Mike: Last weekend’s Star Wars Celebration Chicago was not just my first Celebration but my first major convention of any kind. I had a blast and got to meet dozens of people from here and Twitter for the first time, but having technically covered the last few Celebrations here at Eleven-ThirtyEight and seen lots of rumblings about organizational issues (from both past events and this one) the thing I found myself most curious about as the weekend wound down was: how did Chicago stack up to the others?
I’ll be sharing more of my own thoughts soon, but suffice it to say that aside from a fair amount of stress over the status of my media application, I found the whole thing to be moderately logistically challenging but not to the point that it infringed upon my good time. If I wasn’t able to get into a panel I’d been hoping for there was always something new in the main hall to check out, or a friend to track down, or shitposting to do, so I never found it too bothersome.
But with this being my first con, I had no prior experiences to compare it to—better than average? Worse? Or typical? Luckily I had the novel opportunity to ask some of my staff writers—like, their actual physical selves—what most surprised them about this year. I should mention that while most of them are battle-scarred veterans of the convention floor, this was Abigail Dillon’s first Celebration as well—but I’m nice so I decided to ask her anyway.
Ben: What I found kind of unexpected about the con so far is just…the energy in this place has a completely different flavor than Orlando did. Orlando, I think, had some organizational issues and it drained a lot of people after the first couple of days.
But Chicago has been a very, very energetic con—people constantly yelling, shouting. Every time somebody new comes out on the live stage people get crazy. And of course the energy in all the big panels is always off the charts.
It’s just been a very positive, very warming experience, just to wander around and see people be excited for Star Wars. After so much negativity in the fandom recently, it’s very nice to be in a place where everybody’s constantly looking forward to what’s coming next.
Abigail: I think the most surprising thing for me was how few panels I’ve been to. I thought I’d really pack my day with a lot of panels. There was one panel that I wanted to make it to, called Sisters of the Force, but didn’t because it overlapped with an autograph.
I think that was the biggest thing—that I wasn’t expecting to be on the exhibit hall as much, and finding people to interact with as much…and less about absorbing content. So that’s made the stuff that I have been to, the panels I have been to, really special.
David: This has been a very muted con for me. I’m used to coming the full length, this time I only came here one day. I think I was still, maybe because of personal reasons…I don’t know. I feel like the venue is much better than the one in Orlando. Like, considerably better. I don’t know if the organization was better or not, I cannot really tell you. But I feel like a lot of things really clicked into place because of how good this place is.
Mike: In what way is it better?
David: The size, for example. The way things are…something as silly as the way the Del Rey panel worked, with that much space for people to congregate. I don’t know, it felt like the flow of people was better. So I enjoyed it. I didn’t expect the fandom to be negative, because in these places I don’t think it happens often. So, yeah, more or less what I expected. Good people, fun people.
Jay: This was a fairly standard Celebration experience for me—minus one critical, stress-inducing element: no overnight lines. That alone, despite any technical and logistical challenges in implementing lotteries and the Celebration app, made things feel very different.
Other than that, it was pretty straightforward. There were the usual schedule conflicts (you can’t go to everything you want to go to at a con, and you get used to prioritizing and sacrificing pretty quickly) and the usual crowd bottlenecks here and there. But overall it was a pretty energetic Celebration. My favorite thing about Celebration is spending time with people, so by that metric, every Celebration is better because I know/meet more people each time. But conversely, that makes it harder to spend time with everyone.
These are just normal Celebration things though—and the experience was on the whole pretty normal and chill. I’m very curious to see what the vibe will be like without a movie on the horizon: we haven’t had a Celebration like that since Celebration VI, which was just before the Disney sale. Celebration’s bigger now because Star Wars is more alive than ever—but will it become a bit more chill again? We’ll see!
Sarah: I tend to fall more in line with Jay (this being my third Celebration, I’m a bit of an old hat at it) but it reminded me so much of my first Celebration experience in Anaheim 2015. The air was full of excitement, everyone was enthusiastic about everything, and there was just an overall warm feel to the convention that the last one in Orlando lacked. Whether that was a better convention space, better management of the flagship panels (seriously, removing the stress of the overnight lines was a huge factor in my enjoyment and I actually ended up attending several large panels this year) or a fandom intending to overcompensate for the large amounts of negativity that’s permeated the internet for the past year and a half, it made a difference.
For me, Celebration is about the people and the shared experience of all loving Star Wars. It’s not just about watching a new trailer, it’s about watching a new trailer in a room full of other superfans who are just as out-of-their-mind excited as you are. It’s about reconnecting with old friends and finally getting the chance to hang out with new internet friends. It’s about the look on a little kid’s face when they’re dressed as Anakin and they ask to take a picture with you and your friends while you’re dressed as Padmé, and then hands you all a japor snippet necklace.
I suppose what was most unexpected about this Celebration is how it reinvigorated my love for this fandom, and made me excited about Star Wars again. It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity that’s amplified online, and to feel like the fandom is nothing but squabbles about theories and ships and what’s a good story and what isn’t and god knows what else. But ever since getting back from Chicago, I’ve done nothing but listen to the music, watch the movies, and read (or re-read) the books. It was exactly the refresh I needed to get excited about the franchise again.