I’ve put off writing this article for almost a week now, but decided I wanted to relay my experience of ‘Star Wars Celebration’ that happened in the ExCel in London last week in July.
Managing to get hold of a day ticket for the Friday, I was excited to go and see all the new props, costumes and hear all the news about ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’. As Thursday rolled into Friday, it became pretty clear that there was no chance of me getting into the panel for ‘Rogue One’. Not only on the Celebration Stage where it was actually happening but inside any of the other stages that would be relaying the panel by video. There are things I have to do in life, like work, answer emails, chores, etc. So I didn’t end up leaving my house in Sussex for London until mid-morning. When arrived just after 12pm, nothing was available. All of the panels had gone and if I wanted to get a look at the new ‘Star Wars’ drones or the VR experience that ILM had created, all those booking slots had gone, too.
So what did I see? On arrival, it was clear how big the event was going to be. Both north and south sides of the ExCel contained exhibition spaces. The south side contained the ‘Rogue One’ costumes while the north side housed the ‘Star Wars Show’ recording studio who were streaming the whole event. All the major merchandising partners for ‘Star Wars’ were there: Electronic Arts, Lego, Titan, Mattel, Sideshow etc, plus a lot of licensed artists, tattooists, t-shirt shops and all manner of swag was to be had if your credit card could take it.
Everywhere else though there were queues. Want to see a panel? Queue. Want to go into the Celebration Shop for a ‘Rogue One’ t-shirt? Queue. Want to use a toilet? Queue, for ages, cos some guy’s having trouble getting his dick out of his stormtrooper outfit. If you’re only there for a day, this can be incredibly frustrating.
As luck would have it, I bumped into two friends, John and Michael. John runs the excellent Generation Star Wars blog (http://www.generationstarwars.com/). John is a bit of a VIP of sorts at these things and as I was part of his entourage, I got to jump the queue for ILM’s Star Wars Archaeology panel. This was an excellent panel where John Knoll, Doug Chiang and Kevin Jenkins took a look at some of the design work they’ve carried out over the years. Knoll explained how he’s recreated the interior of the Death Star for ‘Rogue One’, as well as replicating the original computer simulation of the Death Star plans for the film. Chiang concentrated on some of the incredible model work seen in ‘The Phantom Menace’ while Jenkins gave us a behind-the-scenes glimpse at some of the big effects sequences in ‘The Force Awakens’.
After this, John and Michael, who had arrived early went to go and watch the ‘Rogue One’ panel. As I had no wristband, I elected instead to head to the bar and watch the streaming. What a bizarre panel this was. Gwendoline Christie was a fun and able presenter that brought out Kathleen Kennedy and Gareth Edwards to discuss the film at which point they showed a three minute ‘sizzle reel’ of behind the scenes on ‘Rogue One’. This was followed by the arrival of Ben Mendelsohn in full Imperial regalia as director Krennic, surrounded by Stormtroopers. Then the other actors came on stage where they get some questions and they all make pained ‘awkward’ faces telling everyone they can’t say anything because of spoilers. Mendelsohn then reappears, they show the ‘sizzle reel’ again and Mendelsohn then refuses to tell an anecdote about being on set. So far, so interminable.
Following on from ‘The Force Awakens’ panel at Celebration 2015, the expectation had been that there would be a new ‘Rogue One’ trailer and the hope was there that Vader would be in it. At the previous year’s Celebration, the unveiling of the new trailer and the ‘Chewie, we’re home’ moment had made everyone’s day, cheering, hugging, crying, etc. This time around, Kennedy grabs the mic and promises everyone something a little special. Everyone cheers. They then show the ‘sizzle reel’ for a third time. After that the feed cut out.
What transpired was that if you were in the rooms where panel was happening or being screened, you got to see a new trailer. However, those of us that were there but not able to get access but were dutifully streaming it over the web were shown nothing.
I left pretty quickly after that. It felt like the whole event had been a bit of a disappointment. There were some great things: meeting old friends, seeing how many families were there, how many girls were cosplaying as Rey, all heartening to see. The delivery though seemed to favour those who had either weekend tickets and therefore the time to queue for stuff or those who, frankly, don’t have lives and could spend their early mornings huddled on floors in London’s Docklands.
The podcast ‘Rebel Force Radio’ has a great motto ‘No fan left behind!’ Disney, Lucasfilm and organisers ReedPop would do well to learn from the lesson. On the one hand, yes, I know now, to arrive a lot earlier. On the other hand, I feel like I paid for a ticket and got to see half of an event. Not so much ‘Celebration’ as ‘Irritation’.
On the way out I bumped into these two, who reminded me it’s best not to take things too seriously.
(c) John Rivers 2016