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A few years ago there was a bombshell that was dropped. This bombshell came out of right field, and was something that a lot of folks didn’t see coming. I was one of those people. But, for some people, this bomb represented a lot more than a change. It meant a new beginning. A passing of the torch if you will. That bombshell would be delivered by one of the most recognizable names in pop culture, a man whose name is synonymous with science fiction. That man is none other than George Lucas, and the bomb he dropped back in October of 2012 would be worth a massive $4 billion dollars ($4.05 billion dollars to be exact) would have lasting implications for years to come. And those implications would forever change the way we look at Star Wars and the franchise, forever changing the way would all experience the phenomenon that is Star Wars.
And that’s really what it is. Star Wars, whether you are a fan or not, is a phenomenon that transcends both space and time, and is known across all continents and languages. It is, without a doubt a phenomenon. And this year marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of Star Wars to this beautiful blue planet. For 35 years, Star Wars has fed the imaginations of science fiction and pop culture fans around the world. It all started with the original trilogy of movies and quickly spread into a plethora of cartoons, video games, action figures, food lines, clothing and an endless supply of merchandise. For years people were happy to take in anything that had to do with Star Wars. Then, nearly 20 years after it had first come out, Star Wars would finally get an additional trilogy of movies, and we would finally take a peak into the world that we all thought we knew. For the first time in many years, we would be introduced to a wealth of new characters and locations, and we would finally know how the story arc for the villainous Darth Vader from the very beginning. Well, having been in my early teens around the age that those movies were released, I can easily say that I was taken in by all of the hype. I mean, I was born into a world where Star Wars already existed, and in those short years before I was even conceived, Star Wars had already made its imprint in culture. So, when the new trilogy was finally released in 1999, I was among the first (or so, I thought I was) to be in line for this movie. I mean, after 22 years of satisfying the the lives of nearly everyone it touched, how could this movie fail? I mean, it was after all Star Wars. Well, let’s just say, that when this movie came out, the opinions about it went mixed, to say the least.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out at a time when the media machine was working overtime. This is before the days of social media, so, while companies did not have the option to use places like Facebook or Instagram to promote (and for fans to share their enthusiasm as well) their upcoming movies, we were treated to a slew of marketing tactics. I remember before the movie came out, nearly everywhere you went, you would find Star Wars merchandise. From the toys and packaging at Taco Bell, to cereal boxes and everywhere in between, Star Wars was everywhere. I couldn’t have been more excited to see the movie, and neither could the millions (or even billions as far as I’m concerned) of fans around the world be to see the movie. We all took the hype train to Phantom Menace town, and were bursting at the seams with excitement to see it. Unfortunately for us, the movie came out, and for better or for worse, the release of it changed the way that a lot of folks would see Star Wars. I know for myself, the movie opened up with questions that I wanted answered, and little by little, we have been receiving the answers. One of those questions, was one that some of us wanted answered (and that would be even moreso with the release of The Clone Wars a few years later), and that was if George Lucas would relinquish the directing and creative duties to someone else.
Why would anyone ask that you ask? Well, when the new trilogy of movies came out a lot of fans of the original one felt as though none of the things they wanted to see in the new films was in it. I can’t say that I wasn’t in that same camp. While we knew that this would be the story of Anakin Skywalker and how he would grow to become one of the most dangerous men in the galaxy, what we didn’t expect was the campiness of certain characters (I’m looking at you Jar-Jar) and the unbelievable (as in, literally un-believable), unconvincing acting of some of the story drivers. I won’t sit here and go on a long rant of the film and what I did and did not like about it, that’s not really what I am trying to get at. What I am trying to say is that, when these movies came out, they changed everything. And when I say everything, I really do mean that. The direction of the stories before and after the original trilogies would forever be changed by the characters, settings and themes that were there. The fallout from those changes would make a large portion of fans want some changes. A lot of folks really wanted to see George Lucas go, and be replaced by someone that would respect the brand that they grew up with and tell stories that would be true to what they held dearly. Don’t believe me again? Watch the movie the People vs. George Lucas, for an insight into the turbulent times and division of fans the new trilogy brought.
I am sure that there is a lot more to it, and surely George himself has mentioned some of the reasons for doing so. But, after years of being the mastermind and guiding light of the Star Wars and Lucasfilm namesakes, George decided to hang it up and sell his business. Not only would he sell off the brands, but, he would sell it to the Disney corporation for a whopping $4 billion dollars. Wow. It was a stunning admission, and one that would have instant repercussions. While George would still continue to have a roll in the his former companies (albeit in a purely advisory roll), Disney would take Star Wars and run with it. For the first time since its inception, Star Wars would now be in the hands of a company that was focused on delivering entertainment. Many were not happy with the decision, but, for some folks like myself, I didn’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. It would be a huge change, but, considering all the upheaval that had gone on for years since the release of the new trilogy, it would be a new lease on life for the franchise. Plus, considering the way that Disney helped to turn around the Marvel brand, it would be interesting to see what they would do.
The wait for changes did not take long, and soon after the acquisition, Disney would announce a new timetable for the release of new Star Wars movies, and the new, more fan oriented approach that it would take to the brand. While the most obvious of announcements would be the release of the next Star Wars episode (which would later be called The Force Awakens), the biggest surprise was that this would be the first movie to be on the slate, with a subsequent Star Wars movie to follow every year. Yeah, seriously. I remember when I first heard that I was stunned. The last thing that any fan wants isn’t more of the stuff they love, it’s the over abundance and fear of lower quality products coming out. Star Wars for a lot of people is one of the most important things in their life, and hearing this scared a lot of people. I was worried that Disney was just trying to cash in on the property and we would get some crap movies that no one would be happy with. Was this the future of the franchise? Is this how it would crash and burn? Was the supposed mess that George created carry over to this new generation of films? I didn’t know at the time, but, these were concerns a lot of fans had. I know I did, and that shaky bit of trust I had with Disney was on even shakier ground after those announcements.
Well, I was worried. Hell, I was legitimately worried. What would be the direction that they would take Star Wars into? There were already a ton of books that expanded upon the Star Wars lore, and I thought that the way that Disney would take the easy route and use this catalog of information to to make the new movies. Well, you would think so, but, while they did make it pretty clear that the fans and fan service was paramount, they decided to combine talents with some huge players in Hollywood. One of the those would be the same person that helmed the reboot of Star Trek. A director whose credit list is as long as it is incredible. The man is none other than J. J. Abrams, and he would be tasked to direct one of the biggest movies of all time. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a movie that was so hyped, that it could have easily been a monumental failure. We all waited in anticipation of what could have been a new birth, or a terrible step forward in the brand that we all love. A lot of our worries were put to rest though once that first trailer was released. In just a few minutes of movie footage, our whole perception of what Star Wars could be was forever changed. This new look was completely different, and looked like a more serious take on the saga.
The movie finally released a week before Christmas (in the US) on December 18, 2015. The hype had been so massive, that even if the movie was terrible, it would have made bucketloads of cash. After the divisive release of The Phantom Menace I know I was a little hesitant to watch the new movie, but, still wouldn’t miss it. For better or for worse. Thankfully, the movie would not be a terrible mess, and would be a movie that was both fun and exciting. I wasn’t the only one that thought so also, as this movie would steamroll everything at the box office and would end up being the highest grossing film of all time. Yeah, believe it or not (I surely believe it), The Force Awakens would net Disney a whopping $2.06 billion dollars! Yeah, seriously. And that was just the worldwide box office, and wouldn’t even take into account all of the merchandising that was done for the movie. In almost one fell swoop, Disney would make all of the money they invested into purchasing Lucasfilm and just like that, the Star Wars landscape was changed. The age of George Lucas and Lucasfilm was almost surely over, and the age of Disney had finally arrived.
The momentum would continue into the following year with the next movie in the Star Wars saga (and the first stand alone film in the history of the series), Rogue One. The fan fare would be just as incessant as the last, and would not be unfounded. This movie, like the last would break all kinds of new ground, and re-writing some bits of the history of Star Wars. While it wouldn’t make as much money as the last movie, it would be a very serious take on the story, and would offer a less cheerful look of the galaxy we had all come to love. It was daring, and took no prisoners, and was something that a lot of folks did not expect. I don’t know how the majority of people took it, but, I do know that I liked what I was seeing. It felt as though Disney, had tapped into the one thing that we all wanted, to make fans happy. Fans above all, so to speak. It was not unique to their new approach to Star Wars as they were doing the same thing with Marvel.
This is where we are at now. We live in a world where Star Wars movies come out once a year, and each one is just amazing. Not to mention all of the new merchandise and slew of animated features (Star Wars Rebels anyone?) that really make the wait for new stuff that much more exciting. So, when I found out that the ultimate Star Wars party was going to be back in the U.S., I knew that I just had to go. Two years ago, I had gone to the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim (you can read some of my experiences at the show here), and loved every minute of it. It was my first time being around so many fans of the series, and I couldn’t get enough of it. The experiences I had at that show stayed with me since those two movies had come out, and seeing as how 2017 was going to mark the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, I really, really wanted to go back. The show last year was in England, and I was unable to make it. Going across the pond is pretty expensive, and it also happened to be during the time that we were at another event. But, the thought never left my mind, and after having been to the show back in Anaheim, I was itching to go back. Especially because this next show was going to be honoring the 40th anniversary, and would offer up a sneak peak at the upcoming movie (The Last Jedi). I wouldn’t know it at the time, but, the trailer for that movie would drop right before the show, and the impact that it would have would be freaking nuts.
In 2017 the Star Wars Celebration would be coming back to the states, and to Florida no less. Oh, the joys of Florida. It has been a long time since I had been to the Sunshine State, and the chance to go to Orlando (for the first time might I add) and be a part of one of the best shows I had ever been to, I couldn’t resist. So, come hell or high water, I was going to be at the show. It took a while, but, with some perseverance, and some astute saving, I was able to save enough money to make it out to Orlando and get a room. It was tough though, as I wouldn’t really have a lot of time to see the show and I couldn’t take time off from work. So, I had to work it out so that I would fly out at night on a Friday and be just in time to make it to the show the next morning. I knew I would regret it, sleep-wise, but, hell, it was Star Wars. What wouldn’t I do for it? And that’s exactly what happened. I booked my ticket really last minute and made the trip out to Orlando. There was nothing, or no one that was going to stop me from being there. This was the show that I had to be at. It was going to be epic. Truth be told, minus the zombie-like state that I was in at the end of Saturday, I was more and more excited to be there.
I left LA on a Friday night. I had to work on Friday, so, there wasn’t really any way to get out there earlier. Sure, I probably could have taken the day off and went, but, when you have no time off to cover that day, you do what you can. And that’s exactly what I intended to do. Leaving Friday night was tough, but, I was hoping that I could take the few hours I was up in the air and nap. That was the plan anyways. That didn’t really happen. I used to fly a lot when I was in the military, and I loved taking flights. I could sleep pretty much anytime and anywhere. But, then again, back then, I used to have free reign of the aircraft (a bonus when you work as a maintainer). Nowadays, I’m just one of the regular folk, and flying coach, no less. That made it tough to even get an hour of shut eye, and I knew that would take its toll on me when I got to Orlando. But, any moment counted, and I tried my best to sleep. When I finally landed it was around 6am the next day. That gave me some time to get from the airport and to the convention center. There I would get some breakfast and prepare for the craziness. Knowing what it was like a few years earlier, I knew I was walking into a hornets nest. Not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to Star Wars though.
I stopped at a Denny’s right down the street from the (Orlando) Convention Center and instantly I knew that I was at home. It was pretty awesome. All around me were people wearing their favorite Star Wars shirts, hats, shoes and anything else Star Wars related. I knew who was going to the show, and the vibe of the place was through the roof. I think that they, just as I was, knew what was coming and grabbing breakfast was something standing in the way of their enjoyment. I am a fatty, so, anytime I get to eat, I am alright with that. But, I knew gobbling down that breakfast skillet would pale in comparison to the joy that would be found inside those halls. On my way over there I had to make a pit stop and head to the restroom. I wasn’t planning on stopping, but, I had to make a quick trip to the facilities at a hotel just a stones throw from the Convention Center. To my surprise I found an alternate path to the Convention Center hidden within that hotel. Curious as ever, I took the walk that way and found that it would take me to one of the side entrances to the main hall. As I approached that entrance, I could see that there were a lot of people heading the same way, however, it looked like pretty much everyone heading that way was getting turned away, and more than likely I would be to. But, I took a chance and approached the security guards with my head up and my chest puffed out. And of rouse, with my media badge showing. Well, it worked, and when they saw the badge, they were nice as hell and let me through. I was and still am extremely grateful to the staff at the show for hooking me up with that. As media, I like to cover events and stay out of people’s way, and having that access makes things easier to be able to do so. This time around was even more incredible, and being able to fly across the country and experience this years show was an experience that I wouldn’t forget. As crazy as that morning started, and as tired as I was, I was running off of pure adrenaline and I was sooo ready to take it on.
Judging by all of the smiling faces around me (at the time), everyone was just as amped to be there. In the few minutes that I was standing in the hall, hundreds of people were pouring in through the doors. If they weren’t standing around taking pictures in their cosplay outfits, or chatting it up with each other, they were making a bee line towards the entrance to the main hall. I was hesitant to go there, as I was going to be heading over to the Star Wars: Rebels panel and I didn’t want to miss it. But, I figured I had about a half hour to spare, and thought I would check out the main hall and get a preview of it before I went back. When the doors opened opened up, a flood of people made their way inside. All around the hall were vendors ready to sell some of their sweet, sweet swag. I was on a mission for myself to take some stuff with me, but, at this early in the morning I was a little hesitant, I could still look though, and that I definitely did. Well, for all but two minutes at least. I kid you not, I hadn’t event been looking at anything for just a few moments, and already there was a mass of people running towards the middle of the main hall. Not only were they running like their life depended on it, but, they were yelling and cheering. What the hell was going on? I looked back down at the table of Chewbacca mugs, and thought twice about heading towards the crowd. What could it be that was making everyone go crazy? And at this early in the morning? Well, after thinking about it for a second, I hurried my fat face over there and was stunned at what I saw.
The showroom floor had not been open for more than ten minutes and the show hit us in the face with an unexpected surprise. The reason that everyone was going nuts, was that there were a few special guests that had come onto the main stage. Yep, without even knowing it, Felicity Jones and Forrest Whitaker were on stage and chatting about their last movie. Yeah, seriously. Blowing up my mind completely, and making my day before it has even really started, seeing the Felicity (who is just a pretty in person as she is in her movies) and Forrest (what an honor to see him) really made this show feel special. The show was already awesome, but, holy moly, what a way to come out of the gate. Seeing them chat about Rogue One and their experiences for the ten minutes or so that they were on stage, set the tone for the show. The audience loved it, and so did I. The funniest moment was when they finished up their talk and the crowd ran behind the stage just so that they could get one more look at the pair. I don’t know if they used a trap door, or the Force itself, but, they disappeared quicker than my last girlfriend. It was pretty nuts and I was hooked, and couldn’t wait to see what else was in store. It was a good thing that their appearance didn’t last long either, as I had to shake a leg and head on over to the Star Wars Rebels Panel.
I’ll admit, I don’t know too much abut Star Wars Rebels and some of the characters. I remember when the news broke about the show premiering (this was at the last Star Wars Celebration I had gone to, in Anaheim) there were a lot of people that were excited. Not knowing much about it back then, I was always intrigued at by it. It’s not so much that I would have never give then show a chance. The truth is that I don’t have cable, and not a lot of time to watch everything I would like to. As it is, I am watching the show Narcos on Netflix and am behind about a year on it. But, after going to the panel for the show, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The fans were going nuts from the moment that the voice actors and director took the stage, and showed their enthusiasm at every opportunity. I was really in the middle of a group of dedicated fans, and with every moment grew more and more curious as to what I was missing. I didn’t know just how much I was missing until they showed off some images from the show. When I saw that they had continued the story for Darth Maul and some of the other major characters from the universe I didn’t realize just how much of the story I was missing out on. Not only was I missing out on it, but, this show is canon, and tied directly into the existing movies. It’s pretty sweet, and I had a great time sitting in on the panel and listening to the director (Dave Filoni) and all of the voice actors. Listening in on their insight into the characters and their approach to the show was a real treat. But, you know the best part of the whole thing? That was them dropping an un-aired episode of the show right then and there. Holy moly, were they serious? Yeah, they were, and we got to watch an episode of the show that no one saw coming, and for someone that was pretty ignorant about the series, a welcome introduction.
Could the show have gotten any better after all of this? Well, yeah. Not long after the panel, I walked right back over to the showroom floor. I had already taken a peak at the floor, so, I knew a little of what to expect. Just like I had seen previously, there was a ton of sweet merchandise. From model kits to T-shirts, sweaters (totally not necessary in the humid climate that Orlando had that day :p), comics, movies, action figures, toasters and pretty much everything in between, if you could imagine it, and it was Star Wars related, then it was probably there. I couldn’t help but be amazed by all of the stuff there. Last time I was there, I picked up a one-of-a-kind Tie Fighter t-shirt. Growing up in the 90’s, that was one of my favorite PC games. I never imagined I would see a shirt for it, and I knew I just had to have it. Of course, that is still in my collection, and I was hoping to add more to it on this trip. How couldn’t you though? There was just so much awesome stuff. The temptation to buy everything in sight was enormous. It didn’t help seeing all of the people walking around buying cool things that almost pushed me over the edge. If I hadn’t screwed myself over and taken a backpack that was full of more clothes and camera equipment than with empty space then I would be rocking a Han Solo outfit on my way home. Alas, it just wasn’t meant to be.
But, you know, there was so much to love at this show that I could go on for another twenty years talking about it. I loved going out there and chatting it up with the locals and Star Wars fans from around the world. Hell, I even loved chatting it up with my shuttle driver from Barbados. I think if nothing else, I’ll take that away from this trip. The sense of community that I felt every step of the way. Sure, there were some things that were annoying at the show (like the uber expensive food being sold in the convention center. Which is pretty standard at most shows unfortunately), but, just being there was a treat in and of itself. Seeing kids run around dressed as Obi-Wan and Leia is some of the cutest things ever. I really love seeing people enjoying the thing that I love, and do it in their own way. When you can put an event together where some knucklehead like myself can get out of his state and fly across the country to surround himself with Star Wars fans, and appreciate every moment that he is there, then you’re probably doing something right. That’s how I felt on this trip, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Sure, the torch to the Star Wars empire has now passed to Disney, and I was scared as to what was going to happen. But, being in Orlando at this show, I think all of my worries have been cast aside. Besides, seeing Felicity Jones’ beautiful smile in person was enough to melt the carbonite shell around my heart. That in itself made it worth it. What a great time. Hope to see you there at the next show. I know I’ll be there one way or another 🙂
Words and Photos By Daniel Navarrete
For more information on the Star Wars Celebration and any upcoming Shows check out their website at http://www.starwarscelebration.com/
This article was prepared or accomplished by Daniel Navarrete in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spektrum Magazine, or its affiliates.