Well, it’s been a few months now since my son and I made our pilgrimage to Florida and to all things Star Wars, and I suppose now is as good a time as any to post a few pictures and thoughts from this memorable trip.
You see, I’ve never been much of a trip taker or a trip planner. I’ve always sort of let money foul up the works when it comes to those sorts of things. The truth is, there’s really never enough money at all, unless you’re an oil baron, real estate tycoon, or professional athlete. The reality is that when you accept that you have a few constants to work with, you come to realize that those are the rules of the game and that you must work within those constraints to move your game piece further along the board. The two constants being time and money. Once you come to realize that there will never be enough of those things to go round, its kind of freeing. Don’t get me wrong. Having your own flux capacitor and/or an indefinite well of greenbacks from which to make withdrawals would be easier, if not a quite nice. But I don’t have a trust fund (mom, dad—get to work on that, okay?) or a Doc Brown to tap for these things, so I have to take what I have and make it work. I have my wife, Kelley, to thank for this revelation.
Anyway, it was because of our decidedly un-jet-setter like vacation habits that this trip was to be special. Oh, and because it was Star Wars. We were boarding a plane together for the first time. Just the two of us. Together. The boys. Nerd weekend or bust.
After successfully navigating two airports (one strange and new—the other quite familiar), minus one digital camera (I managed to drop it on the floor of the Orlando Airport while we waited for the tram—sorry Kelley), catching a shuttle to our hotel, checking in, and refreshing ourselves, we were ready for some sci-fi, costumed, geek action.
Below are the highlights:
1) The Total Experience: An Overview
Let me just say that if you consider yourself a big fan of Star Wars (even if it’s just of the original trilogy), you need to attend a Star Wars Celebration. The sights, the sounds, the smells (wait--maybe not the smells). Star Wars Celebration is a feast for the senses, and it can overload the circuits if you’re not careful. People in costume (gloriously faithful and meticulously constructed costumes) wandered the lobbies of the hotels and the streets and sidewalks around the convention center, and crowded the seats and aisles of the shuttle buses that ferried the land speeder-less fans to the convention center. Star Wars ground zero. Once inside the convention center stormtroopers, all manner of bounty hunter, Jedi, and Sith roamed, posed, sweated, and pantomimed scenes from the movies. They were everywhere, and very willing to pose patiently for photos with fans. Many of these people (almost all, in fact) were unpaid fans themselves who had spent hours upon hours researching and building their costumes with no reward in mind at except the personal enjoyment of doing it.
Once you got past that and into the main part of the convention hall, there were signs hung from every corner, large displays of ships, characters, and scenes from the movies, vendors hawking every kind of licensed (and unlicensed too) Lucasfilm merchandise you could ever possibly want to buy. They had new stuff, old stuff, fake stuff, rip off stuff. But I’ll get into that in more detail later.
Honestly, the food and drink vendors were pretty reasonable. I was really shocked to find that the fans weren’t being completely taken advantage of. Nearly everything that you could do inside the convention, with the exception of autographs and merchandise, came with the purchase of the Celebration Ticket. No additional fees to get into this or that.
2) The Main Convention Hall
This is where most of the action was happening. This hall was a vast room that could literally have been big enough to house the Millennium Falcon and a wing of rebel star fighters. The floor consisted, as I said earlier, of every vendor imaginable. Hasbro and LEGO had large booths set up with displays that were very impressive. Hasbro had HUGE dioramas filled with action figures and toy vehicles arranged in the most impressive, realistic scenes—and faithful to the films to boot. Ethan was mesmerized by these. I think he might have stared long enough at those, if I hadn’t urged him on to the next booth, to be physically sucked into them. There was also an official sculptor on hand, carving figures from the raw material right before our eyes. Really neat stuff!
LEGO had designers on tap as well, steadily at work on full size statues of Star Wars figures. These were really cool! Darth Vader, Chewie, R2D2 and C-3PO were there represented in all of their studded LEGO block glory.
The full scale dioramas were most impressive (heh heh) as well. There was a full size mock up of the shield bunker from Return of the Jedi, complete with a replica speeder bike parked out front and biker scouts standing guard. Jabba was there as well, his main audience chamber replicated in all of its cheesy, Muppet glory. There was Boba Fett, slave Leia (trust me—most of these should have had more clothes on, and that’s all I’ll say about that), Gamorrean guards, and every minor creature character you could think of. There was a full size, replica snow speeder, tie interceptor (this was AWESOME), Luke’s land speeder, astromech droids galore, a mock up of the Millennium Falcon’s hallway and passenger room (where C-3PO and Chewbacca played that neat chess game with 3D creatures), and a scaled down AT-AT. That’s right, I said AT-AT. Can you say amazing? Say it with me. Uh-may-zing. Amazing!
3) The Shows, Panels, and Exhibits
These were for the real nerd elite. And we attended some of them. They had panels for EU books, upcoming and past, comics, cartoons (Clone Wars), you name it and they had a panel for it. You could sit in a small-ish room and listen to your favorite Star Wars author talk about the writing process, how they got involved in it all, and you could even ask questions. These people are minor celebrities, but it was cool to talk with some of the people that you’ve only ever known by name or deed.
The really big deal for us, the rancor monster of all panels was for the one and only Mark Hamill. You got it. Luke Skywalker. We were fortunate enough to meet the nicest couple in line and we sat with them through the most entertaining hour of the whole event. Mark is a true gentleman. Self deprecating, funny (hilarious even), and wildly normal. Everything you ever wanted him to be. And he loves the fans. His panel only endeared me to him more, as an actor, a real person, and as a character from my favorite movie franchise.
There were art exhibits, and my favorite, the man I credit for the complete look of original trilogy Star Wars, Ralph McQuarrie, had his own. We were able to stand before original works, finished paintings and sketches of his works for the original Star Wars movie and its sequels. I’m telling you, folks, it doesn’t get any better than this. Ian McCaig and Doug Chiang ain’t got nothin’ on this guy. This alone was worth the price of admission for me. I was a kid in a candy store.
4) The People—Fans and Officials
I will make this brief, but it needs saying. Everyone was great. We didn’t have one bad experience. Fans, official sponsors, event officials, everyone was terrific. We could not have asked for a better crowd. People were respectful of the fact that children were present, and everyone was just friendly and having fun. Even the convention officials, bus drivers, and hotel staff kept their judgments and opinions on our hobby of choice (and they must have had some) to themselves. They were all very gracious and treated us as though we were the most important people in the world. You know, how you expect to be treated when you’re patronizing someone’s business. Awesome, awesome experience all around.
It was a great time. We met a lot of really nice people, saw some amazing sights, and brought home with us not only some material reminders, but a whole slew of memories to keep and treasure forever. I hope you enjoy the pictures. They were all captured on my iPhone, as a result of my earlier mishap with the digital camera.