4 Days at STAR WARS Celebration 4
A fan reflects back on a "pretty amazing experience".
I may not be the biggest Star Wars fan, but I'm no slouch. I've seen all the movies dozens of times and have a pretty nice collection of toys. I even got my wife into Star Wars, much to her chagrin. So when I heard that the Star Wars Celebration 4 was going to be in Los Angeles, a mere 45 miles (or 2 hours with traffic) from my home in Southern California, I signed us up immediately. I was looking forward to a weekend of Star Wars: Seeing new stuff, buying toys, and taking pictures of the weird people. It was only later, much closer to the event itself, which I began to write reviews for figures.com. But that new relationship would bring my visit to Celebration 4 to a whole new level.
The Celebration began on Thursday, but only for members of the Star Wars fan club. I am not among them. So, Friday was the big day. My wife and I left our house at 6am, to wait in line for the opening of the Exhibit Hall at 10am. This is what PSPs and cell phone games were made for. The line was very energetic, with Stormtroopers posing for pictures, friendly debates, and shared complaints over the difficulties of getting exclusive items. Anthony Daniels (C-3PO from the films) walked by, greeting the fans. The hours ticked by.
Finally 10 came, and the excitement really began. The Exhibit Hall was an interesting mash-up of toy and collectible companies and small businesses selling Star Wars wares of all kinds. Incoming fans ran to form lines at the stores selling exclusives, creating pandemonium. Sideshow employees could be seen rushing to protect their displays as people streamed by to try to get to the Star Wars Shop booth next door. Without having made arrangements, the people at Hasbro didn't know whereto direct the fans coming at them, and several lines were started at once. Eventually, all of this calmed down and things ran pretty smoothly.
Popular events that day included a presentation on the upcoming video game The Force Unleashed. This will be a truly ground-breaking event for Star Wars, and has wide ramifications. Companies are lining up for tie-ins andpromotions with this game, from Hasbro's figures to Wizards of the Coast's RPG books and miniatures. Expect books, toys, and more when the game finally debuts next year.
The "What's New at Hasbro" panel offered only a few peeks at things not already leaked online, but fans were pleased by the wide variety of products on the horizon. (CLICK HERE for Hasbro details.)
Later in the day were two Wizards of the Coast panels, one for miniatures and one for Role-Playing. The new edition of the Star Wars RPG (Saga) was available for the first time anywhere at Celebration, though in a very limited manner. The first 30 people to find author Rodney Thompson at the Wizards booth and say "let the Wookiee win" on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday got the new book for free! I am very happy to say that I was one of those people. The RPG has been revamped, taking cues from d20 Modern and the miniatures. The classes have been streamlined with the feat/talent progression, and the force is much easier to handle. Combat is much faster and smoother, and there are brand new rules for vehicle/space combat. Wizards is looking forward to supporting this newline with several upcoming books and lots of web enhancements, including a 10-part adventure series designed to take new characters all the way to Level 20!
Friday night saw the Opening Ceremonies, an adventure in itself. The line began forming hours in advance, and rumors were swirling about what might or might not be announced at the big event. I was told that the room held 6,000 seats, though strangely there were quite a few empty in the back (more on that in a bit). Some Los Angeles politicians gave speeches, and then the 501st officially got things started. Steve Sansweet introduced a cavalcade of guests who got thunderous applause. Then, to celebrate the 30th birthday of Star Wars, everyone on stage and in the audience got a piece of cake! Next was a presentation of the new Star Wars stamps.
At that point, my wife and I had been at the convention for more than twelve hours, and we decided to duck out early so as to beat the rush when it ended. Upon leaving the room we were met by dozens of security guards who rushed us (and everyone else leaving the room) out a side exit, all the while muttering something about a "bomb threat." Outside were hundreds of people lining the sidewalk, apparently unable to get back into the building or to the parking lots. As it turned out there had been a"suspicious package" that caused the security response. People had been turned away from the Opening Ceremonies before it had filled up, meaning some stranded fans had been outside for more than an hour.
After watching LAPD, fire, and bomb squads stroll around, the media approached the fans. I personally talked to a news person and gave my story; unfortunately, it didn't air. Shortly thereafter a police officer informed us that the section of parking lots where we were was clear. With that, we were out of there! Nothing more came of the bomb scare.
Saturday was the busiest day at Celebration, with an estimated 40,000 fans in attendance. My day began at the Kotobukiya panel, where the new Bounty Hunter series and 3D Cross Section X-Wing were announced. (CLICK HERE for Koto details.)
Younger Star Wars fans had a lot to do on Saturday, with sneak previews of upcoming Star Wars-themed episodes of Family Guy and Robot Chicken, along with discussions by their creators.
Later was another collector's panel, this time for Sideshow. Fans got an in-depth look at how pieces go from concept to prototype, and learned about new statues and figures. (CLICK HERE for Sideshow details.)
Other events on Saturday included a repeat Force Unleashed panel and special events with high profile Star Wars people such as Carrie Fisher, Irvin Kershner, John Knoll, and the original VFX masters.
Sunday held the most-anticipated event of the weekend, the behind-the-scenes panel on the new Star Wars CG-animated Clone Wars series. The panel was even repeated twice later in the day so as many people as possible could attend. I was right there for the first panel, and so was one of the first 900 fans in the world to see the amazing trailer for the new series. If you haven't seen it yet, go right now to www.starwars.com. Unfortunately, the tiny video there doesn't really do it justice. An additional, personal, highlight for me was seeing Supervising Director Dave Filoni's love for the character Plo Koon, a favorite of mine. Probably related, Plo Koon is the only non-'star' Jedi in the trailer (other than Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Mace Windu)!
The rest of Sunday was more of the same, with Ray Park, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams appearances. The 501st held several panels devoted to costuming the different types of Star Wars inhabitants. TheStormtrooper presentation was fascinating, going into all the details and careful precision of the armor, its creation, and upkeep.
Monday was the final day, but fans seemed determined to make it a great one. We began the day by watching Charles Ross' One Man Star Wars Trilogy. It was amazing. The energy, the humor, and the obvious love for the source made it a great show. I highly recommend Star Wars fans checking this out; Charles will be in the UK for next couple of months, but check his website (www.onemanstarwars.com) for show dates in your area.
The Exhibit Hall still had its share of crowds on Monday, especially those looking to win last-minute raffles. Show sponsor Klipsch gave away a set of $10,000 THX speakers to one lucky fan, and others got giant WizKids PocketModels, Gentle Giant merchandise, exclusive LEGOs, and much more.
All in all, Celebration 4 was a pretty amazing experience for Star Wars fans. All ages and nationalities were in attendance, with an almost equal measure of fans who saw Star Wars in 1977 and those of us who weren't born yet. With all of the new Star Wars stuff coming, from the Clone Wars to Force Unleashed and the hundreds of new products, it's clear that Star Wars will be a force in fans' lives for a long time to come. See you all at Celebration 5!
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