Star Wars Celebration Olrando was my first Celebration. Ever since I heard about Celebration Anaheim in 2015, I couldn’t wait for the day I would get to attend a Celebration myself. I purchased tickets for Orlando the day they went on sale. Then came the hard part - waiting. The wait for Celebration this year seemed eternally long, but it finally ended and this is my rookie Star Wars Celebration Orlando report.
The Eve of Celebration
Like many other Celebration attendees, I travelled to Orlando on Wednesday. It was a good thing too. The party seemingly started before I got on the plane. It was obvious who was headed to Orlando for Disney World and who was headed there for Celebration. The Disney travelers had mouse ears. The Star Wars fans, at least some of them, wore Star Wars t-shirts and carried lightsabers.
Once I arrived in Orlando, the Star Wars presence continued to increase. The number of travelers wearing Star Wars gear steadily escalated the farther I got from my plane. Star Wars t-shirts, jackets, and accessories were everywhere.
Then I arrived at my hotel. Within an hour, I started meeting Star Wars fans I had only talked to online. It was great seeing people that I previously recognized only as a tiny Twitter images. The 501st was also staying at my hotel. Those guys were the life of the party. They congregated in groups around the lobby talking Star Wars at all hours. The environment was perfect.
Day One - Wristbands
I decided against sleeping over at the convention center. Although it would have been cool to get into the live stage for the 40th anniversary panel, I just couldn’t sleep on a concrete floor overnight. Therefore, I got up early and headed over a few hours before the exhibit hall opened. The wrist band system for the premiere panels of the day confused me at first. A wristband was required to attend one of the half-dozen or so premiere panels of the day. Celebration permitted attendees two wristbands per person per day. One obtained a wristband for their panel of choice by waiting in line. Once you obtained one wristband, you could line up for another.
I took one look at the lines for wristbands and made a strategy. I checked social media in the morning, and I knew the wristbands for the live stage for the 40th anniversary panel were already gone. The lines for the overflow rooms were lengthy. Therefore, I went for a wristband for another panel first. I selected Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo’s panel on Animated Origins and Unexpected Fates. Then I lined up for the 40th Anniversary panel. The result was that I got into the Animated Origins panel and an overflow room for the 40th Anniversary.
The 40th Anniversary & Animated Origins Panel
My preference for the 40th Anniversary panel was the live room. However, the Behind the Scenes Stage was incredibly fun. Even though the Star Wars celebrities were in another room, that didn’t stop the excitement. Watching that panel online in my office would have been fun. Watching that panel with a couple thousand other people...well, that was something else entirely. The atmosphere was electric. Three was a minor glitch with the feed in our room at the beginning. The staff soon corrected it. The audience gasped and cheered when Kathleen Kennedy introduced George Lucas. If you saw the panel, then you know the rest. It was historic. If you haven’t seen it, check it out online as soon as possible. In short, attendance at the live stage is not required to enjoy the marquee panels.
There was no option for the Animated Origins panel. Either you saw it in person, or you didn’t see it at Celebration. For those that enjoy Star Wars animation, it was well worth it. Filoni and Hidalgo reminisced on the origins and fates of many characters including Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex, and Cade Bane. The highlight of the panel was a previously unreleased and unfinished animatic of a duel between a young Boba Fett and Cade Bane. I won’t spoil the scene. I recommend you find it on the day one live stream on YouTube if it is available.
Day Two – Autographs
Before Celebration, I pre-ordered several autographs from Topps Authentics. There was no shortage of celebrities to choose from. I settled on the cast of Rebels. I already met Steve Blum (Zeb) last year in Dallas. Therefore, I ordered autograph tickets for Tiya Sircar (Sabine), Vanessa Marshall (Hera), Freddie Prinze, Jr. (Kanan), and Taylor Gray (Ezra). I suspected that the autograph process was likely time consuming. So, I made the tough decision to skip The Last Jedi panel. My thought was I could watch the panel online on my phone while waiting for autographs.
My plan failed. Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi on the floor was unreliable. In addition, cell coverage was mediocre at best. This was disappointing. I heard numerous stories from Celebration Anaheim where attendees watched The Force Awakens panel on their phone. It just didn’t work in Orlando. Despite that, I entertained myself by chatting with others waiting for autographs. The advantage of Celebration is that everyone is a Star Wars fan. You always have that in common with those around you.
My pre-order tickets for Friday included Tiya, Vanessa, and Freddie. I started in line just before 11 a.m. for Tiya, and finished with Freddie just before 3 p.m. I had assumed the autograph lines at that time would be shorter with many people attending The Last Jedi panel. That assumption was just wrong. However, with the comradery of my fellow fans, the wait didn’t seem that lengthy. The bigger issue was the line. There just wasn’t enough room. Lines began to overlap and it was confusing.
Despite the line issues, the autograph experience was enjoyable. Tiya Sircar and Taylor Gray were my favorite autograph experiences. Both were extremely personable. They took the time to chat with the fans and truly made the experience worth it.
Day Three – Rebels
I devoted the first half of day three to Rebels. I spent the previous night attending Star Wars Galactic Nights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. After dropping off friends at their hotels, I didn’t get back to my room and settled in until after 1 a.m. I still wanted to get into the live stage for the presentation of the Rebels panel, so I got up at 5 a.m. and finished a podcast episode. Then I cleaned up and headed to the convention center. Unfortunately, I missed getting a wristband for the live stage by mere minutes.
However, not all was lost. After waiting to get into the overflow room, I learned my media credentials would get me into the room for the live panel. I was glad I made it. Dave Filoni and the cast of Rebels provided an excellent presentation. Of course, the big news was that season four of Rebels will be the last. That was hard to take, but we had the chance to see a trailer for the upcoming season as well as the first episode. I won’t say more about it, but it was good.
The rest of my day was spent on the exhibition floor. I did some shopping. I toured the Rancho Obi-Wan exhibit. I ran into friends from social media and made some new ones. Plus, I took in all the cosplay that was around me. There are some seriously creative cosplayers in Star Wars fandom.
Day Four – Winding Down
By day four of Celebration, I was exhausted. It was a good kind of tired though. I only had one thing on my agenda, and that was to get my final autograph, which was Taylor Gray. After that, I spent my remaining time at Celebration exploring the merchant booths and the art show, hanging out at the Star Wars Live! stage, and catching up with friends before we all headed our separate ways. Sunday was relaxing in that way. I elected against attending any panels. There was no pressure to get anything done.
I heard a lot of advice before attending Celebration. Many people suggested bringing snacks. Although simple, it is excellent advice. It is very easy to get caught up in “the next thing” at Celebration. There is a lot to do, and I found myself constantly putting off meals to make it to the next panel, the next autograph line, or a meet up with friends. Having a snack in my backpack helped curb hunger until I could finally sit down and eat.
Another lesson is that you can’t do it all. This is also often repeated by Celebration veterans. With that in mind, I revised my Celebration schedule several times prior to getting to Orlando. By the time I got there, I had a third of the activities on my itinerary that I started with. Even then, I still couldn’t do it all. You must consider the lines, the crowds, and the unexpected. A positive and flexible attitude is a must.
Finally, sleep is a valuable commodity. With after convention meet ups and parties, bedtime keeps falling back on the schedule. Resisting the allure of late activities is difficult. Therefore, skipping some of the earliest panels isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Those are usually available online later.
Merchandise and “Swag”
I’m not the biggest collector out there. I have limited space for my collection, so I exercise restraint when shopping at conventions. That is hard to accomplish at Celebration. Convention exclusives are everywhere. The line for the Celebration store scared me away. However, I still managed to acquire a few choice pieces.
First, I pre-ordered Jerry Vanderstelt’s print Arrival. It is gorgeous. This print features Darth Vader’s arrival at Cloud City. Jerry was incredibly gracious when I met him to pick up my print. I resisted purchasing any additional art. Again, space is at a premium, and I didn’t want to stress out my wallet.
I made several purchases from the Disney store on the Celebration floor. Disney recently debuted new additions to the Droid factory series. I acquired many of these droids. They are small, fun, and they don’t take up much space.
Swag is the key to many of the best conventions. Celebration had plenty. Lucasfilm offered a free Princess Leia print after the 40th anniversary panel. Since I didn’t attend The Last Jedi panel, I missed out on the movie poster giveaway. However, I obtained a copy of the Del Rey sampler and countless pins, patches, and cards from podcasts and websites.
Celebration wasn’t without its difficulties. News of long lines just to get into the convention on Thursday morning made the news. Indeed, it took some attendees three hours or more to get into the convention center. That issue improved over the weekend with additional entrances opened and added security. The autograph and photo op area of the convention center was challenged by overlapping lines and poor visibility. That situation improved drastically by Sunday as well. The organizers apparently learned quite a bit over the weekend.
Despite the challenges, Celebration was an incredible experience. The fan community was amazing. I didn’t even discuss the podcast stage shows I watched or the after convention meet-ups I attended. The props on the floor and the exhibits were impressive, and the panels delighted fans. It was a busy and exhausting four days. Fans know the next Celebration is not until 2019. However, we don’t know where. Here is hoping it isn’t a long trip, because I can’t wait to go back.
Geek topics from AoG hosts and contributors.