For Star Wars fans, there’s no greater gathering than Star Wars Celebration. The convention brings together fans from across the globe over the course of four days. During these days, multiple areas of the expansive franchise are explored and discussed, big announcements are made, and a trailer or two may drop.
Though my entry into the Star Wars universe is still fairly recent (only last January, compared to many people I know who are lifelong fans), the excitement at attending Star Wars Celebration Orlando last weekend had me through the roof.
I had never gone to a convention prior to Celebration and as thrilled as I was to go, it was a little daunting to go to something so big; I mean, they were celebrating 40 years of one of the most successful film franchises in Hollywood history and promised big things to happen. In addition to that, this year’s Celebration saw the return of Hayden Christensen to Star Wars fandom as well as the first big event without Carrie Fisher and Kenny Baker since their passing.
Below, I’ve recapped some of my time at SWCO – the pros, the cons, tips, sights that left me in awe, and the very human moments along the way.
There’s a thrumming of excited anticipation when it comes to waiting in line for the very first day of Star Wars Celebration Orlando. While many others, some of my friends included, began lining up to get wristbands for the “40 Years of Star Wars” panel the afternoon beforehand, I was taking my flight down to Orlando. Arriving at the convention center around 4:30 that Thursday morning, a sight of awe was before me.
Fans decked out head to toe had begun a winding line around the convention center. There were Jedi Knights, Rebel pilots, and even a few Stormtroopers in the mix. Plenty of casually dressed fans stood in the lines too but one thing they all had in common was that no one could wait for the doors to open.
After a bit of a delay with doors opening and then a mess of the security lines, it was time to get in line for “40 Years of Star Wars”.
It should be noted that waiting in lines upon lines upon lines is an understandable consequence of a convention. A large number of fans are all trying to get a seat at highly desired panels or exclusive booths on the exhibition floor with limited availability.
The great thing about attending Star Wars Celebration with a friend is the ability to escape the line for a moment to do something else – whether to grab a wristband for another panel before they are all gone, buy a snack, or go to the bathroom. It alleviates any pressure that comes with dragging your bags or props around unnecessarily or hoping that your line neighbor is nice enough to hold your spot and watch your stuff for you.
With the panel not starting until 11 am, there was still about four and a half hours to kill until we were to be seated. This is where waiting in lines for concerts helped me out majorly. Pre-packed snacks are your friend. Not only do you have something to munch on at the ready with little fanfare to obtain it, but it also saves cash by not dishing it out on the items offered at premium pricing for events like these. Bringing along small portable games for yourself, friends, and/or line mates to play definitely helps the time to pass quicker and saves your phone battery as well!
I brought Uno, which not only allowed for a fun time to pass but also enabled me to engage in the people on line around us, get them involved, and create an overall better waiting experience.
The distribution of the wristbands, while there were major problems involving people who stayed overnight and line jumpers for the live stage (nicknamed the Galaxy Stage for Celebration), the remaining wristbands for the streaming stages (Celebration Stage and Behind-The-Scenes Stage) felt like they were done effortlessly, though we were left with little instruction on what to do next.
While I wish I could have been present at the Galaxy Stage for the amazing things that happened at the “40 Years of Star Wars” panel, I understood I wouldn’t have made it in and was glad that I got a close, comfortable seat at the Celebration Stage. Though it lacked the ability to hear John Williams’ orchestrations in person or to see Hayden Christensen and Harrison Ford face to face, the Celebration Stage offered elevated seating, so the rows behind you were a little higher and can see over your head, and the seats were very comfortable. The views of the stream never lagged or faced any problems, like some viewers at home apparently experienced, and it almost felt like I was really there.
There were so many amazing reasons for this panel being one of my favorites at SWCO. There was just a general appreciation for everyone and for all the films that were represented. It was great to see Ian McDiarmid and Anthony Daniels enjoying themselves on stage, poking fun at George Lucas and what he was like on set. Not enough words can comprehend how great it was to see the loving reception Hayden Christensen received for his return to Celebration. (Honestly, for getting the brunt of the hate people had for the prequels, he’s never looked down or hated his time in Star Wars or the fans. Absolute class act.) Truly special moments included seeing Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford reunite on stage before John Williams was revealed behind a curtain and performed a moving tribute to Carrie Fisher. There were tears coming to my eyes so much throughout the panel that I lost count – from the video appreciating the fans in the very beginning, to the heartfelt tribute video to Carrie as well as the appearance and speech by her daughter Billie Lourd; crying from laughter when Ian, Anthony, or Mark would recall a memory or crying from heartbreak at hearing ‘Leia’s Theme’ and sincerely missing our space princess.
The “40 Years of Star Wars” panel held so much love and wonderful memories from everyone involved. It truly had a feeling of ‘This is what Star Wars Celebration is about’. Nothing can really replicate those moments or emotions. For a little over an hour, we were all connected and feeling the same way. Star Wars fans truly felt like they were one.
(For Galaxy Stage attendees only, they were eligible to receive a Carrie Fisher tribute poster that featured a promotional photo of her as Princess Leia during Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.)
Following the first panel of Star Wars Celebration meant my schedule pointed me in the direction of Mark Hamill and Hayden Christensen’s photo ops. What originally started out as pure excitement with a touch of nervousness turned into anxiety, confusion, frustration, and overall exhaustion.
I expected there to be waiting and lines with everything at Celebration. What I didn’t anticipate was the utter lack of organization and communication, between both organizers and staff as well as staff and attendees. It’s really not the staff’s fault, which I know from my past and current jobs – you do the best that you can with the information given to you. And really, not a lot of information or direction was given to the staff who needed it most – aka those trying to organize the lines.
A mob of people fluttered around the entrance to the photo op area, all trying to not get yelled at by autograph staff for being too close to their lines and hoping to hear whatever the personnel in front of the mob was yelling out unsuccessfully. The one positive thing to come from this mess was the comradery amongst SWCO attendees in regards to this subject. No matter who your favorite character is, which movie you believe to be the best, or your OTP in Star Wars, there was an instant bond that formed when it came to freaking out or complaining about the line situation. It was probably the quickest way to make friends.
After being shuffled around about four or five times for Mark Hamill, waiting about two hours to even find out what was happening, before pushing my way towards my group and organizing myself in, the time had come.
Mark Hamill is a treasure in himself. Not only did he pull out that amazingly hideous blue – or is it green? Something in the middle? – sweater for the meet and greets which I LOVED, but he also seemed to be enjoying every moment of it. From hugs to smiles to wild poses, he was down for anything and happy to be there.
In my nervousness, I forgot to put my phone in my pocket and, in the midst of doing our pose, accidentally whacked him in the head with it. I promptly said, “I’m so sorry!” and rubbed his head as he was still mid-pose for our photo. To end my humiliation, I posed so the photo could get taken. Mark was a true sport about it, brushed it off (and hopefully he doesn’t even remember it happened), and thanked me when I told him that I was happy he brought the sweater.
If you couldn’t tell by earlier, I’m a big fan of Hayden Christensen so meeting him, I felt like that was the last thing that’d ever happen. I absolutely adored watching the way him and Ewan McGregor played off of each other, especially in Revenge of the Sith and it made me appreciate and love the final showdown between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in A New Hope even more.
There are not enough good things to say about Hayden. For him to return to celebration and do photo ops and autographs – I would be scared to be in his shoes. But every interaction with every fan was personal and sincere. Out of everyone I’ve ever met, this has probably been my favorite interaction.
While the photographers try to rush fans through to accommodate the demand and the timeslot, Hayden takes his time, introduces himself just before you introduce yourself. He shakes your hand and/or hugs you while maintaining eye contact and actually being genuine when he says it’s nice to meet you. Watching from the line, you see that he makes each interaction with fans memorable and cares to make sure it’s good. Experiencing it firsthand makes it even better and I can honestly say that I have never met anyone more genuine, sincere, and overall kind in my life. First impressions matter most and tell you a lot about a person. So many points in my book for this.
(Also, just a side note – notice the phone in my pocket this time. No injuries following the Mark Hamill incident, thankfully.)
Following my photo ops, time was inching towards five in the evening, the stomachs of myself and my friends were growling, and true, pure exhaustion was hitting us all. The original plan was to get on line then for “The Last Jedi” panel on Friday but we knew that was now out of the question. In addition to our desperate need for sleep, those fans who slept over for the “40 Years” panel and missed the live stage cut due to line jumpers had begun lining up then for “The Last Jedi”. Chances of getting into the live stage for it were low so we decided to head to our hotel rooms and try our chances in the morning.
CHECK OUT THE SWCO DAY 2 RECAP NOW.