Star Wars Celebration Anaheim: Recap, Part 1 (Thursday & Friday)

Last weekend, Star Wars fans from across the galaxy descended upon the Anaheim Convention Center to experience all things Star Wars at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim! We were fortunate enough to be there in the joyful madness. Read on for our recap of the weekend.

Event History
Craig Drake's designs for the full set of Celebration Anaheim badges.

Craig Drake’s designs for the full set of Celebration Anaheim badges.

Only the 10th Celebration since the event’s inception in 1999, SWCA was the first stateside Celebration in three years, and the first Celebration at all since 2013 (Celebration Europe). This was techincally Celebration 7 (CVII), as the domestic events have traditionally been numbered while international events are specifically denoted (see 2008’s Celebration Japan, for example). ReedPOP, the convention’s current operators (and best known as the owners of NYCC, C2E2, and now Emerald City), didn’t come on board Celebration until CV in 2010.

However, this event was branded Celebration Anaheim: perhaps because Lucasfilm & ReedPOP plan on doing so many more the numbers would get out of hand; perhaps because it was held in the shadow of the Mouse, with the Disneyland Resort just across the street; or maybe it’s a simple as not liking the hashtag CVII. Regardless, many veterans seemed determined to make SWCVII happen – despite all the exclusives being branded SWCA.

Wednesday: Day 0

Though most attendees had their badges mailed, the early pickup times on Tuesday and Wednesday were helpful. And by Wednesday afternoon, attendees were already lined up outside waiting to be let in to the queue hall where they would wait all night for a spot in the Arena… er, Celebration Stage… for the kickoff panel: J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy talking The Force Awakens.

Yes, a queue for a queue would be a good indication of what lay ahead for the weekend: big, big hype that actually had pretty big payoff. Those overnighting fans, for instance? They got some free swag from the con, visited by voice actor (and Celebration Stage host) James Arnold Taylor, and oh yeah, free pizza from Abrams and Kennedy.

Thursday & Friday: Days 1 & 2

Thursday morning, that crowed not only filled the Celebration Stage but also several additional simulcast overflow rooms. Globally, in-theater screenings were held to give fans around the word somewhere to watch the panel and new trailer live. And the much-hyped live stream went off without a hitch to an audience of nearly 150,000 viewers on YouTube alone.

BB-8 droid

BB-8 droid, on display at The Force Awakens exhibit

There were huge cheers for BB-8, the little rolling ball droid that could, but also big cheers simply for the mention of practical effects and sets. (This was a trend that would continue throughout the weekend. Need some audience goodwill? Mention “practical effects.”) The new cast came out to visit, and an even better (totally expected) surprise was the on-stage appearance by the original trilogy cast members.

However, perhaps most notable was the on-stage presence of members of the R2 Builders Club. These engineers have spent years building their own astromechs and developing their own schematics to help others build them, too. It’s common to see them on the floor with a booth, or with a separate exhibit featuring their many handmade, homemade droids as they had this year.

But unbeknowst to many is the fact that Lucasfilm has been calling upon these amateur builders for years now – for help with promotional appearances, commercial work, or other events where the company needs a droid present. And now, they’ve been involved with The Force Awakens, providing a number of droids for the production.

Astromech builders also strutted their stuff later in the weekend at the R2 races.

Astromech builders also strutted their stuff later in the weekend at the R2 races.

Calling these talented makers to the stage to display their work was not only a kind move, it was well-planned: the Builders were on stage for the live demo of BB-8, which was the talk of the convention. Showing the functional BB-8 prop and the droid makers who made many of the other practical droids really drives home that ever-popular point about practicality. Star Wars may be fiction, but it’s obvious that fans are longing for something a bit more authentic in the production – and Abrams and Kennedy illustrated that point perfectly.

Later on Thursday were many cosplay meetups, including a convention-sanctioned “all-cosplay” meetup: if everyone in costume had actually come to this, there wouldn’t have been enough room for everyone to fit in the picture. The cosplay this weekend was truly incredible, and we’ll have more in an upcoming gallery.

Logistically, there was a huge food truck selection outside that proved very popular – even more trucks than were available at WonderCon earlier this month. And unlike WonderCon, the Grand Plaza was not restricted to badge holders – so many lookiloos could stop by and enjoy the atmosphere even after the event compeletly sold out on Friday.

SWCA got a great response to their Snapchat promotion.

SWCA got a great response to their Snapchat promotion.

Thursday and Friday also saw an interesting promotional tactic: Snapchat. Yes, the teenage app of choice has recently sold out to many big names in media – but this was a surprising success. Reaction on other forms of social media was much bigger than expected – it certainly introduced the event to a group of young people that were interested in Star Wars, but wouldn’t normally have heard about the con through more traditional advertising channels.

In fact, Celebration Anaheim’s social media presence was top notch, considering they even worked with Twitter to embed special event-specific emojis into certain hashtags. The only trouble with this was that the official hashtag for the event was #SWCA – but many, including high-profile guests and vendors, didn’t get the memo and used #StarWarsCelebration or some other variant instead. Regardless, their live stream and social media presence certainly made Celebration as popular online as it was in person.

An attendee gets a tattoo from an artist who clearly likes Chewbacca at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim

An attendee gets a tattoo from an artist who clearly likes Chewbacca at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim

Friday saw more panels, with the Battlefront preview particularly popular (even more so on the live stream). Meanwhile, the tattoo area on the exhibit floor was a big hit: appointments to get a new (officially licensed) Star Wars tattoo were all booked up by the end of the day, with only a wait list available. And the artists being on site all weekend meant they were hyped up, too: one fan reportedly already had a tattoo of the melted Vader helmet (as seen in The Force Awakens trailer) by weekend’s end. Bars on the floor, offering a decent selection of wine and specialty beers, also contributed to a more adult atmosphere than one would expect.

Despite live tattooing and bars on the floor, SWCA was a family-friendly show.

Despite live tattooing and bars on the floor, SWCA was a family-friendly show.

But it’s a family-friendly show if ever their was, with Stormtroopers taking a knee left and right to pose with wide-eyed kids, and many younglings showed up in costumes themselves. Though high ticket prices likely kept some away, the floor was still crawling with the next generation of Star Wars fans.

And what a show floor it was: more than just your typical rows of longboxes and stacks of second-hand Funko POP Vinyl figures for sale, the Celebration floor had as much to experience as it did to buy. Photo ops abounded, with impressive replica sets of the cantina (also used for the live stream); the Rebel Legion booth had a green screen photo op; and props, like a full-size landspeeder or giant Roxy the Rancor were popular photo spots as well. While snaking lines for these contributed to the illusion of very overcrowded aisles, they also made for a very fun and very unique exhibit hall.


Our Star Wars Celebration Recap continues in Part 2, covering Saturday’s events.

Want more Star Wars Celebration Anaheim? Check out our detailed photo coverage of The Force Awakens exhibit, or read through all our Twitter & Instagram coverage of the show on Storify.