The force was strong in Anaheim, Calif. with the annual Star Wars Celebration convention that kicked off on Friday, April 16 and continued through the rest of the weekend until Sunday’s closing.
Fans waited in anticipation, starting to line up Wednesday evening. Hundreds of fans camped outside the Anaheim Convention Center for a chance to grab a seat in the arena for the sci-fi classic convention’s opening ceremony with the director of “The Force Awakens” J.J. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy.
Even more surprise guests hit the stage for the opening ceremony, which was watched online by over half a million people, included the original series cast members who started it all, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher best known as Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. They were accompanied onstage by some of the cast of “Episode VII” including John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, who are set to portray Finn and Rey.
Sending the world into a frenzy, the second teaser trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” premiered to cap off the opening ceremony. The trailer has been viewed over 49 million times to date.
Aside from the main stage, there were so many other great things to see throughout the entire weekend as the convention took over all three floors of the convention center, the courtyard and the main entrance.
An exhibit that was in extremely high demand was a behind the scenes look at props and costumes from the upcoming film “The Force Awakens.” At first, it seemed as though no one knew about the room and it was just a walk-in type of experience, but once word spread that such an area existed the lines grew to be capped at a four hour wait.
Downstairs on the main floor of the exhibition halls were many places for guests to get memorabilia, both official and fan made. Whether it was a rug that looked like Chewbacca, original action figures from the ’70s and ’80s, t-shirts, mugs, bags.
The Celebration Show Store reigned as the most popular with checkout lines at a two to three hour wait daily and the majority of their limited edition items selling out before the weekend was over. The first official t-shirt for the film “The Force Awakens” went on sale Saturday night with a couple hundred people in line and only a fraction of them were able to snag the ultra-limited edition shirt.
Lucas Film Ltd. also featured tattoo artists who were licensed under their company to do Star Wars related artwork on the most dedicated of fans. Almost all of the artists booked weeks out prior to the start of the weekend, but were able to fit in spontaneous appointments. Some artists were invited to participate in judging and being honored at tattoo contests held on the second level on Sunday.
Friday’s stage panels began with a preview for the highly anticipated video game “Star Wars Battlefront.” Fans were able to view the official trailer and wait in yet another multi-hour line to get an interactive hands on preview. This included sitting in an X-Wing Fighter ship and immersing themselves completely in the universe far far away for just a moment.
The Behind-the-Scenes stage, put on by starwars.com, allowed guests to see the Secrets of the Mos Eisley Cantina. Througout the weekend guests in cosplay were invited to be character extras in the Cantina as online hosts live-streamed interviews and coverage from the front.
Movie history was made as “Star Wars: A New Hope” was screened dubbed entirely in Navajo—the first time a mainstream movie had been re-recorded into the Native American language. Also the third prequel film, “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith”, was screened for the first time in 3-D. Viewings of the rest of the films continued throughout the weekend.
Two of the biggest events that Friday had to offer were the panels for a Date with Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher. Later in the evening, Anthony Daniels took fans for a look Inside the Heart and Chaos of C-3PO, the beloved neurotic robotic companion to Luke Skywalker.
On Saturday, the panels focused on season two of Disney XD’s hit cartoon adaption “Star Wars Rebels,” which held its season premiere that evening featuring stars like Freddie Prinze Jr. and in keeping with the Disney Company tie-in Star Wars and Marvel’s re-collaboration to bring comic books back.
Saturday afternoon finished with a bang as James Arnold Taylor did a one man show about the life of a voice actor and performed over 200 different voices live. Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, took the main stage to talk about being “drafted” into the new films.
Sunday was the biggest day yet. The final day began with William Shakespeare’s Star Wars On Stage, where the voice actors from the audio books acted out select scenes with props and costumes to bring a hilarious rendition of the movies to life.
That day a big announcement was made for additional films to the Star Wars Cinematic Universe: three new stand-alone films that will focus solely on specific events or characters introduced through the main films.
“Star Wars: Rogue One”, scheduled to debut December 2016, will be the first of the “anthology films”. A teaser trailer and concept art was featured during the panel though the director, Josh Trank, was mysteriously missing. It would be later announced that Trank was dropped from the film and Gareth Edwards would fill his spot. The film is said to be more of a war drama set between Episode III and Episode IV.
The fleet of weekend stage hosts took to the stage again to close the event while DJ Elliot spun a fusion of Star Wars music and today’s hits. The crowd went wild as a video of the weekend played and showcased the great cosplays, exhibition floor and panels with special guests.
Finishing up the entire set was a goodbye message from Kathleen Kennedy and clips of the weekend with an overlay of the trailer. A final goodbye from Mary Franklin, who has continuously put together the Celebration weekend year after year.
With the weekend finally coming to a close, the question of where the next Celebration would take place still lingered. Rumors flew around that it would possibly stay in Anaheim, in accordance with the Disney pull. While others wondered if it would travel around the country to another city such as Chicago or New York. Pete Vilmur, head of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm Ltd. announced that the next Celebration would take place in London July 15-17. This makes sense as that is where the sequels are filming. It only took seconds for fans to theorize about set visits and more cast panels.
It’s possible that after the films wrap up in London that the convention might find a permanent home in the U.S. and after seeing the success of Anaheim’s hosting of the convention, one could only hope that Celebration will return to Southern California.