Our coverage of last weekend’s Star Wars Celebration Anaheim continues with a recap of Saturday; read Part 1 for a recap of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Saturday: Day 3
That rumbling in the distance you heard in Orange County on Saturday? That was the sound of crowds upon crowds flocking to a sold-out day at Celebration. It wasn’t long before fans began grumbling about overselling, and their complaints were understandable: aisles on the exhibit floor were as crowded as a Saturday at Comic-Con, the wait for The Force Awakens exhibit was over two hours long, and getting into nearly any panel required showing up at least an hour early (this isn’t hugely surprising, although Celebration did clear rooms between panels – which can make timing your arrival to a panel much more challenging).
Perhaps, though, it wasn’t an issue of overcrowding but under-programming: there were complaints even before the show that the panel schedule could have been more robust, and the additional time needed to clear rooms meant less time available for panels. Huge crowds on the floor made people want to divert to panels; long waits and full rooms made people want to spend their day on the floor. Even the men’s restroom had a long line at one point.
And speaking of crowds, the official Celebration Store was something of a disaster. While it’s always expected that most exclusive items will sell out, the long waits were a big complaint. Star Wars created an entire generation of collectors, and one would expect the convention to be well prepared for that crush. Lines to get into the store were long enough, with wait times well over an hour. But it was the lines to check out that really aggravated people – even after waiting to be let into the store, fans had to wait 30 minutes and up just to give the con their hard-earned money.
Seeing show exclusives sold secondhand elsewhere in the exhibit hall for three or four times the original price only rubbed salt in the wound. This can be an issue at every con, but when you have a crowd of collectors as devoted as Star Wars fans, any mistake is going to reverberate through the community quickly.
Despite all this, Saturday was an excellent day at the con. The R2 Builders Club hosted mouse droid races that were more like a demolition derby, and R2 races that showed off the incredible driving skills of their builders.
Meanwhile, The Force Awakens exhibit was small but impressive, although perhaps not quite worth a 2+ hour wait. We’ve got a full gallery of pictures, including close-up details for all you cosplayers planning ahead.
The biggest panel of the day – a double header with James Arnold Taylor’s one-man show and an interview with Mark Hamill – drew attendees willing to wait in line five to six hours early. The show started at 6:30pm; fans who arrived in line after 5:00pm were stuck outside. Celebration made full use of the Arena seating for this panel, opening up some seats that would otherwise be considered obstructed views – demonstrating understanding that the mentality among fans is not a need for a perfect seat, it’s a need for a good seat.
— ConShark (@ConSharkNews) April 19, 2015
But the desire for the perfect seat is still there, and Celebration has a fun way of making it a reality: two small rows of chairs on the side of the stage are dubbed the “best seats in the house,” the the DJ and warmup host select people at random to enjoy the panel from these seats. VIP tickets at Celebration were pricey and sold out in a matter of minutes – this was a great way to give the general admission crowd a chance for something special.
James Arnold Taylor’s one-man show featured an incredible array of voice impressions as well as some fun storytelling. And it was a perfect lead in to Hamill’s interview, considering he is now very well recognized for his voice acting. Hamill was a class act, regaling the packed crowd with stories of the malfunctioning Yoda puppet in Empire, bringing hilarious archive photos of the original cast, and discussing the many animated characters he has brought life to since his time in the Star Wars trilogy. At one point, he launched into a story about his honeymoon at a very remote location being interrupted by a man driving a boat dressed as Darth Vader (turns out it was a prank by an acquaintance). But where many stars of his caliber would sound annoyed with fans over things like this, Hamill was very warm and kind – telling the audience that after all these years, they feel like family, too.
This is, in essence, what all convention experiences boil down to: finding the people you share a passion with, and surrounding yourself with them as much as possible. If Star Wars fans are looking for a happy family, they find it at Celebration – whether that’s because they all got to shake a 7-foot-tall Chewbacca cosplayer’s furry hand, or because they got to talk shop during a two hour wait to see new costumes up close.
And outside the convention center on Saturday night, the party continued: the con hosted a fan mixer in the Grand Plaza, and the food trucks stayed on hand until at least 10pm. Meanwhile, the privately-hosted all ages Club Cosplay event raged on into the wee hours of the morning next door at the House of Blues Downtown Disney. (We were there and we’ll have a full report on Club Cosplay coming up, including whether or not it’s the right kind of event for you.)
Our Star Wars Celebration Recap continues in Part 3, covering Sunday’s events.