It’s hard to believe that Star Wars is 40 years old. George Lucas’ myth-infused flight of science fantasy has empowered, imbued, and enriched four generations of moviegoers and counting. Whether you’re a casual viewer or a die hard fan, whether you checked out after the Original Trilogy or anticipate Disney pumping out pictures ad infinitum – heck, even if you’ve never seen a Star Wars movie: these films have profoundly shaped the world you’re living in. It should be no surprise that the series’ 40th Anniversary was a big bash.
Star Wars Celebration 2017, in Orlando, Florida, played host to the biggest names in a galaxy far, far away: George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, John Williams, Kathleen Kennedy, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Rian Johnson, and myriad other creative forces who’ve shaped the world as a part of the cultural zeitgeist of Star Wars. They looked back at the series’ humble beginnings, the recent tragic loss of Carrie Fisher, and the epic new space operas to come in movies, television, games, books, and other media.
Since Celebration’s inception in 1999, just prior to the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the show has materialized 12 times across the US, Japan, and Europe. It offers some of what you’d expect: an all-Star Wars dealers floor of classic and exclusive memorabilia, cosplayers and droids galore, autograph opportunities with actors major and minor. Since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, however, it’s become a hub for the latest and biggest announcements in the franchise. That transition to the Disney era of Star Wars marked a huge swell in the event. We were on site at the last US Celebration in 2015 and saw firsthand a Star Wars reborn. The Force Ghost of the Prequels had been exorcised, attendance had sky rocketed – this year even more so with a whopping 70,000 fans storming the Orange County Convention Center.
Though there was much to celebrate, and no shortage of cool experiences, the crowded event was a trench run, and required a Jedi’s resolve if you wanted to see the most coveted events and panels. These presentations are the heart of Star Wars Celebration: the behind-the-scenes looks, fascinating archival treats, and celebrity stage shows. In the dubious Star Wars tradition, overnight waiting was mandatory, and even then attendees still ran the risk of missing out – with fans needing to acquire wristbands to access each event, of which they were only allowed two a day. It was a convention meat processing plant on overdrive. Even the event’s store was a nightmare slog: three hours to get in to spend money at the event you already spent a ton of money to get into, then an hour waiting in the checkout line. No joke. Nothing was worth the hassle; especially not when all the biggest events were streamed, at least in part, online. What’s more, early looks into the production of the new films and announcements of future plans were few and far between this year. It’s enough to make the most die-hard fans reconsider spending their hard-earned credits to dock at this dubious spaceport.
Fortunately for us, we had press credentials. Otherwise, the coverage and insights we’re about to present you would have basically been impossible. And no, we don’t feel good about it. Nor do we have any good answers as to what can be done to circumvent the unfortunate effects of supply, demand, and ravenous fan culture intersecting. Fandoms are amazing, the Star Wars fandom especially so – and paying con-goers deserve more than to be under-serviced while their passion is milked to fill crowd shots. In spite of all this, the love of Star Wars, from both the spectacular fans and dedicated creators, ensured that the magic of Celebration still shone brightly underneath the carbon scoring.