Celebration Anaheim Con Report: Thurs. Apr. 16

After getting up at 5:45 a.m. I wasn’t in a real big rush. Debbie and Marie left by 6:30 to get in line for the exhibit hall and around 7, I went to stand in the Starbucks line to get my breakfast sandwich and tea. I’d brought my own juice from home because I know that Naked OJ is pricey. Virtually everyone in line was wearing some kind of Star Wars t-shirt or costume and convention badges.

I went back up to the room, ate everything while watching t.v., brushed my teeth, and headed to the elevator by 7:30 a.m.. So far the Celebration app hadn’t said the lines were full, so I figured I had a chance. In the elevator I ran into Tricia Barr and said hello. We talked for a bit as we walked toward the convention center. This was it, the big morning panel. Was I getting in? Where would I be?

I noticed that there were a bunch of food trucks already parked in the turnaround that was in the middle of the Hilton, the Marriott, and the convention center. Fans were steadily streaming toward the glass and steel building. Staff, both in green shirts and Pro Staff blue shirts, were directing people to enter by Hall D. A set of stairs led down to the basement where they were holding everyone waiting to get into the Celebration Stage and the overflow rooms. Tricia disappeared right about this point, so I headed downstairs and walked into a huge smelly, hot, and noisy room. There I was given a wrist band marked “Digital Stage” and got into line with the rest of the cattle. They had us herded into lines separated by poles. Staff told everyone to “pack in” as close as possible. I found out that they really did expect everyone in a line throughout the con to stand packed together like sardines in a can for hours on end.

Reassured I was getting to see the panel on something other than my phone, I sat down on the floor to wait out the next couple of hours. I talked to the people in line around me, including a man with his young son also from San Diego. I also would send occasional tweets on my phone. As late as 8:30 people were lining up but one of my Twitter followers/friends said a few minutes later the staff was no longer letting anyone in and herding late arrivals outside. This made no sense to me because people in line next to me also had Digital Stage wristbands. I guess the other stages weren’t very big.

I estimated they were going to start seating people at 9 since it was going to take a long time to get everyone out of there. But it was well after 9 when they started moving people into the “Celebration Stage,” which turned out to be a small arena at the other side of the convention center. And it took forever. I had time to run to the restroom and back before they started moving us out of the basement to the Digital Stage three levels up. As you can imagine, it was a bit of a challenge and it took a while to seat everyone. Before walking into the auditorium the staff told us to lift up our arms to show the wristbands. Stick your arm up in the air and wave it like you just don’t care…

The auditorium was already dark when I got seated and the big screen was showing the proceedings of the Celebration Stage, which consisted of the same warm up act at the Orlando Celebrations: DJ Elliott and that other guy. The latter kept telling everyone to cheer, wave their hands, wave their lightsabers, etc. and I was befuddled to see people in the Digital Stage doing the same thing. WHY?? You’re not in there. You’re basically watching a big t.v..

Miraculously, the program started on time. First on the agenda was the panel host–some guy from Entertainment Weakly–interviewing J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy. While they talked, they occasionally showed some behind-the-scenes shots and stills I’d never seen before. This was the most info divulged about the film to date. It wasn’t very much, but more than Abrams normally gives away. Somebody must’ve threatened to shave his cat or something. Abrams revealed the desert-y planet was NOT Tatooine but some other dumpy dustbowl called Jakku. Unfortunately, some of the ‘tide coming from the stage was a turnoff. It seemed to me there were some serious dog whistles playing to the anti-prequel crowd, such as the blathering about “practical effects” and “real sets” and “real locations” to the fist pumps of some in the audience, all based on tropes about the prequels that they should know are not true. Abrams didn’t really show anything more than a glib understanding of Star Wars. It’s NOT a Western and there’s no written rule that everything has to look “used.” The end results might turn out to be better than what’s indicated but TFA needs better than a B-student’s attempt at continuing the saga. Kennedy promised more women characters, which is nice, but I cringed when she said Lucasfilm was taking the fans into account for their future endeavors. Nothing’s worse than art by focus group.

During the Abrams/Kennedy chat there was a short interview with the two R2D2 Builders who lucked into jobs wrangling Artoo during TFA. That might’ve been fine for another panel, not this one. But out came a real star, the delightful BB-8, which everyone was like, “LOOK AMERICA, IT’S A REAL ROBOT! HE’S NOT CGI!!!” Some company was contracted to build it.

The program moved on to the human Star Wars noobs. John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac took to the stage. I have to say, Boyega was a charmer. He was funny, positive, and obviously a big Star Wars fan. He had a great anecdote about having Harrison Ford sign some Han Solo thing for him and Ford said, “That’s weird, but okay, I’ll sign it.” It was later reported that Boyega and Ridley put on masks and wandered around the convention floor, similar to what Hayden Christensen and his brother did at Celebration II. Boyega later posted photos of himself in a clone trooper helmet wandering among the crowds and even having a little lightsaber duel with a totally unsuspecting fan! How cool is that? Ridley talked a little bit about her character, describing Rey as a self-sufficient scavenger type of gal. Isaac described Poe as “the best freakin’ star pilot in the galaxy” or some such, which doesn’t portend well for the fates of Han or Luke.

It was then time for the senior class. Out came Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Peter Mayhew, and Anthony Daniels. Harrison Ford was allegedly supposed to have appeared but he was still recovering at home from the plane crash. Riiiiiight. Fisher was as usual funny and inappropriate. Everyone was thrilled to be back doing Star Wars. Hamill thanked the fans and said we’re like family.

After a brief photo call on stage, it was the moment everyone was waiting for. They rolled the new teaser trailer for TFA, everyone went nuts, and they rolled the trailer again. The end!

I bumped into Candy, one of my internet friends, after leaving the auditorium. The game plan was head down to the exhibit floor and hit Her Universe first. But there were crowds standing around in the lobby area and I saw that none of the exhibit hall doors were open. By this point it was well past 11 and they were supposed to open at 11. Of course no explanation was given. Finally doors opened close to 11:30 and off we were to Her Universe’s surprisingly tiny booth. They have a big booth with lots of room to move around at SDCC. Here it was a small space right by the already-crowded LEGO booth. At first we thought there was a line, but it turned out it was just people there to meet Ashley Eckstein, who was there at one end of the booth. We went to the other end and quickly bought our stuff. I splurged on the lightsaber skirt, the gray Imperial cardigan, the blue X-Wing cardigan, and the Ewok crochet bag. Congratulations HU, you win for the single biggest expenditure of any booth at Celebration.

We then headed to the Celebration Store. At that point,there was no organized line, so I just slipped in where there was a gap in the poles around the sales area. Candy decided to wait outside of the store area. I quickly realized it was going to be an ugly flashback to the horrible Celebration Store experience of Celebration II, where I waited two hours to buy an action figure and a t-shirt. They’d finally got their act together with the last few Celebrations but this time they didn’t count on people descending on the store to grab any t-shirt they could buy, especially the TFA and Celebration logo shirts. It’s as though they didn’t expect 60,000 Star Wars fans to want a TFA shirt less than an hour after seeing the trailer. The racks and shelves seemed to have been stocked by former Soviet department store employees….things were bare and left bare. I saw a girl with the coveted TFA tee and asked her where they were since I didn’t see them. She said she’d taken the last one. I went over to where they sold custom t-shirts, including the Jar Jar Is My Spirit Animal design I wanted. What you did was go up to the guys running the press, order your t-shirt, pay for it, and pick it up. The guy who took my order said it would be finished by the time I paid for it. Okay, cool. So I waited. And waited. And waited. The line didn’t move. I saw the same people at the front of the line for what seemed like an eternity. I thought maybe their credit cards were no good or something. In the meantime, I saw a TFA shirt left hanging on a rack about 50 feet away from me. Some guy was standing nearby but was totally oblivious to the shirt. I told the lady behind me in line to hold my place and I *ran* to the shirt, only for the guy to suddenly notice the shirt there and pick it up just as I got there. I asked him if it was his and he said no, he was just checking the size. It was a “large” so I told him to keep it. It was too big for me anyway. So I got back in line and waited some more. I was getting hangry. Then word got out the credit card lines were down because they were running it on wifi. You know, in a busy convention center full of people tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming, texting and what have you all at the same time. The crazy thing is, they didn’t have any way to manually run cards nor did they take cash transactions! The store closed shortly thereafter. Frustrated, I left but I still had the receipt for my shirt.

I went to one of the concession stands for food and got a grilled chicken sandwich. Of course there was nowhere to sit so I had to sit on the floor to eat. Still hangry, I reflected on how Abrams and Co. were probably having some swank lunch some place while I’m scarfing a sandwich and pita chips on the floor like an animal. I am not an animal!

After eating and a trip to the restroom, I figured I’d lost Candy until the Clone Wars panel. So I went to the art show to pick up my prints. The art show still had an idiotic system in place. You had to give your name to the guy up front if you pre-ordered (of course my name wasn’t on there…lucky I had my confirmations printed out), get blue tickets, go to the artist’s booth, give him or her your ticket, and then get your art. I had to do this three times over.

Then I went upstairs to what was to become my home away from home, the Digital Stage to wait for the Untold Clone Wars panel. There I saw Candy and her friend accompanying her to the con. Dave Collins was the host while Dave Filoni and Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo served as panelists. The panel showed concept art and animatics—often with voices and sound effects—from various episodes that never got to see light of day.

Filoni and Hidalgo kept joking about how they never got permission to show any of the stuff but nobody told them no either. As great as it was to see the tantalizing art and clips to a room packed pretty close to capacity, in many ways this panel just dug the knife deeper into your gut. There were so many great ideas left for the show, some of which will be told in other media such as Christie Golden’s upcoming novel, which is indeed based on eight scripts from the series. But others may linger in Star Wars Limbo forever, such as Ahsoka’s post Jedi adventures (there was a great action sequence when her bike breaks down while flying around Coruscant). There were even plans to introduce the expanded universe’s Yuuzhan Vong to the series. Other ideas, such as Ahsoka’s crew of loyal clone troopers, clearly made their way to “Rebels.” During the Q&A session. I really had planned on getting up and asking why the show was canceled but some other lady, who happened to be the same age as me and everything, got to ask it first. In fact, there were people who thought it was me. Seriously, it wasn’t! Filoni of course had to be diplomatic but my takeaway from his answer was that the suits simply didn’t want to deal with that era anymore. If cost was an issue, and it may very well have been an issue, it wasn’t mentioned nor hinted at. Another person asked if there will be another art book or something publishing the concept art from the show. Pablo Hidalgo asked the audience if that was something they would be interested in and when the audience shouted, “Yes,” he said to tell every publisher. Throughout the panel, the crowd was enthusiastic and I heard “save the Clone Wars” shouted more than once.

I went back to the hotel room, rested for a bit (Marie had come back with the same idea), and dropped off stuff I didn’t need for the evening. I packed a travel blanket because boy that Untold Clone Wars panel was COLD. After five or so, I left and headed to the food trucks to find something to eat for dinner. I can’t handle super greasy or fried food anymore, so that eliminated just about every truck there. Fortunately the Barcelona Cafe truck had grilled shrimp tacos, so I went with that.

By 6 p.m. or so in the convention center, it was clearing out, so it was ideal to wander around the booths since everything was open until 8. I went back by the Celebration Store to ask about my misbegotten t-shirt. The green shirt working the store entrance said they were not admitting anyone else since it would take until 8 to serve the customers that were waiting to pay inside the store. I asked the guy about my t-shirt and he waved his hand toward the custom t-shirt section and said, “Ask a staff member.” There wasn’t a staff member but I did get the attention of one of the guys working the custom t-shirt press. I showed him my receipt and explained what happened. I paid him in cash and he got me my t-shirt. Success!

Around 7, I returned to the Digital Stage to see what the situation was for AOTC 3D. TPM was already underway and the staff working the door wasn’t sure if there was room left. But I could see when the doors open there were seats left in the back. I plopped myself on a couch out in the convention hall to wait. Originally I wasn’t going to see TPM, just watch AOTC but by about 7:30 or so I thought, “Why sit around here being bored not looking at anything when I can at least be entertained with the movie?” So I ended up seeing 2/3rds of TPM anyway. The crowd got into the movie, cheering when Anakin won the pod race, going nuts when the duel with Darth Maul got started, and cheering again when Maul was defeated and the Trade Federation ship was blown up.

AOTC got going sometime after 9 p.m.. The crowd thinned out a little after TPM ended because it was late and for many Celebration attendees, it had been a long, long day. Many had been up all night or since early that morning for the TFA panel. The 3D looked fantastic, even better than the TPM conversion. I was particularly impressed with AOTC’s opening scenes and the chase through Coruscant. The crowd was a little quieter but there were plenty of cheers when Yoda showed up to duel Count Dooku.

When the movie ended, it was 11:40 p.m. and I was tired. But there were still lots of people around. The Marriott lobby was packed with 501st members, drinking and socializing.

I crashed, not quite ready to do it all over again for Friday.

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3 Responses to Celebration Anaheim Con Report: Thurs. Apr. 16

  1. Pingback: Second And Third Day Celebration Con Reports |

  2. Jenmarie says:

    About how many people fit into the Digital Stage, do you think? They told us the Celebration stage had 8,000.

    My husband got me a couple of things from the Celebration store later in the day and he paid with cash. Guess maybe they figured they need to incorporate that way of paying with all the trouble they were having! I still can’t believe how quickly everything was sold AND stole from that store!

    I wish the Her Universe booth was set up better as well. It was too hard to shop it for me! Glad you were able to get everything you wanted from the booth!

    That’s good that AOTC looked cool in 3D. We saw TPM in 3D and it wasn’t anything incredible.


    • lazypadawan says:

      I don’t know how many could fit in the Digital Stage. 1500? 2000?

      A lot of people simply grabbed armfuls of t-shirts right off the racks, obviously intending to sell them on eBay. There should have been a limit on the number of t-shirts, especially the so-called limited edition ones.


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