Not so long ago, in a convention center pretty close to home…
Star Wars fans of all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities gathered together for the 12th Star Wars Celebration since its 1999 inception, celebrating Star Wars’ 40 th anniversary. This convention touts one of the most impressive lists of presenters and panels any science fiction fan would ever hope to experience, including the father of all things Force, George Lucas, and its biggest stars. Celebrity appearances abounded. The galaxy’s scruffiest nerf herder, Harrison Ford, everyone’s favorite, guttural quipping copilot, Peter Mayhew, and the Darth Maul himself, Ray Park were all in attendance. There were more than 200 panels offered over the course of the 4 days, all of which were available to peruse in a calendar on the convention’s self-titled app.
(Pro tip: Plan your must-see panels ahead of time and grab a paper copy of the schedule, when you walk in. Convention centers are notorious for spotty cell service and overwhelmed wifi. The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando was not immune to this phenomenon.) A nomadic con by design, this year Celebration came back to Orlando, FL for the third time. Celebration has been held on the both coasts, in Europe, and Japan; circumnavigating the globe to spread the love and fanaticism for one of the most recognizable film franchises in the world.
This year saw those fanatics coming out in droves to collect memorabilia, purchase photo opportunities, witness amazing cosplays, and revel in all things droid. One of the biggest highlights was the release of the teaser trailer for the much-anticipated Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. In traditional Star Wars fashion, fans were left both satiated and hungry for more information, by the trailer’s ambiguous theme. The final lines delivered by Luke Skywalker, “It’s time for the Jedi to end,” caused even the most fervent of Snoke theorists to abandon that for a moment to ponder exactly what the prodigal master of The Force meant. The trailer was released at the end of the panel pertaining to Episode VIII, which included the film’s cast Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran, and Mark Hamill. Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and master of ceremonies Josh Gad rounded out the panel. The irony of Gad being able to ask direct questions, was not lost on panel-viewers. Several videos recently went viral where Josh Gad continuously harangued Ridley for inside information about the plot of the upcoming film.
It wasn’t all mystery and secrets. My favorite panel was Mark Hamill’s Tribute to Carrie Fisher. Hamill recounted several meaningful stories about the late star that he hasn’t told outside of his own inner circle. One recounted how he tried to trick Fisher when they first met, by saying he was a production assistant. A trick that she, not only didn’t entirely fall for, but barely even noticed. “It was exhilarating just to be around her,” Hamill said during his brief description, to a hushed audience, about what it was like to be friends with Carrie Fisher. He quickly spun it back to a lighter note saying, “As attracted as I was to her, I thought I couldn’t handle her as a girlfriend.” He spoke several times about how diminished his life would have been, had she not been a part of it, while referring to his ‘space twin’. Those who could not attend in-person, were able to watch all the panels via live-stream.
This gift was repaid in spades, by the fans. Fans who slept on concrete just to get a pass to see the panel in person. Fans who got engaged at the convention. Fans who passed along their love of the films to their children. Fans like Amanda Ward and Tracy Gardner, who did a live recording of their Rebel Grrrl podcast the evening after The Last Jedi trailer was released. Fans who will wait with baited breath until the next Star Wars Celebration comes in 2019.
— Aaron L. Benningfield
Special thanks to Aaron L. Benningfield for covering Celebration and his great photo’s from the event. Check out all the photos from Celebration here