Unless you were living on one of the new Trappist planets, this past weekend in Orlando Florida was the 12th Star Wars Celebration 2017! This four day event brings fans from around the galaxy to one place to celebrate everything that is Star Wars.
Costumes, exhibits, a vibrant interactive show floor, screenings, exclusive merchandise, celebrity guests, panels, autograph sessions, fan-inspired activities…if it has anything at all to do with the Star Wars universe, trust me, it’s there. With over 253 different exhibitions, panels and workshops it is truly the holy grail of events for Star Wars fans.
This year in particular was a special one. Not only are fans still reeling from the global success of the franchises first stand alone film, Rogue One, but this year also marked the 40th Anniversary of the release of the film that started it all, Episode IV: A New Hope! Oh yeah, and also there’s a little film called Episode VIII: The Last Jedi coming out later this year!!!
That plus the TV animation side of Lucas Films, Star Wars Rebels, which just gets bigger and bigger, you’ve got yourself quite a weekend to map out. Whether you’re a casual fan or a Star Wars trivia master, there’s something for everyone. Boy, girl, young, old, Togrutan or Mandalorian…it doesn’t matter.
Let’s dig a little deeper and recap some of the highlights from each day…
Day I – 40 Years Young
Day one got off to an epic start. On the main stage fans who waited in line for hours upon hours were treated to a once in a lifetime 40th anniversary panel featuring key people from the Star Wars family. Kathleen Kennedy and George Lucas (!!!) got things started off followed by Warick Davis, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, David Piloni, Ian McDiarmid, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and even Hayden Christensen made his return to the Star Wars family! They all shared so much about their individual experiences from the past and present and there was even an amazing tribute to the late Carrie Fisher with the help of her daughter Billie Lourd. Then, just to blow the roof off the place, the curtain drew back and Mr. John Williams is there live with a full orchestra! They entertained the crowd with all the great music from Star Wars. Check it out:
Later on that day, David Filoni, creator and executive producer of Star Wars Rebels/Clone Wars along with executive Pablo Hidalgo held stage for an Animated Origins and Unexpected Fates panel. Their wide ranging discussion covered some of the most cherished characters to come out of Lucasfilm Animation, revealed some untold origins of heroes and rogues, and with rare clips and artwork, they tracked the surprising fates of this generation of Star Wars characters including the birth of Ahsoka Tano.
The day finished up with great interviews with Billy Dee Williams, the Emperor himself Ian McDiarmid and Doug Chiang amazed fans with all the incredible production design secrets that went into making Rogue One look and feel so great.
All in all, not a bad day one I’d say!
Day II – Hello and Goodbye
The second day started off much like the first, with an explosion that would easily destroy the death star. By the time The Last Jedi panel was ready to start, the thousands of fans packed into the hall and the millions watching live were at a fever pitch. Kathleen Kennedy again got things going along with Rian Johnson, the director of Episode VIII before bringing out Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill and newcomer Kelly Mari Tran. Each received thunderous applause and provided some clues as to what we could expect in the next installment with regards to their characters.
He also shared some great behind the scenes photos that he himself took, including our first look at Johnson and Carrie Fisher on set together.
Then Rian Johnson brought out two surprises…one in the form of a brand new poster (left) and what everyone came to see, the first teaser for Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
Those in attendance were treated to a great first look a total of three times!
What’s great but unusual is that they streamed the teaser live for the folks at home who couldn’t make it to Orlando for this event so everyone around the world watched the premiere live.
Up next and one of my personal favorites was the Heroines of Star Wars panel featuring Ashley Eckstein, Daisy Ridley, Tiya Sircar and David Filoni. Creative force Carrie Beck couldn’t make it which is too bad because I’m a huge fan. They held a wonderful discussion nonetheless about how Star Wars more than any other franchise writes intelligent, strong and rich female lead characters not to mention many of the people they employ in the upper echelon of the company are women. They were also there to talk about the exciting new animated series Forces of Destiny, which are a series of shorts featuring the women of Star Wars in exciting untold adventures. The series will feature everyone from Rey and Jyn to Sabine and Ahsoka…and of course Princess Leia.
This massive second day ended with what I think was the most emotional and poignant moment of the weekend. Mark Hamill presented a very personal tribute to Carrie Fisher with a moving series of stories and anecdotes using videos/photos to take us through a 40 year friendship. Mark Hamill’s greatest role is perhaps as Star Wars ambassador as he’s able to recall wonderful behind the scenes insight with humor and bluster. His kinship and at times frustration towards Carrie is apparent as he took us through a journey of two very young actors making their way through this insanity that Star Wars has become. I could listen to Mark wax all day…
Day III – The Rebels Are Here
Day three started off great with Andi Guiterrez interviewing Jyn Erso herself Felicity Jones and rebel leader Saw Gerrara played by Forrest Whitaker of course. Both provided great details on where the sought inspiration for their individual characters and what’s its like transferring those skills to the animated format.
The big event that day, for me anyways, was the Star Wars Rebels panel. Executive producer/Creator Dave Filoni and the cast took to the Galaxy Stage Saturday morning to talk about what we could expect from Season Four. The audience was treated to insights on the dynamic that has flourished among the actors behind the Ghost crew, a preview of things to come, and some big surprises, including the debut of the Season 4 trailer…
The fans there were treated to a live viewing of Episdoe 1 of Season 4 months ahead of it’s debut but not before Filoni dropped a bombshell by announcing this upcoming season of Rebels would be it’s last. “I know it’s tough, but I firmly believe that each generation needs to have their own piece of Star Wars,” Filoni said, and from a creative perspective, ending it now allows the story to be “the most meaningful it can be.” He would go on to curb the sour mood a little by saying, “This show by no means represents an end to what we’re doing in animation.”
And even thought there was no Ahsoka Tano announcement made, Filoni during the trailer debut changed his “Ahsoka Live?” t-shirt to a “Ahsoka Lives!” one so…surmise what you will.
In the afternoon Anthony Daniels along with host Warick Davis, presented 40 Years with Threepio. It was a great look back at the popular protocol droid played and voiced by Daniels, who is the only actor to appear in every single saga film including Rogue One. Daniels is very much at ease on stage and enjoys immensely being a part of the Star Wars legacy.
Other highlights from Day 3 included the Cosplay Championships, a Marvel Comics presentation on the current state of Star Wars comics which included an announcement of a Captain Phasma short run series and a host of other tings. Not to be outdone Hasbro introduced a new Star Wars line called The Black Series which are fantastic, including an Admiral Thrawn set which is my favorite. Also the figures they released for the Forces of Destiny series are equally great which include all your favorite heroines from the saga…and don’t worry Funko fans, they released a ton of new collectibles for you to add to your collection. I’m not a Funko guy but the Rey one pictured above with her speeder is pretty sweet.
Day IV – The Final Day
The last day of this incredibly successful celebration started off with a Heroes of the Rebellion panel which featured all of our favorite Star Wars rebels like Denis Lawson (Wedge Antilles), Angus MacInnes (Gold Leader), Garrick Hagon (Biggs Darklighter), Mike Quinn (Nien Nunb) and Tim Rose (Admiral Ackbar). These unsung heroes of the rebellion received a very warm welcome from the many fans in attendance and had great stories to tell.
Perhaps one of the most fun panels was These Are the Droids You’re Looking For, hosted appropriately by Warwick Davis. We saw all of our favorite companions on stage and they revealed what goes into creating the nuts and bolts and the heart and soul of all our favorites such as C3PO, R2-D2, BB-8 and even Chopper. There’s no question droids are a fan favorite and play vital parts in all Star Wars stories even as recently as K2-SO in Rogue One. In fact they brought out K2-SO himself, Alan Tudyk to discuss his part in Rogue One and share some behind the scenes secrets. They also had a very nice tribute for Kenny Baker, who passed away in 2016, who of course played R2-D2 in all the Star Wars films up to and including Episode VII.
The big final event featured Mr. Star Wars himself, Mark Hamill taking the stage for an hour to delight us with more tales and lore. As mentioned earlier, this guy has been the face and heart of Star Wars for many years now. He opines better than anyone and it’s pure joy to listen to him share his personal stories about playing the central figure in the greatest space saga ever created.
Hamill himself being a fan boy is the ultimate bridge to the fans in so many ways most of which is his accessibility and clear love for his fans. At one point his dogs even came on stage to put on a bit of a show as he shared more than few hilarious stories about filming with Harrison Ford and Anthony Daniels, even took some questions from the audience. He tells one story of how himself and Carrie Fisher snuck into a theatre in 1977 to watch the Star Wars trailer which they hadn’t see yet, and when it was finished it was heckled by members of the audience!
To my delight, Hamill announced his web series Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest was getting a second season, with an expanded run-time of eight, 22-minute episodes. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it, it’s great fun.
After Hamill was done, the only official business left to complete was the closing ceremonies which took place across multiple stages at the Convention Centre. It was a chance for everyone to gather one last time and share their favorite memories from the past three days. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.
So that’s it! Believe me when I tell you, these highlights are just a very minute portion of things that took place this past weekend as there were hundreds of exciting things going on at any given time. The amount of effort the Lucas group and others put into this extravaganza is quite remarkable and clearly there’s an affinity for the fan base, whom they all agree, keep the spirit of Star Wars very alive and very well. It’s safe to say it’s never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan.
For more clips, videos and highlight from the weekend, visit http://www.starwars.com. You won’t regret it!
Till next time…MTFBWY.