Star Wars fans gather in London for a blow out weekend of celebration, collectibles and chats with stars and industry insiders
STAR WARS FAN from all over the world converged on the British capital last weekend, gathering at the ExCel exhibition centre for the latest Star Wars Celebration.
With tickets sold out months in advance, the eleventh celebration in the overall series and the third hosted by the UK, kicked off last Friday for three full days of sci-fi splendour with galactic creatures in full, elaborate costumes posing and interacting with other fans. An event “by fans, for fans”, Star Wars Celebration also featured licensed shops offering Star Wars-related merchandise. And in addition to the t-shirts, posters, figurines, toys and costumes, there was fan art, Star Wars-inspired shoes plus kitchenware, bed linens and blankets.
Shopping and collecting aside, celebrants were treated to exclusive panels with actors in the Star Wars franchise including Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa), Anthony Daniels (3-CPO) and John Boyega (Finn) and autograph signing sessions with various others. Directors, executives and the masterminds behind the story made special appearances, answering questions and dropping hints about the films to come.
“I’ve always been a big fan of Star Wars, and coming here with my wife and son, who is growing into Star Wars fan, is such a great experience,” a man in a jedi master costume told us as we queued for one of the panel sessions.
“It’s welcoming, it’s fun and it’s fulfilling because it’s not just about dressing up and buying figures. It’s about solidarity and celebration. The stories of Star Wars and the characters have touched me in many ways at different points of my life. To have these fellow fans showing up with such enthusiasm and love really warms my heart. This is very special experience. No other film has a celebration of its own like this!”
The love of Star Wars of the fans certainly runs deep. After acquiring those hard-earned tickets last year, they stood for hours in line to get a wrist band that allowed admission to each panel session and then queued up for several hours before the panel started to get the best seats.
“It’s worth every minute,” the same fan told us. “I would really kick myself if I couldn’t get in.”
Created by George Lucas in 1977 as a cinematic endeavour, “Star Wars” was an overnight success, spinning off several sequel and prequel trilogies and spawning an entire spectrum of entertainment media including animation films and series, books and video games. The Celebrations were launched in 1989 in Denver, Colorado and have been organised regularly ever since.
“I think of the key strength of Star Wars is that it doesn’t hang on one character,” Pablo Hidalgo, creative executive with the Lucasfilm Story Group, told XP.
“There is no one character you must have for a Star Wars movie and that differentiates us from other franchises. When you have a franchise that weighs on one character, for example a superhero, it hinges on the actor who is that superhero. And when he or she decides to leave, you have to start telling the story all over again.”
The Lucasfilm Story Group was set up in 2013 to keep the continuity, the connectivity and most importantly, the legacy of Star Wars’ unique storytelling.
“A lot of it comes from years of working with George Lucas and the way he develops stories.”explained Hidalgo, who like many at Lucasfilm, came from the fan community.
“You should be able to strip away all the Star Wars stuff and find a central core of the story that is interesting – then add Star Wars later. We also have characters that people are interested in, so we have the best of both worlds. In “Rogue One”, you will meet characters that you haven’t met before. You don’t what their story is, but you understand the history around them. ‘The Force Awakens’ proves it: Rey, Finn and Poe were well received and these are new characters. Fans don’t only want to be reunited with the characters they love, they want new stuff, too.
“‘The Force Awakens’ was designed as an entry point for new viewers as the new characters are strong enough by themselves. But I’m a purist, so my recommendation would be to start with the original films. For bite-sized entertainment, our animated contents are very solid. We’ve seen a lot of people coming to Star Wars from ‘Clone Wars’ and ‘Star Wars Rebels’. These are not ‘Star Wars for kids’, but Star Wars expressed through animation with the same storytelling DNA done by the same team,” Hidalgo said.
At the end of this year, fans will get to enjoy an anthology film “Rogue One”, directed by Gareth Edwards and starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker and Mads Mikkelsen. The original cast and other familiar characters will be back for “Star Wars Episode 8”, directed and written by Rian Johnson, in December 2017 followed by another anthology film about the early life of Han Solo in 2018, with Alden Ehrenreich portraying the young galactic smuggler.
The next Star Wars Celebration is at the Orange County Convention Centre in Orlando, Florida, from April 13-16. Tickets are available at www.StarWars Celebration.com
THE FORCE IN THAILAND
OF ALL THE fan groups of Star Wars around world, the 501st Legion is probably the most recognised and dedicated. Made up entirely of volunteers with screen-accurate costumes, the Legion, which was founded in South Carolina back in 1997, now has more than 8,000 active members in 50 countries.
Here, the 501st Thailand Garrison currently has up to 40 members and is expanding, thanks to the revival of the Star Wars franchise that has made Star Wars “cool again”.
“Four years ago, if you searched for ‘Star Wars fan Thailand’ on the Internet nothing came up except the 501st Thailand Garrison. There were no Star War toys or costumes in the stores so finding the Garrison came as a real relief to me and helped me settle in Thailand,” says Bangkok-based Londoner Martin Readhead of 501st Thailand Garrison.
Readhead says he became hooked on the fantasy after watching “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” in 1983.
“And like most kids, I grew out of it. There were other things that kept me busy and I forgot about Star Wars until my son came along. I introduced him to the original Star Wars trilogy and fell back in love with it myself. It’s a great way of escaping reality. Whenever you’re having a bad day and need to get away, you watch Star Wars.”
“I didn’t realise that I could do more as a fan until I discovered the 501st Thailand Garrison. Joining the group is probably one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I have met so many people through this group, and we have become a big, ever-expanding family,” says Readhead, who is known for his Darth Maul impersonation.
The 501st Legion is not all about cosplay and posing for cameras. Their motto, “bad guys doing good”, underlines their contribution to the society as much as their passion for the cinematic brand.
“We help raise money for children-related charity and orphanages and visit kids in schools and hospitals. Our contribution is voluntary, and we do not accept payment. Sometimes when there is no event, we just put on our costumes and go for a walk around town – just to make people smile. So if you see us walking about, come say hi and take pictures with us.” Readhead says.
Join the legion at Facebook.com/501Thailand.