Celebration Day 0 begins at five pm, Wednesday April 12th. Keenan and I had just got back from a booze and supplies run (mostly booze). We’re excited, packing for the overnight and preparing for the weekend.
“Let’s watch Rogue One and The Force Awakens! I really want to get pumped for the weekend.”
I agree, but am hesitant about timing. My father has instilled in me a wonderfully anal sense of being late for anything. I figure that we can watch Rogue One, then head over to the convention center.
Seven pm rolls around, and one of the more boring bits of Rogue One hits the screen. I check Reddit. The stickied post on /r/starwarscelebration is “Final word on line”, and is an hour old. My stomach drops. The line was supposed to open at 8. I tell everyone we’re meeting to get there around 9.
“It should be fine! Plus, I’ll get to nap a little longer”
I didn’t nap.
It wasn’t fine.
An unofficial line counting into the hundreds had formed outside the convention center starting at about three pm. Convention center staff had done nothing to disperse the line, and in fact told those lined up that their spot would be honored.
I relay this to Keenan as calmly anxious as possible. We wrap up the movie, finish up our packing and jet to the con. After a snafu in the parking situation, we walk friends in tow to the security hopper right at nine. The following scene greets us.
We spend the next hour collectively shitting our pants, dreading that all the waiting, poor planning, and bullshit pulled by ReedPOP will screw us into a streaming room for the 40th Anniversary Panel.
We hit the giant line just in time to find out that we’re somewhere around number 2200 of the 2800 guaranteed to make it to the live panel room. After giant sighs of relief from the group, camping chairs are unfurled, beds are blown up, cards and video games hit the concrete, and flasks are heartily enjoyed.
Everyone is too anxious to sleep, but around midnight biology rears its ugly head and we all start to doze. This attempt at sleep is delightfully interrupted by a DJ DANCE PARTY WOO YEAH LET’S PARTY LIKE TIRED NERDS WOO. Less than a third of the 6000 barely functional humans even stand. A half hour later, the terrible decision to blare generic party music in a giant concrete room full of angry geeks is finally reversed. I doze off sometime around two am.
Five am. Nervous rustling wakes everyone up as those unfortunate enough to miss the line the night before enter the building. By six, the line is finally moving again. Wristbands are acquired at seven thirty.
Keenan and I had planned on heading back to the apartment, taking showers, and maybe catching a nap. This plan is thwarted with news that the security line just to enter the convention center is a half mile long. The panel starts at eleven. We shuffle back to the end of another line, miserable, smelly, hungry, and exhausted.
Lines move forward awkwardly. They’re split to make room for other, bigger lines due to poor planning. A group of about 200 ended up ahead of people who had waited overnight. We heard later that people who were guaranteed a spot in the live room ended up in streaming rooms.
We count our lucky Corellian system planets that we actually made it. After joining thousands of other people heading up two sets of escalators, we scour the room for seats, barely making it down in the back of the room
After 14 hours of waiting, we’re finally here. The same asshole DJ/hype guy combo from the previous night is hyping up the crowd. My opinion of them becomes slightly better. They were probably just taking orders.
Warwick Davis hits the stage as the host. He introduces a clip reel displaying the legacy and commitment of the fandom. Behind the scenes shots of the cast and crew fly by with the same gravity as children in ewok costumes. The first emphasis of the importance of the fans is displayed in this video.
Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm takes the stage. She’s a wonderful woman, but is also a consummate businesswoman. You don’t co-found Amblin entertainment and overtake the position of George Lucas without a little bit of rehearsal and teleprompter practice. Speaking of George…
George Lucas appears from backstage. The room explodes. He is his normal awkward, monotone self.
“You know, my producers might not like admitting it, but Star Wars is a film for twelve year olds.”
He goes on to say how the films reflect the Saturday morning shows of his youth, but take on a deeper psychological meaning to help kids transition into adulthood. Every time he sees a child in a Jedi costume, or the joy in their face when the good guys win, that’s what he did it for. He does it for the feeling of giving joy to youth.
Warwick agrees with this sentiment by reading a letter he wrote to George after they finished filming for Return of the Jedi. Poor kid just wanted some action figures. It is both adorable and exceedingly British.
Talk of kids leads us to Dave Filoni, current story mastermind. Dave started as an apprentice to George, eventually becoming the Director on Clone Wars and Executive Producer on Rebels. Both shows are his babies. He is much more verbose and mystical than George. I could listen to him talk about story and drama for hours.
A small clip of Liam Neeson is played, wherein he confirms that Jar Jar Binks is indeed the dark lord of the Sith, and the epitome of evil in the galaxy. This segues into the actual lords themselves, Hayden Christensen and Ian McDiarmid. They both separately delight the internet. Ian mentions that his favorite scene of his is the Story of Darth Plagueis the Wise. Hayden trips over his words and becomes the goofball heartthrob of teenagers everywhere all over again.
Samuel L. Jackson sends in a video detailing how Mace Windu could technically still be alive. Basically, he’s tired of only doing Quentin Tarantino movies and wants a better paycheck. What a man.
Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, and Peter Mayhew then take the stage. Anthony is the same condescending asshole that everyone loves. “Do you remember George?” George doesn’t remember. Billy Dee is characteristically quiet until asked a question. He mentions that he was a fan of THX-1138, and the casting of Donald Glover in the new spinoff makes even more sense. As smooth as he is now, Billy was a 70s hipster. Peter looks healthier than he did last year, but struggles to put sentences together. He’s cheery as ever.
Mark Hamill makes his inevitable appearance. He reminisces about his audition tape, and is charismatic as ever. At this point, most of the original cast and George is on the stage. Only a couple folks missing…
Harrison Ford strolls out. The room can’t collect itself. He’s at a Star Wars convention, and he actually looks happy to be there? If you had told me this would happen five years ago, I would have never believed you. Ford is lively, even jovial as he and Mark take a shit on George’s dialogue in the original script. Half hearted chuckles ripple through the audience. Warwick mentions that he can’t land a plane. Good fun is had among all.
The laughter and fun is broken as Kathleen comes back on stage. She addresses the elephant in the room, the death of Princess Leia, aka Carrie Fisher. George and Kathleen give beautiful little memorials to Carrie before her daughter makes an appearance.
Billie Lourd delivers a heartfelt remembrance of her mother. She takes a turn taking a dump on the script herself, repeating Leia’s original meandering speech to Obi-Wan. This loving speech is punctuated by a video of Carrie. Behind the scenes footage, interviews, etc all display her unflinching humor and independence. Carrie was a force of nature and it’s felt.
The video ends, and Billie leaves the stage. The drapes behind the screen on the side of the stage are pulled open. At the back of the room, we think this is a production malfunction. This odd happenstance is turned around immediately with the reveal of what this actually is.
John Williams is revealed as the room explodes for a third time, leading the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra in a gut wrenching rendition of Princess Leia’s theme. You could hear a pin drop. The silence is only broken by delicate strings and sniffles from everyone in the room. It’s beautiful. Everyone has had a good cry by the time the main theme starts up. The crowd cheers to a ten minute medley of the Main Theme, Opening Crawl, Throne Room, and Credits. Kathleen and George make an appearance again, proclaiming John Williams as “the greatest conductor and composer in the universe.”
John proves their claim by leading the orchestra in the Imperial March. With that, the panel ends. Two hours of glorious Star Wars celebration. Every single minute of waiting was worth it.