Star Wars Celebration Anaheim… My first post
ANAHEIM, Calif. — With three little words, the largest gathering in Star Wars Celebration history roared its approval and the beloved franchise’s premier fan event was launched into hyperspace at the Anaheim Convention Center over the weekend.
“Chewie, we’re home!” spoken by actor Harrison Ford playing his iconic character Han Solo aboard the Millennium Falcon alongside his faithful Wookiee copilot Chewbacca was the final scene in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser, which was streamed simultaneously on StarWars.com during the world-wide release.
I was fortunate enough to be among the capacity crowd at the Convention Center Arena, many of whom waited in line all night in the convention center basement to guarantee a seat to the event. The packed arena exploded in fan-demonium after Ford’s line, so much so that event officials replayed the 110-second teaser to satisfy thelightsaber-weilding crowd chanting, “Again! Again! Again!”
For this life-long Star Wars fan, it was my first appearance at a Star Wars Celebration, which has been held seven times in the United States and 10 times worldwide. Ever since seeing The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 as a youngling, I was drawn to the story that pits good versus evil, the light side against the dark side of the Force, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
My devotion to the franchise continued in 1999, 2002, and 2005 with the releases of the prequel trilogy as I attended the midnight showings to see how Star Wars creator George Lucas would tell the story that led up to the original trilogy I grew up with. When it was announced Lucasfilm, powered by its recent purchase by Disney, was going to produce three more episodes, I could feel the Force flowing through me stronger than ever. My four-day ticket for the Anaheim Celebration was purchased nearly a year in advance.
At the Star Wars Celebration kick-off event, the film’s Emmy-award winning director, J.J. Abrams, along with Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, led a panel discussion that included Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac, the new stars of the Star Wars universe moving forward who were cast in The Force Awakens.
“I’ve never had more fun in my life; working on anything,” said Abrams, who’s produced titles such as Star Trek Into Darkness and the hit-TV series Lost.
Abrams and Kennedy even provided pizza to the nearly thousand fans who camped out all night to get the best seats in the house for The Force Awaken’s panel and teaser. I arrived at 5 a.m. and witnessed the empty pizza boxes scattered about on the Convention Center’s floor.
Celebration organizers previously advertised “special guests” who would join Abrams and Kennedy on stage, and they didn’t disappoint when Ridley, Boyega, and Isaac were introduced. As a bonus, the beloved droid R2D2 – who has appeared in all six Star Wars films and will make it seven this Christmas – made an appearance, along with the droid from The Force Awakens who is sure to become a fan-favorite, as well – BB-8. The raucous crowd cheered loudly when BB-8 rolled onto stage as it was speculated the droid would be portrayed via computer graphics in the film and not exist as a real model. BB-8’s appearance signified Abrams’ commitment to Star Wars fans that the new films would be a return to real film making like the original trilogy and not heavily rely on CG as the more recent films did.
Ridley, who will portray Rey, a desert scavenger, is expected to be part of a new direction for the Star Wars universe that will include more female characters. She said she has been overwhelmed with the fan’s response with a film that is still seven months away from being released. “Back stage we could just hear the swell of the crowd,” Ridley said. “It was amazing.”
Before revealing the film’s first teaser since giving Star Wars fans a sneak peak with a 90-second first glimpse last November, Abrams and Kennedy brought out stars from the original Star Wars films — Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Anthony Daniels (C3PO), all of whom were cast in The Force Awakens.
It was an iconic scene, seeing the actors from the original films shoulder to shoulder with the new stars, with a backdrop of eight stormtroopers in their new uniforms from The Force Awakens. Next month, A New Hope — the first installment of the Star Wars films — will turn 38.
Known as Lucasfilm’s “love letter” to its fans, Star Wars Celebration is the ultimate fan experience that brings Star Wars enthusiasts together from the around the world to celebrate the pop culture phenomenon. “You’re more than just fans, you’re family,” said Hamill, who then blew a kiss and waved to every corner of the arena. The franchise is swelling with new content soon to be released, including TV shows, video games, books and comics, along with a minimum of five new films.
The Force Awakens is scheduled for a December 2015 release. Star Wars’ renewed popularity was evident as an estimated 200,000 fans passed through the convention center’s doors during the four-day event. “It’s the biggest crowd we’ve ever had,” Kennedy said. “There’s more families here than celebration has ever seen.”
Along with long-awaited release of the new teaser, costumes, exhibits, screenings, exclusive merchandise, celebrity guests, panels, autograph and photo sessions kept fans busy all weekend. Saturday and Sunday tickets were sold out as the seams of the convention center facilities bulged and wait times for some events clocked in at more than four hours.
“What an amazing weekend this has been,” Kennedy said during Sunday afternoon’s closing ceremonies. “I continue to be amazed at Star Wars fans but this weekend surpasses anything I ever imagined.”
Highlights of Star Wars Celebration Anaheim included additional reveals and releases that fans have been waiting excitedly for. Most of Friday focused on the trailer reveal for the video game Battlefront 3, which is scheduled to be released for the holiday shopping season.
Saturday was all about the Lucasfilm’s animated TV series Star Wars Rebels, which just wrapped up its first season on Disney XD. Fans were treated to panels that explained where the series is headed, including the addition of some of their favorite characters from the animated TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars that was canceled in 2013.
The big Star Wars Rebels reveal came in the form of an extended trailer for Season 2 of Rebels, which highlighted characters such as Darth Vader, Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex and Hondo joining the core group of characters developed in Season 1. The Clone Wars was the only content Lucasfilm had created since the last film in 2005 until Rebels began last fall. It touched a new generation of Star Wars fan who did not grow up with the original or prequel trilogies and had become nearly as popular as the six films.
A limited number of fans were treated to a screening of the first two episodes of Season 2 of Rebels, which will contain 22 episodes and will begin airing this summer on Disney XD.
Rebels Executive Producer Simon Kinberg was asked at Saturday’s news conference about the burden to get things right when creating new content for a franchise with such devoted fans.
“There’s an automatic pressure with anything that has the words “Star Wars” in the title,” Kinberg said. “You always feel a responsibility. It’s like adding books to the Bible.”
Perhaps the biggest reveal came in the form of Lucasfilm’s venture into films outside of Episodes VII, VIII, and IX.
Earlier this year, it was announced standalone spinoff films were in the works, with the first movie titled Rogue One set for a December 2016 release.
As part of the Star Wars Anthology Series — as Lucasfilm is dubbing the side films — Rogue One will tell the story of a band of resistance fighters who unite for a daring mission to steal the Death Star plans. Fans also were treated to a short teaser for the film that was not made public but it ended up immediately being leaked online.
The next Star Wars Celebration is July 15-17, 2016 in London. Tickets went on sale at noon Monday. Officials made 200 VIP tickets available, which entitles the bearer to additional perks including meeting special guests and reserved seats to all the main events. VIP tickets reportedly sold out in the first two minutes. Luckily, I am one of the 200!
May the Force be with you.