances on future days, making those lines much more bearable. The only other line-related snafu came when I tried to get into the show floor on the second day, and ended up not even being able to watch the live stream of the Last Jedi panel. But it ended up on YouTube, which was a decent simulation. Otherwise, I was able to get into and/or watch basically any panel I wanted.
Speaking of panels, the ones I went to were pretty enjoyable. The 40th Anniversary panel featured almost everyone who was anyone in Star Wars that was there: Kathleen Kennedy (president of Lucasfilm), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), and Dave Filoni (Star Wars Rebels producer) were all there, along with a few surprise guests. I expected George Lucas to ride off into the sunset after selling Lucasfilm to Disney, done with Star Wars for good. But he showed up! Another surprise guest was Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), from the “dreaded” prequel era. I was happy with the warm and enthusiastic reception he got at the con, despite being associated with what many describe as a low point in Star Wars history. Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn) and Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) recorded video messages for the fans. Finally, Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford, who has never been to Celebration, made an appearance at that panel. It was great to reminisce about some great movies.
The panel that discussed The Last Jedi was also interesting. Rian Johnson (director), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), and Hamill all showed up, along with a new actress, Kelly-Marie Tran, who plays Rose, a maintenance worker for the Resistance. Possibly the most interesting part of that panel was the debut of the movie’s first trailer.
The two most interesting moments in that trailer for me were the scene with Kylo Ren’s crushed helmet, which may imply something about his fate, and Luke’s words. Many fans have speculated that Luke will either fall to the dark side, or become a “grey Jedi,” one who uses both the light side and dark side, while becoming fully invested in neither. His quote, “I only know one truth: It’s time for the Jedi to end,” as well as Rey’s talking of seeing the balance of the Force, light and dark, serve to fuel this theory. Now, this could just be something he says in the beginning of the film that ultimately amounts to nothing after he agrees to train Rey, but it’s fun to speculate.
Other fun panels were the Star Wars Rebels panel, at which Dave Filoni revealed that the fourth season will be the last for the beloved animated series. Mark Hamill did a moving tribute to Carrie Fisher on the second day. Daisy Ridley crashed the Heroines of Star Wars panel, along with Filoni and Rebels voice actresses Tiya Sircar (Sabine Wren) and Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano), and the audience got to watch the first of the new Star Wars: Forces of Destiny animated shorts. David Collins analyzed the music of Rogue One in an interesting way at that panel, analyzing the themes of hope in them and connecting them back to the music of the original films, and also talking about the “Dies Irae,” musical device, which symbolizes death. Had you been listening for it in Jyn Erso’s theme, you would have known that she would die at the end, as it is repeated four times within her leitmotif. There was a similar panel about the making of Rogue One, where the filmmakers showed several digital sets that were built but not used.
The show floor featured the usual combination of shopping and art that you would find at a place like Dragon Con, but it also had some more unique areas. For instance, there was a section devoted to new Star Wars games that had a digital pinball machine you could try your hand at, and there was one section entirely devoted to people who had tricked out their cars with Star Wars stuff. Toymakers like Lego and the prop replica companies had cool displays. But the king of all of those might be Nissan, who as part of their “Go Rogue” promotion had a booth where congoers could experience using the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality device which I had never tried before. I will be very interested to see what is done with this technology going forward. And, of course, there were many, many great costumes.
My experience was capped off by getting to meet two of my favorite actors from Star Wars: Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams. The baseball card company Topps worked with the Celebration organizers to make almost all of the celebrities there available for photo ops and autographs. While the autograph lines could be somewhat mismanaged (sensing a pattern here?) it was worth it in the end. All of it added up to a fun experience. While it probably isn’t as relentlessly well-run as Dragon Con, it was great to be surrounded by Star Wars fans and even to run into some friends I hadn’t seen in awhile. Hopefully, Star Wars Celebration 2019 will also be in Orlando, cause I’d definitely go back again.