A short time ago in a state far, far away ...

Posted by Karri Ferron
on Monday, May 04, 2015

Happy Star Wars Day! Yes, Astronomy magazine is a brand based in science, not science fiction, but we like to embrace the sci-fi side of things every once in a while in our offices, especially as science fiction has inspired many of us and our contributors to study the stars in the first place. And what better way to celebrate May the Fourth than with our resident Stars Wars expert, Senior Graphic Designer Chuck Braasch, who found inspiration for his career from the saga many years ago and recently joined 60,000+ other fans in a celebration of all things Star Wars. Chuck shares ...

J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy were joined by familiar and new friends at the opening ceremony to discuss Episode VII and premiere a new teaser trailer. The Anaheim Convention Center's main arena was packed with 7,500 fans to view this as a live broadcast was sent out to other stages in the convention center, a live gathering in London, and on StarWars.com. // all photos by Chuck Braasch
I've been a fan of the Star Wars saga since my mom took me to see The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 when I was only 4. Although it was my first Star Wars movie and the second of the original trilogy, I was immediately hooked. It was a creative, visceral, immersive, terrifying, and wonderful experience that had a positive impact on my entire life and guided me to choose graphic design as a profession.

Due to the upcoming release of Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens on December 18, 2015, I decided to attend Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, the official convention for all things Star Wars that was sponsored by Disney and Lucasfilm — and promised the Astronomy staff that I'd write a bit about my experiences. The event was held April 15-19 at the Anaheim Convention Center in California.

The main show floor was packed with vendors and attendees from all over the world. Besides seeing lots of vendors with current and vintage collectables, free swag including high-quality posters, LEGO sets, artwork, and jewelry were handed out by official licensees.
Just as it was impossible to see every panel, guest, event, nook, and cranny at the show, it is impossible to describe it all here. I've narrowed my experiences down to four categories. This list isn't in any particular order, but a way of organizing the things I've seen.

Trailers, trailers, and more trailers
Just what is Star Wars Celebration?
Star Wars Celebration 2015 Trailer

Star Wars Celebration Anaheim started off with a bang when J.J. Abrams (director) and Kathleen Kennedy (producer and president of Lucasfilm) premiered the latest teaser trailer for the upcoming movie at an event that also featured appearances by members of both the new cast, including Daisy Ridley (junk scavenger Rey), John Boyega (Stormtrooper Finn) and Oscar Wilde (X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron), and the classic crew, including Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia Organa), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca). R2-D2 and the new adorable droid from The Force Awakens, BB-8, also appeared on stage.

Although Harrison Ford (Han Solo) didn't show up live due to recovering from a plane crash, he did appear in a way that blew everyone's collective minds (and ears). My voice still feels a bit rough as I write this six days later.

Mark Hamill put on an entertaining and humorous show as he discussed fascinating behind-the-scenes stories from the original trilogy. He also covered other roles he's known for, most notably as the Joker in the Emmy award-winning series Batman: The Animated Series.
Other notable trailers dropped at the show

  • Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One is the first standalone Star Wars film set to release in December 2016. It will be a Saving Private Ryan/Black Hawk Down type of war movie that will focus on how the Rebel Alliance obtained the plans to the first Death Star. The teaser trailer wasn't officially released because Disney is holding off from marketing the movie to the general public until Paramount Pictures' Mission Impossible: Rogue Mission passes by, but on the Web you should be able to find the teaser recorded by Celebration attendees. Executive Producer (and original co-creator of Photoshop!) John Knoll mentioned that this is more a "moving movie poster" than a typical movie teaser.
  • Star Wars: Battlefront, a video game from the developers and publisher of the Battlefield military shooter series, will launch November 17, 2015, for PC, PlayStation 4, and XBox One.
  • Star Wars Rebels, the Disney XD show focusing on a small group who inadvertently gets involved with the very young Rebellion between episodes III and IV, premiered an exciting trailer for their second season that (thankfully) shows the return of some characters from the excellent Emmy award-winning series Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

R2-D2 and I hung out at a panel about its history, construction, and variations throughout the six movies. The history of fan-built droids were also discussed, including how Kathleen Kennedy hired fans to build R2-D2 for Episode VII because their constructions often improved on previous models.
The fans
I engaged with people of all ages, walks of life, and different countries, and it just reiterated what I knew: Star Wars is a global phenomenon that wouldn't have been around for 38 years if it weren't for the fans and movie-goers among the 60,000+ attendees.

From the 70-year-old women trucking around on motorized chairs discussing the collectibles they purchased on the show floor to the fully costumed Rodian pushing her infant around in a stroller, the timelessness of "The Wars" was apparent. Speaking of costumes, the cosplayers were outstanding! There were Boba Fetts, Jango Fetts, IG-88s, Slave Leias, Han Solos, Wookies on stilts, Darth Mauls, Baby Ewoks, Stormtroopers, Ahsoka Tanos, Lando Calrissians, two people on stilts combined as an AT-AT, and too many light and dark Jedi to count. It was absolutely astounding! I cosplayed as "convention attendee" in my Star Wars t-shirt and khaki shorts.

The show floor
This was truly mind-numbing in a good way. There were an incredible amount of vendors selling all sorts of Star Wars collectibles, books, posters, and action figures mixed in with companies promoting their current and upcoming line of licensed merchandise. You could meet various official cosplaying groups, watch a live demo of Star Wars Battlefront and play the Star Wars Battle Pod arcade game. Illustrators, artists, and authors who worked with Lucasfilm were selling their products and were available to meet. I had a great conversation with the amazing illustrator Jerry Vanderstelt about the work he's done for Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings films. I recommend you check out his work at www.vandersteltstudio.com!

Throughout Celebration, the main arena packed in fans to view the opening ceremony, various cast member panels, a cosplay contest, and a live recording of Star Wars: Smuggler's Bounty, a Han Solo radio drama starring various cast members of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Rebels. The recording will be hosted on StarWars.com in the near future.
I walked away with a rubber Yoda puppet in its original packaging from 1980, a collection of various vintage sci-fi and fantasy movie programs from the early '80s (i.e. Willow, Octopussy, Superman II, The Secret of NIMH, and more), a box of The Empire Strikes Back themed cards featuring artwork from multiple illustrators, a copy of the British edition of Dark Horse Comics' Dark Empire #1, and a few promotional posters.

Peppered throughout the floor were various "settings" to get your photo taken at: a life sized Rancor, the Mos Eisley cantina, a reproduction of the bacta tank from Empire that you can stand in, the Millennium Falcon's interior, a large AT-AT, a life-sized Jabba the Hutt, and more.

And finally: the panels!
I attended a variety of panels that focused on original cast members (Carrie Fisher, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, and Mark Hamill), costumes, book publishing, the Battlefront game, and droid building.

In the Droid Builder room, you could see over 100 fan-built droids, check out a large timeline on the creation of R2-D2, and talk to droid builders. Among the droids were variations of your standard R2s, a steampunk inspired R5, a BB-8, a 2-1B medical droid, and a full-sized R2-D2 unit based off of the original Kenner action figure.
Ian McDiarmid, who played Senator and Emperor Palpatine in the saga, read a passage from William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return in the deliciously evil voice of The Emperor.

Dennis Muren, Industrial Light and Magic effects pioneer and cameraman, was probably my favorite panel. I can listen to that guy break down the shots of Return of the Jedi for hours! Unfortunately, he only had one hour to share the knowledge and insight he gained since joining ILM in 1975.

I also braved the potentially five-hour wait for the exciting Episode VII exhibit that featured props, costumes, and models from the upcoming movie. What was truly surprising was how silent everyone was out of respect, awe, and wonder for what we all were seeing. The opportunity to let our imaginations run wild in silence was a refreshing break from the nonstop noise of the rest of the convention center.

New Flame and Snowtroopers join the redesigned Stormtroopers in the Episode VII exhibit and were featured alongside costumes from the new characters seen in the trailers, models of the Millennium Falcon and the new X-Wing fighter, and the 3-D printed triple-bladed lightsaber used by a potential villain.
The Jet Propulsion Lab made an appearance with a panel entitled "These ARE the Droids You're Looking For — An Insider's Look at NASA's Dawn and Mars Exploration Rover Missions"; however, I was unable to attend due to being in a panel that was already in session. There were just too many interesting events that overlapped each other!

The hosts of the panels I took in were very entertaining and did an outstanding job presenting their sessions. They included Rebel Force Radio — the best Star Wars podcast — hosts Jimmy Mac and Jason Swank; sound designer and host on the Star Wars YouTube channel "The Comlink" David Collins; and James Arnold Taylor, an uber-talented voice actor you definitely have heard at some point.

Star Wars Celebration Anaheim was my second Celebration after attending the very first one in April 1999, and it most certainly won't be my last. I plan on attending in two years to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars movie if it's held in the United States. I encourage you to do so as well and hope to see you there! May the Force be with you.

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