April 28, 2017
When George Lucas created Star Wars more than four decades ago, nobody could have predicted the impact his imagination would have on the world. While these influences have predominantly centered around filmmaking, digital media has benefited immensely. Bringing it closer to home with what we do at FCV, John Knoll from the famed VFX and Animation Studio, ILM – the man who came up with the idea behind Lucasfilm's recent blockbuster, Rogue One – was one of the original creators of Adobe Photoshop. (Bet you didn’t know that?!)
I had the opportunity to attend this year's Star Wars Celebration, and along with revisiting my childhood, I was also looking for inspiration. How can the magic of the franchise impact the way we think, design and develop in the world of digital experiences?
Now to the good stuff. If you’re looking for a glimpse into a galaxy far, far away, here's a peek at how the four days went down…
Being of a certain age, I belong to what has often been described within certain circles as the original Star Wars generation, as a result of growing up with the OT (Original Trilogy). While much of my age group fall into the category of prequel-haters, I personally enjoy them, and while they are not necessarily my favourite movies in the saga, I have an appreciation for them and pretty much all things Star Wars.
So I boarded a flight to Orlando to attend the eighth Star Wars Celebration held in North America, (of which I have been to five, for the record, and seven in total when you include the two that took place in London). Unlike many of the 70,000 fans that descended on the Orange County Convention Centre, mine is a rather different experience, given that I attended as part of the Rebelscum.com/TheForce.Net team responsible for engaging with fans visiting our booth and providing event coverage.*
While the event itself didn't start for a couple of days, arriving a day early allowed for meeting up with other team members, setting up the booth and getting a lay of the land as far as the main exhibition hall was concerned. And even though the vast majority of people in the hall were in set-up mode, there was still time to see a lot of the exhibits, vendors, licensees' booths and fan-built props before the crowds arrived.
As has become standard over the years, the big panels attract huge numbers. Fans desperate to see many of the big names from the Star Wars saga will make the decision to line-up outside the convention centre the night before in an attempt to get a wristband for the main stage. Generally speaking, the fans are duly rewarded, as was the case for the 40th Anniversary panel where Harrison Ford and George Lucas made a surprise appearance much to the delight of the audience, particularly the former, who'd never previously attended a Celebration, at least publicly. Carrie Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd also joined the gathering to pay tribute to her mother, with a flawless recital of Princess Leia's full holographic message that was played to Ben Kenobi on Tatooine, leaving barely a dry-eye in the auditorium. What made the panel even more special was composer John Williams making an appearance to perform "Princess Leia's Theme", the "Star Wars Main Title" and "The Imperial March".
Again on opening night, the crowds gathered in expectation of seeing the first teaser trailer at The Last Jedi panel, ahead of the movie's release in December 2017. Not only did director Rian Johnson show-up to entertain the line-ups, but also got to walk away with a prized possession in the form of the movie poster, a much coveted item. Just see for yourself!
With great responsibility comes great sacrifice, and as is often the way of things, I was scheduled to cover the booth on both Thursday and Friday mornings, meaning that even if I was crazy enough to sleep overnight on a hard floor, I wouldn't have been able to leave the booth unattended. For recent Celebrations, many of the main panels have been streamed live via StarWars.com and so with the live stage that was right behind us featuring a large video screen, I at least was able to view on-goings in real-time. Many of the panelists also appeared on the live stage, such that at one point, I was a stone's throw from Oscar-nominee and Rogue One heroine, Felicity Jones and Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker (Saw Gerrera - Rogue One/Star Wars Rebels).
Despite spending close to a day on the booth over the course of the show, the other members of the team also did their part, allowing me to enjoy other areas of the convention. I believe I was very restrained in only buying a handful of the event exclusives, only one of which required me getting up at the crack of dawn in order to claim my voucher (I guess I am crazy!). I attended several panels on one of the main stages, namely The Music of Rogue One: An Analysis by David Collins and Rebel Reunion! which brought together the actors that played Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson), Biggs Darklighter (Garrick Hagon) and Gold Leader, Jon "Dutch" Vander (Angus MacInnes). They were joined by Tim Rose and Mike Quinn, the puppeteers that brought Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb to life, both of whom reprised their roles for The Force Awakens.
Of my remaining time, a large portion was spent on the Collecting Track, which is a series of panels designed specifically for collectors. These cover a multitude of varying interests, ranging from Food collectibles, The Growing Galaxy of Women's Star Wars Fashion and Original Props and Costumes, through to Vintage Theatrical Advertising and Collectible Ephemera and everything in between. Additionally, they deliver informative presentations on such things as Fakes and Scandals in the community and a trip back in time to visit toy factories around the world when they were producing the original Kenner line. One of the bonuses for attending Collecting Track panels is the giveaway upon leaving at the end of each presentation, which for the past few Celebrations has been Star Tots, metal pin-like renditions of a pre-school toy line that never made it past the prototype stage in the late 70s.
For me, a highlight of any Celebration has, and will always be the opportunity to catch-up with friends, old and new. Many of them I have met before, some I may have only previously known on social media, and still others I may be meeting for the first time. At its core, we all have a deep love of Star Wars, so while we may have vastly different interests within that scope, that common bond will always give us something to talk about.
The end of the show always brings with it mixed emotions. After four days of burning the candle at both ends, everyone is typically on the cusp of exhaustion, and con-mode often involves one foregoing such luxuries as regular meals and an adequate intake of water, surviving primarily on coffee (which admittedly does contain water) and snacks. As such, Celebration coming to a close does bring some relief. Equally though, it means a return to normality that, for most people, doesn't involve being immersed in Star Wars and spending time with people who love the saga as much as you do, as well as the realization that you won't be doing this for some time to come.
Llittle is known about exactly when and where the next Star Wars Celebration will take place. Sure, there are other conventions happening in the meantime, but to diehard fans, they just don't compare. Truth be told, Star Wars Celebration is just as much for casual fans as it is the obsessive aficionado, it's just that the latter tend to try and wring every last drop out of the event as they possibly can!
* FCV is not affiliated with rebelscum.com or theforce.net