The Gang’s All Here: Looking Ahead to Celebration Orlando

celebration-sarah4Jay: Last time we had a Star Wars Celebration, I was the only member of Eleven-ThirtyEight there. The site was a couple years old, the new Star Wars around the same age, and we were all eagerly awaiting the new movie. Now, we have four staff writers attending — Sarah (who hadn’t joined ETE by the time of Star Wars Celebration Anaheim), David, Ben (who I believe is attending his first Celebration?), and I. I’m officially covering the event as press for ETE, but really, all of us will be covering panels and writing about the events. I thought we’d discuss what we plan to cover, what we hope to see, and what we think of Star Wars Celebration in general. In other words, how does Eleven-ThirtyEight approach Star Wars Celebration?

I’ll get us started with my initial thoughts on Celebration. This is my fifth Star Wars Celebration — I’ve attended all of the domestic Celebrations since Celebration III with the exception of Celebration V. Primarily, I attended them as social events: as a central meetup for all of my friends and fellow Star Wars fans, with the whole convention as sort of a convenient backdrop. The only panels I made an effort to attend were the books and comics panels. Aside from that? It was cool seeing costumes and stuff, but eh. But since Anaheim, Star Wars news has been huge — overnight lines, trailers dropping, wall-to-wall coverage. Being in the room for the <i>Force Awakens</i> trailer was an experience that I’ll never forget, and I’m eager enough to relive it that I’m going to be doing two overnight lines now for the 40th Anniversary and The Last Jedi panels.

For me, the social aspect of Celebration hasn’t changed — if anything, there are even more people I’ve gotten to know since Star Wars was revived and I want to spend time with all of them. But somehow I have to manage to see all the movie, book, television, and even toy news.

What about the rest of you? What were previous Celebrations like for you? What do you expect from Orlando, generally?

Ben: I probably have the least to say at this stage of the game, since this will be my first Celebration and my first fan convention ever as well. I’m very much in a sort of infancy when it comes to actually gathering as a fan with other fans in places other than Twitter and forums. I got a smaller taste of what to expect (I think) from a Star Wars Day at a local library that had two streets downtown blocked off so people could set up booths; it was hot, crowded and incredibly fun, the pictures I took that day are still somewhat thrilling to me. But that was a crowd of thousands at most, I fully expect CO to be more impressive to an exponential degree.

Seeing throngs of people dressed in various degrees of branded regalia mingling with members of the 501st and Rebel Legion in their full costumes, being able to see and speak to authors and artists who have worked in Star Wars media, even things as simple as looking out into a crowd of people and knowing that everyone is there because they love something that I love. It’s a thrilling experience. But it’s one thing to spend an afternoon experiencing something like that, it’s something entirely different to spend an entire weekend surrounded by a fan experience that promises to be even more intense.

I’m not a social person by nature. Quite entirely the opposite. But I feel like big events and conferences are worth fighting through that wall formed at the edge of my comfort zone and setting about making memories. Also, it will be the first time I’ll be able to see in person some of the lovely people who I’ve collaborated and corresponded with, hopefully moving them from the circle of people I know that is labeled “Internet Friends” and into the (much smaller) circle labeled “Real Life Friends”.

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Sarah: Celebration Anaheim was my first Celebration experience, though not my first convention (I’ve been a staple at Dragon*Con in Atlanta since 2010). However the energy at Celebration was far different than the energy of other cons. Part of that was knowing that every single person there was there for Star Wars and Star Wars only. But mainly, there was an excitement in the air due to the then-upcoming release of The Force Awakens. And of course, that tone was set by the trailer that was released during the opening panel and perfectly summed up by the phrase “Chewie, we’re home.” I’d be walking throughout the convention floor that entire weekend and hear snippets of the trailer as people kept rewatching it on their phones.

For one thing, Celebration is amazing because there’s so much breaking news to be excited about and so many people who are intimately involved with the franchise are there to talk with and listen to. If nothing else, it was worth it because I got the chance to meet Mark Hamill, something I never in my wildest dreams imagined would happen (Luke Skywalker is my lifelong hero and I felt like a starstruck four year old in the best way). And as a costumer, I love seeing the creativity and workmanship of my fellow fans. And no costume is too obscure or out-there for this crowd!

But really, Celebration is an incredible experience because everyone there is united under an intense love for Star Wars. I’m a social and extroverted person and was constantly chatting with strangers while waiting in line, whether it was about a shared love of Luke Skywalker, debating whether Revan’s gender should ever have been canonized, or freaking out over Rebels. I only knew a small handful of people before getting on that plane to Anaheim, and in the two years since I’ve become close friends with so many more. So in a way, Celebration is also a kind of family reunion, since it’s pretty much the one event where I can count on the majority of my friends attending (and boy am I ever excited to hang out with everyone in person).

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David: Star Wars Celebration will always have a special place in my heart. This is going to be just my second time. My first one was Celebration VI in 2012 and that was, besides the first time I ever came to the United States of America, the first time I met the many friends I had made online. It exceeded all my expectations. See, until then I was in, as I usually say, “the nerd closet.” Although I had been playing roleplaying games all my life and although everyone knew I was at the very least a bit nerdy, I wasn’t overtly nerdy. For example, I came to Orlando not owning one single Star Wars t-shirt. Really: I had to go to Target and buy that damned red Millennium Falcon shirt to try to blend in.

But what I found in this fandom made me become more accepting of who I was. I have many good memories of that first time—from my first time in a theme park to a particularly hilarious drunken Macarena karaoke session. I also know this time it’s going to be very different: back then, Star Wars was a dead franchise and most panels were things like “here is Seth Green with a new cartoon” or “you are going to love this new novel called Crucible” or “meet the goat that can burp the Imperial Theme” (I might have made up that last one) but this time we have several movies and TV series ahead of us. Star Wars is more alive than it’s been in a long time. I’m going to be spending the night in a line for the first time in my life. It’s going to be fun.

Jay: So a common trend we’ve all been voicing is how different this Celebration is going to be — either because it’s our first time, or because of the new lease on life that Star Wars has taken. Celebration was traditionally “schedule conflicts, the convention” but it’s even more so now — there’s a lot of programming, a lot of demand, and limited ability to attend big panels even without these time conflicts. And we actually want to spend time with our friends, do collecting, or just relax while we’re at the con… if we can manage it.

I’ve said previously that books and comics were my essential, must-see panels at every Celebration. This time, my list has changed a little. There are a few things I’m going to go to for sure: I’m overnighting in line two nights in a row to see the 40th Anniversary panel and The Last Jedi panel — there’s no way I want to be in a simulcast overflow room for those. I’m also prioritizing the Dave Filoni panel, Heroines of Star Wars, and the LFL Publishing writers roundtable. And then there are the inevitable schedule conflicts — my traditional comics panel conflicts with the theme parks panel, while the deepest cut of all: the books panel conflicts with the Rebels press conference. I’m still deciding between comics and theme parks, but I’ll be attending the Rebels press conference if I get selected — and if I don’t, I won’t feel too bad, because then I’ll be able to attend the books panel. I’ll be livetweeting and presenting commentary on everything to the best of my ability — and to the ability of my high-capacity battery chargers for my phone.

And while this isn’t a panel or something that I am covering as press, I will absolutely be attending the “Drowning in Moonlight” Carrie Fisher Memorial Gala that benefits The Midnight Mission, a charity that Carrie supported. It’s to honor Carrie Fisher, it’s for charity, it’ll be filled with excellent Star Wars programming, auction items, and supported by some Star Wars publishing personalities. And we get to dress up (if we feel like it!). I highly encourage folks to go, if they’re attending Celebration. I’m pretty sure that all of us at ETE who are attending are going.

What about the rest of you guys? What panels are you attending — both in terms of coverage (livetweets) and in terms of enjoyment?

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Photo submitted by Brad Monastiere

David: Oh God, this is going to be such a hard year to schedule. I’ve been having to force myself to say no to several panels that I’m sure I would have loved. For a start, I’ll be attending the 40th Anniversary panel; after talking it over with my wife, that’s the one she’s most interested in, so that’s the one we are going to be overnighting for sure. We are busy preparing things to make the night as enjoyable as possible! Then I’ll be attending the The Last Jedi panel, although I’m not sure if my body will be up to another night of sleeping on a pool float (ten years ago, I could sleep on the beach with an empty bottle of rum as my only pillow; nowadays, if my sciatica says “no way”, it’s no way.) I’ll be trying to get into the Rebels panel, but I’m not prioritizing it.

That’s for the big panels, but I’m also planning to go to the Dave Filoni panel, the writers roundtable, and Jason Fry’s panel on storytelling. I’ll try to get both Jason and Pablo to sign some of my books, if possible, but we’ll see how my allergy to queues is holding on by then. For everything else, I’ll just follow the crowd; I have a few other panels I wouldn’t mind attending, but I’m trying to be realistic and assume I won’t be able to do it. And of course, I will also livetweet everything I can.

I will also be checking into the Drowning in Moonlight gala, trying to go to all social meetings I can afford to go, and I might also be hosting a super-secret party where only the coolest people get invited. But I can’t confirm it. The cops might be reading this. I’m also working in a couple of Star Wars RPG adventures that I’m going to be directing if I can find the time, but that’s still in the air. This year is going to be busy!

Ben: I’m incredibly disorganized about this, I haven’t made any plans about what to attend or when yet. I guess I’ll sketch something out on Wednesday before I actually get to Orlando. I know I want to try and make it to the Rebels panel for sure, that’s basically my Star Wars bread and butter at this point. But the prospect of having to camp out overnight for some panels doesn’t appeal to me, so I don’t know if I’ll make it to the bigger ones. The smaller panels are where a lot of my interest really lies, especially with the writer workshops, because I figure that I’ll have a better chance of getting into those than the really big event panels.

I do know better than to try and see everything, I’m not so naïve as to think I can rush around the convention floor and make it to each potentially interesting thing. I’m honestly not sure what I’ll be covering/livetweeting or anything else like that, aside from the Rebels panel obviously. I know this might sound pretentious or self-important, but I’m trying not to put too much pressure on my schedule for the weekend. I am bringing sufficient equipment to record notes at anything that I attend, but I figure if I go to something with the intention of scribbling down notes I won’t enjoy myself as much.

I mentioned before that I’m not a terribly social person (if we’re talking Briggs-Meyers here, I scored 95 out of a hundred on the introversion scale) and things like social functions, galas and just “hanging out” are foreign territory akin to another planet. But I also think that it would be a bit of a waste to go to an event like Celebration and not socialize to some degree. So we’ll see, I might wind up tagging along with a group of people like a lost puppy to some panels or other functions that I didn’t initially intend to go to.

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Sarah: I am also trying to keep my schedule as open and flexible as possible…or at least that’s what I told myself when I started marking down which panels I thought were interesting. At Celebration Anaheim I spent a lot of time waiting in lines for big panels; this time I want to focus more on the fan panels and community events. Of course I’ll still be hitting a few big ones. I’ll be spending the night in line for the Last Jedi panel, and I’ll sit in on the Del Rey panel as well (and keep my fingers crossed for a Padmé book announcement?). Furthermore, I want to make to to the Heroines of Star Wars panel and, of course, Mark’s Q&A. But otherwise I look forward to the fan panels, for discussions on geek fashion, Star Wars collecting, and representation in the fandom (my bread and butter). And naturally, because I can never be too far away from social media, everything will be livetweeted at the very least.

Though of course that’s all subject to change once I’m actually in the midst of the con. I’ve found that it’s best to be flexible with your plans and go with the flow of your friends at times, because you discover some really awesome panels and discussions that way. As of now, the only panel that is a requirement for me is one that I will actually be moderating on Sunday, on women in Star Wars and a discussion on representation (specifically focusing on WoC and gender parity). Getting in the trenches of fan discussion can sometimes be just as rewarding as being in the same room as big breaking news.

The biggest difference for me is that I will actually be in costume for all four days of Celebration Orlando (in comparison to Anaheim, where I had zero costumes). So I will personally want to do a fair amount of hanging out on the con floor and mingling with other costumed fans. I’m also a big collector and will no doubt want to explore the vendor booths and art show. And again, the biggest draw of Celebration is the chance to hang out with so many of my friends and I think at this point I have a meetup or event planned for every night of the convention.

Photo by Brad Monastiere

Photo submitted by Brad Monastiere

Jay: We’ve talked about what we’ve seen at Celebrations before, and what we’re planning to see — now I’d like to know, what do we hope to see?

Some of this I’ve said already, with the social part of it. Star Wars Celebration is really a found family, where you catch up with people that it feels like you’ve been pals your whole lives, or you can strike up instant conversations with random people. That’s the best part of Celebration by far, of course.

But things I’m hoping for? Well, definitely the TLJ trailer. I don’t know what to expect because I don’t know where the film is going. I do hope we’ll get some insights on what’s going on with the galaxy, some hints that this film will open up the mystery box a little and we’ll get some political intrigue. I’m also sort of dreading the trailer too, because I am sure Carrie will be in it and I just don’t know if I can handle that. But we will all be there together. And I am sure that there will be some sort of memorial in the 40th Anniversary panel, some acknowledgement, even if it’s not a memorial panel.

Aside from that, I’m hoping that Hasbro will announce the design of the Jaina Solo Black Series figure. Jaina was my favorite EU character growing up, and I think SW character along with Leia, and the idea that she’s getting a premium action figure, much less after the EU became Legends, is mind-boggling. It’s a little odd that I probably won’t be able attend the panel and announcement itself due to schedule conflicts, but I’ll keep a sharp eye out on coverage and can’t wait to see photos, even if I sadly won’t be able to break the news myself.

Other than that… maybe an anthology announcement? And I’m definitely excited to see where Rebels is going.

And Thrawn. Everything Thrawn. The Funko, the exclusive book, and all that. Speaking of mind-boggling, who’d have thought, huh? What about you guys? What are you hoping to see?

David: I’m expecting the unexpected. Hey, stop groaning.

Of course, I’m also hoping we get to see at the very least a teaser of TLJ (even a behind-the-screens reel) but I’m more intrigued by any information we can get on the spinoffs. Even if it’s just a picture of the Young Han Solo Chronicles cast in costume! Getting some information on the third spinoff would be fantastic. Other than that, I’m really looking forward to being surprised, and I’m pretty sure we are going to get more than a few unexpected surprises. And I’m not particularly interested in merchandising or collecting: I collect action figures, but I’m not very obsessive about it.

Perhaps what I’m most interested in is meeting in person all of the e-acquaintances I’ve made since the last Celebration I attended, fans and pros alike. It’s always nice to put a face and voice on you people!

celebration-sarah2Sarah: Like everyone else, obviously my most anticipated moment for Celebration is the first trailer for TLJ. Along with that, I’d love to get more information (even if it’s just a picture!) of some of the new characters, namely Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran. I’m sort of deliberately missing both the 40th Anniversary panel and Mark Hamill’s tribute to Carrie Fisher. I’m just not sure I can handle that Leia-shaped hole in Star Wars just yet.

As for other items, I’m dearly hoping for a bit more info on the Han Solo movie (such as a title) as well as some info on the as-yet unannounced third standalone. And of course I’m always excited to see where Rebels is headed for its next season.

I also think it’s highly likely we’ll get another book announcement, as well as a new Marvel comic, and of course in my wildest dreams at least one of those is going to be about Padmé. Though, really, I’m ready for anything to be announced that isn’t set in the original trilogy/ANH era. But really I’m just here for the ride; the nice thing about Celebration is that everyone’s excited about everything so it’s hard to not get hyped about announcements and news.

Ben: Can I list “everything” as my anticipated parts for this weekend? I’ve never been to Orlando (save for a conference I went to way back in high school), never been to a Celebration, and never met 100% of the people I expect to meet in person. Things like trailers, panels and even just browsing booths around the convention floor are going to be the frosting on top of an already extravagant cake. I know it sounds like I’m beating the same drum over and over, but it’s still true; it doesn’t really bug me that I might not make it to some of the big panels because I’m not insane enough to wait outside of the convention floor overnight, for instance, because I know things are still going to blow my mind regardless.

That’s basically why I was so determined to go to a Celebration at some point; I debated going to Celebration Europe last year, but ultimately decided against it due to travel costs. This year being in the continental US made up the difference. I feel like Celebration is something that you have to do at least once when you’re as much of a part of the fandom as I am. I can cross it off of my bucket list after this weekend.

One comment

  1. I can’t really add much in terms of this specific convention (I’ve never been to any SW Celebration conventions).

    What I can talk about are my experiences at the Armageddon Expo in New Zealand. This was the first time I’d ever been to an event like this, and it’s the closest thing we kiwis have to a “geek” convention. Of course Star Wars was there, with plenty of cosplayers including Chewbacca outside, Orson Krennic with a Death Star beach ball, and a royal guard for the Emperor. I got to meet my local 501st Garrison (no. 42), who were all decked out with Stormtrooper and Mandolorian armour. They were all really nice and friendly, and I got my picture taken with them. I also played the HTC Vive Star Wars VR demo, and it was so cool holding a virtual lightsaber and using it in a way that matched the movies perfectly.
    It was really cool going to a convention like this for the first time because it felt like everyone was on a similar wavelength with me in terms of interests, but it was all in person, not over the internet.

    In conclusion… not really sure what point I’m trying to make, but good luck to you all at Celebration Orlando!

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