By: Daniel Berry
For diehard Star Wars fans, there really is no bigger party in the galaxy than Star Wars Celebration. This April, people from all across the globe will descend upon the Anaheim Convention Center in California to enjoy four days of amazing events featuring some of the biggest names in the Star Wars community.
Though my wife and I had long standing plans to attend Celebration Anaheim, some recent career moves will now be keeping us from making the trip out west this April. It's been especially difficult for me to accept the fact that I'll be missing the party because I know just how incredible this event can be.
Being a resident of Central Florida proved to be very fortuitous for me in 2010 and 2012, as Lucasfilm and Reed Pop brought two consecutive Star Wars Celebration events to my hometown of Orlando. While I had a blast during Celebration V in 2010, it was the four days that I spent at the Orange County Convention Center during Celebration VI in 2012 that genuinely changed my life forever.
At the time, I had been dating my wife-to-be Lindsay just a little over four months. To my delight, she was more than happy to spend four long days with me partying with thousands of other nerds. I was already aware that Lindsay was a fan, but I would learn over the course of the event that her passion for Star Wars surpassed my highest expectations. The long hours we spent together waiting in line to gain access to various panels allowed us to learn more about one another. We walked many miles together, from one end of the convention center to the other, then back again. While we both experienced amazing moments as fans, all the while we were falling in love.
The first big name to take the stage during Celebration VI was filmmaker Kevin Smith on Thursday evening. Smith's hour long show, An Evening With Kevin Smith was a separate ticketed event but being a huge fan, I was more than happy to shell out the extra dough.
After a great introduction by main stage host James Arnold Taylor, Smith took the stage to the sound of deafening applause. It was clear that the standing ovation given by the hundreds of fans in attendance was a bit overwhelming for Smith, as he was visibly moved. It didn't take long for him to turn the emotional tables on the audience though, as his opening monologue involved the story of a childhood friendship built upon a mutual love of Star Wars which ended when the friend in question was killed in a tragic traffic accident. There couldn't have been a dry eye in the house and within minutes, Kevin Smith had every person in the theater in the palm of his hand.
Over the course of the following 90 minutes, the self professed fanboy shared his love of Star Wars and revealed how the universe that George Lucas created had an impact on Smith and his films. True to his reputation, Smith remained on stage to answer questions from the audience and even shake hands with several fans.
Enjoy the ever hilarious Kevin Smith on stage from Orlando, Florida during Star Wars Celebration VI in April, 2012 by checking out the video below. Skip ahead to the 3:20 mark if you'd like to avoid the lengthy introduction.
Over the next three days, we joined friends both new and old for some amazing interviews and great surprises. I was particularly interested to hear actor Ian McDiarmid interviewed on the main stage. This was to be the first convention appearance on U.S. soil for the man who first brought the evil Emperor Palpatine to life on screen in 1983's Return of the Jedi. The hour that McDiarmid spent talking with host James Arnold Taylor was truly remarkable. In an interesting moment, the veteran stage and screen actor revealed that he had recently had lunch with George Lucas, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. While the fans in attendance wondered what this momentous meeting of "original trilogy" actors might mean, McDiarmid treated us all with multiple lines from the films in his menacing Darth Sidious voice.
Check out the full interview with Ian McDiarmid and James Arnold Taylor at Star Wars Celebration VI from 2012, in the video below. To avoid the lengthy introduction, skip to the 6:45 mark.
While walking the show floor on Friday, I began to notice that more than a few fans in attendance were wearing the same red t-shirt that I had on. The shirt in question was a very popular item found at Target stores across the nation, so it wasn't a shock to see so many sporting it at once.
I was suddenly struck with a funny idea. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be hilarious if we could organize a meetup for all of us fans wearing the same Millennium Falcon shirt and take a photo?" Inspiration quickly turned to execution, and I began to inform each "red shirt" that I saw of a photo opportunity to be held later that afternoon, in front of the huge Imperial AT-AT that was displayed near the front of the convention center. I was also careful to encourage those invited to "pass it along" to any other fans who were seen wearing a "red shirt".
I must have mentioned the meetup to at least a dozen fans over the course of four hours. When the proposed hour finally arrived, my friends and I headed over to the AT-AT in hopes of taking a fun photo with a few folks who perhaps shared my sense of humor. I was thrilled when we arrived to find over twenty people sporting "red shirts" and ready for photos! There were also several photographers running around with media badges, so I guess you could say that the word got out about our impromptu meetup. What began as an admittedly stupid idea turned out to be one of the highlights of the week, for me.
There were so many memorable moments from Celebration VI, I couldn't possibly fit them all into just one blog post. We caught onstage interviews with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Jeremy Bulloch and many others. We saw hundreds of talented cosplayers, including one gentleman who had fashioned functioning robot legs to complete his amazing Darth Maul costume, inspired by the character's return in The Clone Wars animated series.
The absolute highlight of the event though, occurred early on Saturday morning.
Lindsay and I had missed The Clone Wars Season 5 premiere the night before, so we made sure to find seats for the panel which promised an inside look at the show with guests Dave Filoni and Joel Aron. The panel took place on the Digital Stage and was hosted by David W. Collins. During the hour long program, Filoni and Aron gave the fans in attendance some exclusive sneak peaks at what would prove to be the penultimate season of the popular television series.
After a few exciting clips were shown, Dave Filoni began to express his love for the fans and to describe one fan in particular. This fan was a special one, Filoni stated before inviting said "fan" onstage to join him. The puzzled fans eagerly followed Filoni's gaze towards stage left to see just who this mystery guest would be.
The sound of the crowd quickly grew from confusion to excitement as George Lucas himself appeared and gradually made his way to center stage. The entire audience rose to its feet and began screaming in jubilation to welcome the man who was responsible for it all.
It was a truly special moment. I had goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes. I couldn't believe it. The Maker. He had arrived, unannounced and unexpectedly. The crowd went insane.
Eventually, the cheers had to stop in order for Filoni to continue. Lucas, Aron and Filoni spoke about the direction of the show, their hope for the future of Star Wars animation and their appreciation of the fans. Lindsay and I were lucky enough to be present for the biggest surprise of the entire week. It was simply incredible.
Watch the surprise appearance by George Lucas during The Clone Wars panel at Star Wars Celebration VI from 2012, in the video below. Enjoy the sounds of hundreds of voices suddenly crying out in happiness before they are eventually silenced by Dave Filoni.
The magic of Star Wars Celebration wouldn't be possible without a few very important people. Hosts James Arnold Taylor and David W. Collins have become mainstays at the event. Past hosts such as Pablo Hidalgo and Jay Laga'aia were also great. The ever entertaining and hilarious duo of comedian Mark Daniel and DJ Elliot Hansen provide the perfect warmup for each show featured on the main stage. This year, popular podcast duo Jason Swank and Jimmy "Mac" McInerney will take over hosting duties on the Behind the Scenes stage. There are so many more unsung heroes of Star Wars Celebration who are involved in the backstage area and overall production of the event that truly deserve our gratitude.
Of course, none of it would have been the same without the involvement of former Lucasfilm events coordinator Mary Franklin. Quite the passionate Star Wars fan herself, Franklin has been the cornerstone of Star Wars Celebration for many years. Though she is moving onto a new position away from Lucasfilm, we expect her to continue on in the production of Star Wars Celebration for years to come.
It's truly a tough break for Lindsay and I that we won't be attending Star Wars Celebration Anaheim. I'm looking forward to seeing all the great photos from the event show up on my social media feeds, this upcoming April. For those of you who will be fortunate enough to attend, I wish you as many special moments and great memories as I've had in years past.
Here's to 2015. It's a big one, Star Wars fans.
May the Force be with us.