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Star Wars Celebration: A First Timer's Experience

Posted by Ryan on April 17, 2017 at 02:06 PM CST

I have been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. In 1997, my dad and I went to see the Special Editions, and from there it has been an addiction I don't ever plan on quitting.

So with all that being said, it's easy to imagine my excitement as I got in the car to drive to Orlando on Monday. I was set to attend my very first Star Wars Celebration, and I was prepared to have one of the best weekends of my life.

After going to Disney World for a couple days, I arrived at the Orange County Convention Center on Wednesday night, about 9:30 PM. I was prepared to wait in line overnight for the 40th Anniversary Panel with my podcast co-host Daniel, and our two friends Abe and Whitney. From there, my Celebration began. I was at the convention as media, covering the event for my podcast, Podcast 66, as well as TheForce.net.

The first night was absolute chaos. The line to wait for the 40th Panel was supposed to start at 8 PM. When we arrived at 9:30, thousands had prematurely been allowed in, and there was very little staff there with answers. We finally got our spot in line after an hour-long security line, and were ready to just chat and enjoy the atmosphere. I only got about 45 minutes of sleep the first night, but finally the morning was here and I was ready to kick this thing off.

The first morning was just as chaotic as the night before. We were hearing things from people on the outside about lines that were thousands of people long just to get in. There was apparently just one entrance open on the first morning, and people waited hours just to get in to wait in another long security line. The line began moving about 6:30 AM, and we were finally about to get our wristbands. That's when disappointment struck. We were just 15 people from getting a wristband to be in the actual room, the staff ran out. So after waiting nearly 9 hours to get the wristband, we weren't able to be in the actual room. At the time we were all furious, asking ourselves what more could we have done, but the anger settled, and we were just ready to see the panel.

That is really the only negative experience I had during the weekend. The line system Lucasfilm and ReedPOP presented for this Celebration was a mess. There was a severe lack of staff, no policing of the rules, and it was basically a weekend long free for all that left people who followed the rules in the dust. Outside of that I had no complaints, and I hope that gets fixed in 2019.

Seeing the 40th Panel, albeit streamed, was a dream come true. We got George and Kathleen, Mark Hamill, Hayden Christensen, Harrison Ford, JOHN WILLIAMS, and so much more. It was emotional seeing the entire saga celebrated on stage with all of the creators and performers who made Star Wars what it is today. The end tribute to Carrie Fisher left no dry eye in the building, and it set the tone for an amazing weekend.

From there I was able to catch the Animated Origins and Unexpected Fates panel with Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo. We got to see never before seen concept art, as well as learn about the process that Dave and his team go through to create Star Wars Animation. At the end we saw a clip of unfinished animation from The Clone Wars. In that clip we got to see how Boba Fett got his bullet mark on the right side of his helmet. You can go to TheForce.Net's twitter feed and read my live-tweeting from the panel.

Day one was a lot of fun. I was running on little sleep, but I got to see two awesome panels. On day one, I also got to meet Pablo Hidalgo and Leeland Chee of the Lucasfilm story group. I walked the exhibitor floor, met Chris Wyman from TFN, and really soaked it all in.

I went back to the hotel for about an hour, but quickly changed and got ready for night two in the convention center.

This time, we arrived at 7:30 PM to wait overnight, and they hadn't let anyone in yet like the rules stated. I was able to sleep most of night 2 in a sleeping bag, but got to see Rian Johnson as he joined everyone waiting for a few hours, and even got to chat with Mary Franklin, head of ReedPOP.

We were finally in our seats for the Last Jedi Panel, and it was much more than I ever expected. We got to hear from the cast of course, but seeing the teaser poster and that trailer was enough to energize me for the entire weekend. Seeing something like that with thousands of other Star Wars fans and on a big screen was something I will never forget. The energy was palpable, and it was something I have never experienced before.

The only other panel I attended on Friday was Mark Hamill's tribute to Carrie Fisher. It was heartfelt, touching, and overall I think a necessary step for the Star Wars family as we all grieve over the loss of our princess.

On Friday, Daniel, his wife Lindsay, and I also got to hang out for a half-hour backstage at The Star Wars Show, thanks to our friends at Verizon. We met Andi Gutierrez, Anthony Carboni, Scott Bromley, and Mickey who are part of a massive team that bring the live stream to fans all over the world. It was an awesome behind the scenes look, and the hosts and crew are great people.

On Saturday, I was beholden to some media obligations in regards to Star Wars Rebels. I had reserved media seating for the season 4 panel at 11 AM, and that was followed by a press conference at 1 PM. The Rebels Season 4 Panel was emotional and fun, as we got some great looks at the new season, but Dave Filoni did announce that this would be the final season. The energy in the room deflated when he said that, and you could definitely tell the fans were defeated. We then got to see an episode of season 4, and that was my first time watching Star Wars animation that way. It was the most fun I have ever had watching Rebels or Clone Wars, and season 4 looks to be epic.

The press conference was good, as the cast and Dave took some questions, and enlightened us on things to come in the final season. I was able to chat with Taylor Gray and Vanessa Marshall briefly when that was over. I had a front row seat, and it was a great chance to give this cast their final Celebration sendoff.

That was the only panel I caught on Saturday, as I spent the rest of the time meeting fellow fans and members of the community. Saturday was my last day of Celebration, and it was the cap off to an amazing weekend.

All in all my first Celebration was a success. Being around thousands of people who passionately love what you love is something you can never get used too. The fans were all cordial and inviting, and seeing a cosplayer around every corner felt surreal. The energy in the convention center was at level 100 the entire time, and even with line issues, everyone was just excited to be there.

Walking around the floor was great. I had to stop myself from unloading my entire budget on vintage figures, but the shopping experience was also next level. After years of struggling to find figures and certain merchandise, everywhere I looked brought more and more Star Wars goodness.

I also clearly overplanned for the event. The best way to attend a Celebration is with an open mind and an open agenda. You won't see everything there is to see, and you won't go everywhere there is to go. The best part of the event was one I wasn't expecting: the fans.

Next time, I think I will focus less on making it to every big panel, and more on spending time with friends and meeting new people. The Star Wars community is the greatest community in pop culture, and this event is a perfect representation of that. It was overwhelming with the amount of people and amount of things to see and do, but I couldn't think of a place I would rather be.

If you have never been to a Celebration, and are on the fence about attending 2019, I advise you to get yourself to this event. I will never forget sharing these moments and creating memories with fellow fans and friends. There is something for every Star Wars fan at a Celebration, and I will definitely be back.

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