By far the most tiresome activity, however, was also the most obligatory: queueing.
How it worked is that first you'd queue to get your bags and prop-weapons checked (you could skip this if you had neither), before then joining a couple of queues in the next room to get wristbands - you could only get two per day - for activities going on on the main Celebration stage, although these were snapped up very quickly. Then you'd join the main queue waiting to enter, which was done by row depending on which row was 'next' to go.
Thankfully, you only needed a wristband for the Celebration stage; the other stages were all first-come-first-served and, of course, involved queues. Bonus points for these being the only other areas to offer seating arrangements for the streams of the Rogue One and Rebels panels.
Whilst not every booth had a queue, the EA games game-ready machines for Battlefront and Chapter I: The Hunt of Knights of the Fallen Empire, LEGO booth, and exclusive-Celebration store all had queues as well.
If you were prudent enough to pre-book autograph and photograph sessions with the various stars, these queues were done in batches; autographs were called in hundreds (Mark's autograph session was already dishing out its six-hundredth ticket for the day at 10am on Saturday) whilst photographs were divided into groups of 50 with up to 16 batches depending on who the star was.
If you were unfortunate enough to miss out on the pre-booking, you needed to join a free-for-all throng to get a green ticket - mentioned above - which you then needed to take to pay for regardless of your overall chance of securing your coveted item of choice. If the day ended without you getting your autograph or photograph, tough luck. The only way to have been eligible for a refund is if the star had cancelled altogether.
The photography sessions got off to a very rough start. For some reason best known to herself, Carrie Fisher was late to her session on both Friday and Saturday. These things do happen, but she was the first person booked for both days - she was third in-line on Sunday if I recall correctly - meaning that they had to move half of her initial four batches back to a later timeslot so that Mark could start roughly on-time.
The real kicker is that they had no proper equipment to notify of any changes. The Store queue had electronic signage broadcasting "if you are at this point in the queue you have x minutes to go!" and giving a sample of Tweets, but the photography and autograph booths had the absolutely brilliant strategy of just making the increasingly-exasperated and put-upon staff shout what was going on and hope that people could hear them.
I don't know if Batch 8 for Carrie ever had their photographs taken.
So, this is the general overview, so now it's time to talk about what specifically went on on each of the two days I was there for, and what I was able to catch first-hand.
Throughout all three days, they had two permanent prominent fixtures: RC Experience and Trials on Tatooine. The first of these was a Drone company showcasing various Star Wars Drones, such as the Millennium Falcon and the TIE Advanced x1. This was the only fixture to have received a special promo video in the pre-main-queue queue.
Trials on Tatooine was a VR simulation run by Industrial Light and Magic's xLab, and based on the reviews it involved wield a lightsaber as Luke Skywalker's Apprentice who was undergoing a version of the Jedi Trials following Return of the Jedi. By the time this blog post goes out, it should already have been released for those who are wealthy enough to own a Vive to purchase.
As you can tell from the vague descriptions above, I never got to witness these myself. A chap who had been to the Drone demonstration who was behind me in the queue outside the SWtOR Community Cantina opined that it was a waste of time and space, and I still don't know whether he was prescient or whether he was referring to the Drones!
The final significant ongoing experience was the Rogue One costume and props exhibit. They had models of the Death Star, TIE Striker, AT-ACT, and Krennic's shuttle, and costumes of two Death Troopers, three Storm Troopers, three Shore Troopers, and main characters Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, Bodhi Rook, Chirrut Îmwe, Baze Malbus, and villain Orson Krennic. These were in the open for anyone in the South Hall to look at, so you didn't need to queue unless you wanted to get a closer look at the specific details close-up.
The first day saw interviews with Mark Hamill, a Rogue One panel, and a Cosplay Competition all taking place on the main stage. We were only able to secure wristbands for the competition, but we did catch glimpses of the other two events as well. From what I saw, Mark was having a great time chatting to Warwick Davies, who was one of the overall hosts of the event, and I was just able to catch Ben Mendelssohn entering the Rogue One panel in full costume as Director Orson Krennic flanked by four of his Death Troopers.
Sadly, due to being in the Store queue at the time in an attempt to "beat the crowd" whilst everyone was enraptured by Rogue One - something which was ultimately pointless due to the staggered entrance system - I did miss out entirely on seeing the new trailer. I heard Vader at the end, but this was as far as I could specifically make out.
In terms of other things we saw on the first day, we saw two items on the Galaxy stage, which was the secondary 'main' stage but didn't require wristbands. These were technical behind-the-scenes panels going over how the R2 builders' club found itself making droids for The Force Awakens and the engineering of BB-8, and details on how sets, both digital and physical, for both TFA and Rogue One were created.
Re-created, in fact, in a couple of specific cases for Rogue One. Notably, since the original Death Star model was erroneously given away during a storage clean-up and has now been obtained by a collector who has it on display, they were able to recreate the model using pictures from the film and of the model whilst under possession of LucasFilm and 'unwrapping' them digitally to get as close a reconstruction as they could get.
The Droid panel also featured a very special pair of guests. The first of these was one of the special filming "rigs" for BB-8. When filming, they used three specific 'styles' of rig; the wiggler, the puppet, and the trike. The wiggler was built on a base and the body and head would wobble, which was used in various scenes on Jakku and the Falcon, the puppet was operated and pushed by hand, and the trike was pushed by a remote-controlled two-wheeled platform - BB-8 himself acting as the third wheel - which also helped to operate the head.
It was the 'left' trike which was wheeled out during the panel; the designation comes from the two trike models having the connecting arm on different sides to allow for as clean a shot as possible depending on the filming angle.
However, there was one further and extra special guest. The "Red Carpet" BB-8, so called for its purpose of starring at premieres and promotional events, rolled out of its crate to an incredible cheer, before then heckling the presenter and trying to take control of proceedings. I don't know if the Celebration stage saw this BB-8 roll out during the creatures of TFA presentation, but still: I have now seen the real BB-8!
Although we missed out on getting wristbands for the two big main events, we were able to secure some for the Cosplay competition. I'll go over the long list of people who I've seen casually later in the post, but one thing I was determined to do was create a checklist of all the characters I'd seen and see who the most popular and obscure characters were. Seeing the competition was an extension of this, and it was really rather fascinating.
Whilst I can't remember all of the entrants, I can at least remember which characters came first, second, and third in each of the categories!
Empire and Armoured Troopers
- Shae Vizla
- Fallen Atris
- Asajj Ventress
- Padmé Amidala
- Queen Apailana
- Padmé Amidala - seriously, all but one of the entrants were Padmés.
Jedi and Rebels
- A non-specific Jedi General from the era of the Old Republic
- Ahsoka Tano
- Lama Su
- A Wookiee Warrior from Revenge of the Sith
Some of the costumes exhibited were seriously impressive. The Grummgar costume, for example, was 9 feet tall and had been constructed over 100 days, with the maker and wearer then needing to work out for another 100 days just to actually wear the costume. It's no surprise that this won the entire thing!
Shae Vizla wasn't the only named Old Republic representative; Dread Master Bestia - bedecked in her old Battlemaster Sorcerer helmet rather than the fancy gold crest - was the very first character to emerge, but sadly ended up overstaying her welcome and had to be fetched by a member of the backstage crew.
There are quite a few individuals who I'm surprised didn't get a prize. There was a seriously impressive Kylo Ren who not only had a fantastic costume but he carried himself exactly as the character did in the film. Similarly, a young Chinese woman emerged as Obi-Wan Kenobi (complete with false beard) and she, too, had both an excellent costume and superb form as the Jedi Master.
Not to undersell any of the prize-winners or anything, but these people were at least deserving of an honourable mention, of which there were, sadly, none.
The hosts, Warwick Davies and Mark Daniel, also had their own bit of fun whilst the judges were making their minds up. Davies had previously gone through the main hall and filmed people doing impressions of Star Wars characters and general sounds (Wookiee roars were plentiful). Notably, somebody dressed as Luke Skywalker just lowered their hood and did a really intense stare.
Inspired by this, the both of them went throughout the crowd and asked them to do impressions as a sort of "one-upmanship" between them, with Daniel finding a woman who - after concentrating for a few seconds - managed to do an absolutely perfect impression of the Star Wars theme (almost as if she had a music player in her pocket or something, but that's cheating, surely!) and a young man painted entirely in white dots as a 'budget' version of a motion-capture suit. Supreme Leader Broke went on to do a fantastic Gollum voice speaking as if BB-8 going to the "Resistances" was the Ring falling into the hands of the "Hobbitses".
So, day one at Celebration ended on a very high note.
Day two, however, was far more unstable.
I was by myself this time, as family had managed to secure tickets for cricket at Lords, and they'd only come along on the first day out of genuine curiosity.
I failed to secure any wristbands this time around. By the time I got there, the only thing left was an interview with Anthony Daniels, but by the time I realised that, actually, that did sound interesting, they'd all gone. Ah, well.
I've already mentioned the fiasco with the photography sessions, but I haven't explained why I had such a good perspective on what was happening. I had pre-booked a photography session with Mark for the Saturday, which was fortunate given the mess of trying to buy one at Celebration itself.
I had actually turned up about 50 minutes early to my overall timeslot (11:35 until 12:35) because I wanted to secure my place nice and early depending on how the queue worked. This turned out to be a serious mistake, as I ended up standing for a good two hours in a throng of continually exasperated and infuriated crowd, who were blaming the voice-losing staff who could only deal with the lack of any real technology.
On the plus side, Mark was an absolutely fantastic individual. All smiles and warm greetings, with the occasional remark on people's costumes. If ever you get the opportunity to meet him, by all means take it.
After this, I just found myself drifting for a few hours. I had a nice little chat with Charles Boyd about the Cantina at the Knights of the Fallen Empire booth, checked out the Mandalorian Mercs, and picked up an information slip for the UK Garrison of the 501st Legion.
Then it was time for the Star Wars Rebels panel and accompanying streams elsewhere. I don't have much interest in either of Dave Filoni's Star Wars TV shows, but my interest had been piqued because I knew that season two of Rebels had featured Malachor. Heck, maybe they've got something else exciting for season three, I thought, and so joined a large mob of people who couldn't get seats in the Galaxy Stage to watch a publicly-broadcast stream and managed to catch the trailer.
First things first; Dark Troopers. The Dark Troopers were first seen in the Dark Forces game before transitioning to Battlefront and Empire at War, but were since completely forgotten. Their legacy seems to be preserved in this new season, however, which is very nice to see.
So the Dark Troopers got a nice whoop of appreciation, and people were sated. Then the Imperial characters began talking about needing the best-of-the-best to catch the Rebels off-guard before a montage of clips which showed the Empire being far quicker than before at responding to the insurgents. All the while, this footage was interspersed with three silhouette shots of a lone figure.
Now, I'm not good at reading people, but even I recognised that trepidation was building with each passing moment. Everyone watching intently having the exact same question in their heads: "Is it him?"
The figure steps out of the shadows; it's Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Cheers erupted everywhere. I could even hear the people seated in the Galaxy Stage from where I was standing! Thrawn is undoubtedly one of the most popular characters from the Star Wars universe, with calls to make him canon besting those of Revan and Mara Jade in some circles. Indeed, there have been several people who have opined that Orson Krennic from Rogue One was intended to be Thrawn, or at least the "canon version" of him.
Whilst his species of Chiss is now also canon, members have now gained proper pupils and irises. The eye is still entirely red - save for the black pupil - but it's strange seeing a species everyone is familiar with having neither of these suddenly gain them. It is hard to animate and characterise an individual who has no pupils, so I can understand why they've done this, but it's going to take a while to get used to.
More importantly, though, Timothy Zahn - author of the Thrawn Trilogy - has announced a new Thrawn book, simply called Thrawn, which will come out in April 2017.
This done, I hovered around some more stalls and then went off to queue for the Old Republic Community Cantina.
As mentioned previously, this was the first one I've ever been to as last time they did one here I was just a month too young. I must say, it was a really rather underwhelming experience.
First-things-first, it was fantastic to see so many people turn up. The venue holds 1,000 people and it was absolutely packed. A few people turned up in-costume, including several Twi'leks, a couple of Jedi Guardians, a Hylo Visz, and a Togruta who was celebrating her birthday with a BB-8 cake.
Notably, this was the first time meeting anybody who I've known from the internet, and thankfully in this case it's someone who I've known for a couple of years now thanks to this blog and, recently, transferring servers and invading their guild; Shintar! It was fantastic to finally meet someone from in-game face-to-face.
That's the really good stuff out of the way.
Now the bad stuff.
BioWare being BioWare, they came across a technical issue which delayed our entry, but this worked out because the whole reason for opening the venue early - the EA panel - didn't start at the designated time anyway. Compared to Battlefront, The Old Republic woefully underrepresented itself, with James Ohlen only talking about the last five years and showing a single teaser image for Knights of the Eternal Throne, which has since been described online as "one of the biggest updates since the game launched".
Cue all the fantasising about raids.
Due to the sizable queue in front of me when I turned up even 40 minutes before the doors were meant to open at 6:30 - which was nothing compared to the queue behind me - I wasn't able to secure a table near to the stage. The 'best' table which I could secure at the time was just around the corner from the main area, but I theorised that the sound would, at least, carry. They had a speaker above our heads, so we should have been fine, right?
The microphones were only corresponding to the main area, and even then some people - notably Natasha Loring - were still incredibly quiet. We only caught reverberating murmurings from our table, so we have no idea what they were talking about.
The supposed "hour-long" panel headed by Musco et al. only lasted 35 minutes before they just said that they were done and we were free to hang around as long as we were gone by 10:45. Charles Boyd was reportedly kicked out by the bouncers at closing time due to his Havoc Squad Armour making him look like a fan, but I don't know the sincerity of these reports.
So, yeah. Meeting Shin and her tagging-along pet tank was excellent, as was the sheer turnout, but in practice the event was very much a resounding "meh". The really annoying thing is that I was aware of some Twitter individuals who were going along, notably Blachloch, but I didn't get the chance to see them in-person. I have since ascertained that the Hylo Visz I saw while queueing outside was Stardust, though.
I haven't yet talked about the 'casual' cosplayers I saw. I figured I'd save this bit for last, as it was by far the most consistently-entertaining event throughout the two days.
A lot of people turned up wearing clothes and dresses in the style and colour of their favourite characters. Notably, I saw two ladies - one of whom later ended up a couple of people in front of me in the Cantina queue - who wore items which, when looked at as a whole, clearly represented a very simplified version of Revan's outfit.
Before I get to the Star Wars individuals, there were several people who turned up in completely the wrong costume. These individuals were:
- Captain Jack Sparrow
- Harry Potter
- "Hermes" Granger
- Indiana Jones
- Ron Weasley
- The Joker
There were also a lot of hybrids:
- Harleia Quingana - Harley Quinn and Princess Leia Organa
- Jedi Joker
- Imperial Officers Statler and Waldorf
- Maleiaficent - Maleficent and Slave Leia (eww)
- Mikylorengelo - Kylo Ren and Michaelangelo the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle
- Fettor - Boba Fett and Predator
- Stormtrooper Captain Jack Sparrow
- Stormtrooper Planet of the Apes Apes
For the Star Wars individuals, I only 'counted' people who I saw on the floor. I did not count the characters from the Cosplay competition unless I saw them around casually; such characters included the Chinese Obi-Wan and the Shae Vizla, as well as the Chewbacca, Pre Viszla, and Salacious B. Crumb who had entered.
By far the most popular individual character I saw was Rey. I'll give you a tally of the most popular characters in a minute, but the sheer amount of Reys just blew me away. It's fantastic to see the effect which this new character has had on the overall Star Wars fandom, such as young girls having a good role-model, and I look forward to seeing where the franchise develops with her as its lead.
The most confusing individuals to track down were Finn and Poe Dameron, simply because they both wore the same jacket, and you can't tell which is which from behind without seeing what colour shirt the portrayer is wearing; Finn has a black shirt whilst Poe has a cream shirt. Considering the amount of people of differing ethnicities and even genders who were portraying characters, you can't just assume based on skin colour!
Poe has an added confusing element, which is his flight suit; this is identical to every single Resistance Pilot, and without a helmet you just don't know who's Poe, who's Snap, who's Jessika, or who's their own character. There might have been a lot of Poes, but it's just very hard to identify without a telling feature!
There were also quite a few characters from Rogue One. A young boy was dressed as Orson Krennic, there was a bearded interpretation of Chirrut Îmwe, one individual had a Shore Trooper helmet, and somebody entered the Cosplay competition as Jyn Erso. Curiously, they were in their own category...
Now for the fun bit; the ten most popular characters!
- Rey: 108
- Princess Leia: 26
- Luke Skywalker: 25
- Kylo Ren: 22
- Padmé Amidala: 21
- Han Solo: 20
- Darth Revan: 13
- Obi-Wan Kenobi: 10
- Boba Fett: 9
- Ahsoka Tano: 8
A gap of 82 between first and second place - not including the four Prince Leias that I also managed to see - is a very considerable one indeed.
It's hard to know what to make of Star Wars: Celebration. It was fantastic to see so many people turn out and show their appreciation for the franchise, and the big names that were there were clearly having a lot of fun.
On the other hand, there was a lot of ill-preparation for the photography and autograph sessions which meant that people were often left very confused. Similarly, this ill-preparation made the Community Cantina very disappointing outside of actually conversing face-to-face with people I know from in-game, which was certainly more memorable than anything which was stated officially.
Would I go again? In a heartbeat, but given that it won't be coming back to Europe until 2018 at the earliest (all speculation on my part anyway), it might be a more expensive venture than otherwise due to certain political goings-on...
As an additional, this is officially my hundredth post. There will be a special "100 posts!" post coming on Thursday, so there is no need to comment to this effect in this post. It was just more important to get this one out quickly given its nature.