For Star Warsfans, 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 to 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 this past weekend had me through the roof.
I had never gone to a convention prior to SWCO 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 my time at SWCO – the pros, the cons, tips, sights that left me in awe, and the very human moments along the way.
Following the entrance and security line debacle of Thursday, with the line being more than a mile long and featured on multiple news stations for causing some traffic congestion, SWCO organizers added two additional entrances that would open at 6AM, with the main entrance still scheduled to open at 5AM.
Arriving just after five that morning, and seeing that security had no intention of letting fans in anytime in the near future, I traveled the line to see just how long it was at that point. Let me just say that I knew I’d have a safer bet by going to one of the 6AM entrances.
(I did get in before my friends who waited on the 5AM entrance line. Yikes.)
Getting into “The Last Jedi” panel was very low on my list when I saw the lines. Not only did it conflict with some photo op times but it was an almost guarantee that I would only have a chance at the small number of Behind-The-Scenes Stage wristbands. I waited in line, trying to get a place for my friends, all the while sparking up conversation with my line neighbors once more.
If there’s a good thing about the dozens of lines one has to wait on while at Celebration, it’s the ability to strike up conversation with the people around you and start to immerse yourself in the Star Wars spirit before the day really begins. You learn things about people in the first minutes of meeting them that leave an impression on you.
The duo I sat beside in line while waiting for my friends were from San Diego and this was definitely not their first rodeo. With snacks ready to be munched on and a First Order helmet seated between us, they mentioned how they’ve been to Celebration before – they even traveled to Star Wars Celebration London last year and made a trip of it which I thought was awesome.
Groups of people began to file into line behind me and at that point, my friends and I knew that we wouldn’t be able to meet up. With a wristband for Mark Hamill’s Tribute to Carrie Fisher scheduled for that night, I moved and waited in line for the exhibition hall.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to entertain myself over long periods of time when I wanted to savor my phone battery. Although I had a trusty portable charger in my backpack, most of my three hours waiting to get into the exhibition hall were spent playing solitaire with a deck of cards I brought or solving number puzzles in a sudoku book I carry when I travel. Now, you don’t have to befriend your line neighbors on every line you get on. Sometimes it’s nice to bond over a favorite actor or movie, or even complain about something that just kept going wrong that day. It’s also okay to want to hang by yourself. Human interaction takes too much energy and effort at points and that’s okay – you can probably find someone else nearby that’s trying to nap while they wait or just find peace with themselves.
With that being said, one of my favorite moments of SWCO involved being with a group of people. Lucky enough to meet Hayden Christensen a second time, I was on line with some friends when the teaser art and trailer for The Last Jedi released.
Freaking out over something as huge as these things via social media or text is completely different from doing it in person with people who are just as excited. There were two different photo ops going on around the time The Last Jedi panel was occurring. I can honestly say that it was an experience like no other. Throughout the time of the panel, people from one line were shouting to friends they made a few minutes prior about what was happening. Every time a loud cheer was heard from the Star Wars Live stage, which the panel was being streamed onto the exhibition floor, fans were checking Twitter, Tumblr, or their own lagging stream to catch everyone else up on what was happening.
The release of that infamous, and truly great, teaser poster had people passing phones around. No one person had the same reaction but there was a common theme – excitement. Any hopes or expectations anyone had for the newest film heighted by that singular image of Rey, much like Luke Skywalker in the A New Hope poster, raising her arm, light saber ignited; Luke’s face taking up half of the poster while Kylo Ren’s occupies the remaining half, Rey standing between them like the true balance of the light and the dark.
Theories, thoughts, receipts for Skywalker [cough, cough] were being thrown into the air immediately. Any thoughts of a trailer coming were pushed aside for the time being as we all tried to digest the image that had been presented before us.
That was, of course, until the trailer dropped. Those moments all really happened in a blur. The trailer was originally supposed to be for SWCO attendees – fans were constantly told not to video or photograph anything – but at the very last minute, it was decided it would be streamed for the world to see.
I don’t remember how we all knew the trailer was dropping, perhaps someone on one of the lines announced it to the crowd, but suddenly everyone who was able to pulled out their phones in hopes of loading the trailer.
It’s almost comical, now that I look back. No one in our general area could load the trailer up and actually watch it. Data got slow very quickly and no one was dishing out $13 for one day of convention wifi. With all the commotion around us, there was no hearing the trailer when my friend had loaded up the trailer. Feet away from meeting Hayden Christensen and overwhelmed with noise, three of us huddled around her phone screen to catch glimpses of the newest entry into Star Wars/the next chapter into the Skywalker saga.
There were screams of excitement and awe, flailing hands and beaming smiles. Just seeing the first footage of Luke Skywalker and that iconic image of Rey’s back to the camera, standing on the rocky cliff before an ocean’s edge – there was this unexplainable feeling coursing through the air. Then, we tried to listen to the sound.
With the phone close to our ears and the girls behind us watching the trailer from over our shoulders, hearing Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker telling Rey to “breathe” quite literally left us breathless.
I can only explain this experience as unforgettable. The same energy I felt was shared amongst the crowd. We were all just Star Wars fans, desperate to find out what we’re missing and to view the trailer firsthand – without any outsider input or thoughts. It really was a special, funny moment. Never underestimate the bonds people will form and the lengths they will go through when it comes to Star Wars.
Of course, one of the strongest bonds to come from Star Wars was that of the “Space Twins” Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.
As catching our breath and eating lunch, my friends and I headed to the waiting area for Mark’s tribute panel to Carrie. No one quite knew what was in store as we waited, but we all knew it would bring tears to our eyes. Carrie Fisher was, is, and always will be an irreplaceable force and her missing presence at SWCO was extremely noticeable. I always imagined that when I would walk into a room with Carrie Fisher, I would just know because I would be drawn to her immediately.
I unfortunately never got the chance to meet the wonderful woman behind Princess Leia but she always made sure people felt like they did. From her constant candidness, to everyone in the cast and crew sharing their personal stories of her, there’s a feeling amongst Star Wars fans, or Carrie Fisher fans in general, that she was like a personal friend.
(More photos from Mark Hamill’s Tribute to Carrie Fisher can be found here.)
While Mark Hamill’s Tribute to Carrie Fisher did feature the same video dedicated to Carrie as the one played at the “40 Years of Star Wars” panel, what really hit home was seeing Mark sit on stage in his red chair, looking down at his notebook as his guide for what topic he could bring up or what video was to be shown next.
For all Carrie had been known for being extremely candid, it felt like Mark took a page out of her book that night. He shared how he felt partially in love with her while filming the first movie – and how he didn’t want to share her with anyone, especially Harrison Ford. He mentioned how they kissed a bit and how he visited her at her Beverly Hills home; he mentioned that when he needed a place to stay for a short while, she told more than offered up her place in New York. Every story he presented to the crowd about his time with Carrie just brought up one memory after another.
There are two things that stick with me most from Mark’s tribute. One is the fact that each memory just pushed forward another. It was so genuine and wonderful to see Mark caught up in his own stories and moments of Carrie that he’d glance at the timer near the front of the stage and have to remind himself that he only had a limited amount of time left and he needed to bring up a few videos dedicated to Carrie from coworkers and friends. I honestly believe that I’m not the only one who sat in that theater and would have been okay staying all night just to hear Mark remember his “Space Twin”.
The other moment that really left an impact on me was near the beginning of Mark’s tribute. In his notebook, he had the statement that he released a week after Carrie’s passing. He decided to read that statement to the crowd but, not more than two or so lines into it, he stopped and needed to collect himself. It was the image of pure grief – his voice caught in his throat and it was easy to tell by the sound of his voice that tears were making their way to the surface. The moment was real and full of pure, raw emotion. It contained the uttermost grief, as he was reliving the moments he wrote it, and there was shared heartbreak amongst attendees – not only for Carrie but also for Mark and his pain. His quite utterance of, “I don’t know if I can do this,” absolutely shattered my heart. The sentence was met by encouragement and support from the crowd, some even yelling it out to Mark.
He did continue to read his statement, stopping once or twice to make a comment regarding it or to collect himself briefly. But that moment will never leave me.
As much as the “40 Years of Star Wars” panel gave me a feeling of being unified with my fellow Star Wars fans, it was nothing compared to this moment. All of us in that theater were there to remember Carrie Fisher. We were not that in hopes of a special announcement or to see an actor from our favorite trilogy or to see a special guest; practically every person in that theater was there for Carrie. Our grief, many coming from people who did not have a chance to meet her but still felt her become a large piece of our hearts, was shared and our heartbreak was one. We were each other’s support systems and each other’s shoulders to cry on. There was a feeling amongst the crowd that is immeasurable and furthermore, indescribable. This is what it truly feels to be a part of the Star Wars community.
With heavy hearts lifted with some laughter and truly good memories provided by Mark Hamill and later Warwick Davis, the crowd inside the theater departed at the end of the second day at SWCO.
Though exciting things lied ahead for me the next day, I knew that nothing would be as special as what I had witnessed that evening.
MISSED MY DAY 1 RECAP? CATCH IT HERE! DAY 3 COMING SOON.