Thursday, April 23, 2015

Star Wars Celebration: A "Casual Fan's" Perspective

The Force is strong in this one!
 This last weekend, I attended Star Wars Celebration 7 at the Anaheim Convention Center.  Like some conventions, this one moves around from city to city every year, and it even reminds me of another Hasbro Toys –centric convention, [Transformers] Botcon.  Since this IS a movie year, and I don’t have a chance to go to this convention every year, I jumped at the chance to go to Star Wars Celebration, despite its VERY HEAFTY $150 price tag for 4 days… that’s almost San Diego Comic Con pricey, and that’s NOT even the highest rate a paying convention-goer can choose.   

The lovely Jedi Bunny at the AT-AT display. 

Before I go on, I would like to say that I am a very casual Star Wars fan, and my perceptions of the convention may be colored by that, but NOT only that.  I am also a very active cosplayer, and I love costumes and costuming communities, and Star Wars Celebration has plenty of that in both an official and fan-ran capacity.  I am going to compare it to other franchise-specific conventions that I am familiar with like Power Morphicon (PMC) for Power Rangers, Botcon (BC) for another Hasbro Product Transformers, and Gallifrey One (G1) for Doctor Who.  I am also going to compare it to Wondercon (WC) 2015, which seems unrelated thematically, but is very relevant in terms of practical considerations for a convention-goer since it takes place at the same convention center and takes place two weeks after.  I know a lot of convention-goers who were torn, and had to choose between these two because money does not grow on trees.  

Like PMC, BC, and G1, there is a lot of focus on the core franchise, and a smattering of related franchises in the exhibit hall, the cosplay, everything.  In the exhibit hall, there was a good number of large corporate sponsors, vendors, artists, and fan tables.  

Missed opportunity: NONE of these were named Mos Eisley's

There was a surprising amount of BARS in the exhibit hall alone.  There was a bar for each exhibit hall entrance, and a couple in the middle, and a few more next to the back exits.  To their credit, each bar served different kinds of drinks.  One specialized in different craft beers.  One served more mainstream beers.  Another served some cocktails.  Some even took requests and will serve not-so-virgin Shirley temples for the low-tolerance drinker.  Sadly, no theme bars until later in the evening at Club Cosplay, and that bartender was Chun-Li (still awesome though).  

What's as popular as holding one lightsabre in each hand at Star Wars Celebration?  Holding a drink in each hand!

Chun-Li bartending at the Star Wars Celebration Club Cosplay event?  It makes sense, somehow... either way, it's awesome!

Anyway, back to the con....

The corporate sponsors booth seem to dominate the foreground of the exhibit hall, with large, awesomely flashy booths.  These are like the DC and Marvel, or Hasbro and Mattel booths at San Diego Comic Con.  There are plenty of neat things to see and take pictures with like statues, toys, or video game footage.  There was at least one video game gigantic booth, and it was for the new Star Wars Battlefront game.  There was always a long time around that booth, and the traffic bottle-necked at those places.  There were at least two different and separate Lego Star Wars booths, plus the Lego Store Booth, and those have fun interactive things to do instead of just looking at life-sized Lego sculptures and toy exhibits.   
Slideshow Collectible's R2-D2 after some creative fans were done with 'em!

"A pink R2 unit taking a selfie?! I'm done!"

There was a good number of merchandising booths, though these seem to be the typical convention merchandise fare, with a new more extra Star Wars products like awesome comics (including the blank covers, so the artists can sketch on ‘em) and posters.  They also carried typical nerdy products like the ones everyone seems at SDCC, WC, and around a third of these merchants have booths at Frank and Sons collectibles as well.  

Hasbro's New Corporate Mascot: Furbacca!

There were a lot of smaller specialized or smaller corporate booths as well that sell Star Wars-specific stuff,  that are pretty nice.  They have everything from Star Wars-themed cupcakes, Star Wars inspired clothes and luggage, to Star Wars-inspired portable chargers and vinyl figures.  There was even a booth that sells only Star-Wars-inspired bubble products like light sabre bubble wands and an R2D2 bubble blower.

R2-D2 Bubble Machine!
The artist and small press alley is relatively small, compared to the size of the convention, but it’s there. 
There were also a lot of fan group-ran booths, and those were the more impressive parts of the convention because they are not as common in other conventions.  A lot of these fan booths, which were much larger than fan tables in other conventions, have  large elaborate set pieces to take pictures with. 

There were life-sized cantina rooms (where there were, no doubt, plenty of “who shot first?” pictures were taken), control rooms (with light up panels), and prison cells (with other criminals in Carbonite and “light up” bars using the same retro-reflective strips I use.  There were green screen, backdrop photo ops too, each with costumed and enthusiastic fans ready to liven up your pics with their awesome costumes.  There were also the larger set pieces like a 20-foot tall AT-AT, a life-sized scout walker, a Han Solo in Carbonite, an imperial throne room (with imperial guards and sometimes an Emperor Palpatine cosplayer) a life-sized Rancor (complete with giant ribs you can pick up and hold).

The amazing Erika of Geek and Sundry as an Ewok in the Cantina!
There was also the Jedi Academy in what seems to be the closest thing to a center stage, and that was also always the open area for young fans to sit and gather.  It was fun, and AMAZING, as one would expect from the regular Jedi Academy from other venues.

Speaking of attractions for young fans, I think this is where Star Wars Celebration shines the most.  Aside from the Jedi Academy,  the aforementioned Lego Star Wars booths had interactive Lego-building tables, and these are not just typical tables with buckets of Legos like in other cons.  One of the booths, TRUE TO THE EMPIRE, USED CHILD LABOR!  Yes, the central Lego Star Wars booths had buckets and instructions for building larger building blocks, which were submitted to the center stage in order to build a larger Darth Vader Lego Sculpture.  

Vader Statue, made by child labor... that's how the Empire rolls!
 Off to the side of the exhibit hall, there was a sizable area devoted to crafting a cloud city.  I'm pretty sure the target audience is children, though I'm pretty sure my friends and I would have still been amused to contribute as well.  Each person is given a couple of pieces of shaped Styrofoam and a couple of building materials, and he or she can build parts of a gigantic cloud city diorama.  

Upstairs, along the rows of specialized rooms like the podcast stage and the media/press conference room, is the Family room.  We entered it since I was accompanying my friend Crystal of Crystal Rose Creations, who is an employee of Child Protective Services, and she was curious at the child-related activities they have.  We thought it was like that Simpsons episode where they just throw kids into a ball pit until their parents arrive, but we were wrong, dead wrong!  

That Family room was amazing.  

When we came  in, there was a large area where kids were handed light sabres and they were just having a gigantic light sabre battle royal!  This area was also still maintained and supervised (so the battle royal don't go too crazy) by costumed adults to maintain some sort of suspension of disbelief.  This area was also used for light sabre demonstrations  

To the center of the room were a lot of tables and chairs for parents and kids to rest (with some art materials in a Tupperware if they want to create stuff), and a stage in the front.  More on that stage later.  

To the back was a number of rows of tables and chairs facing an instructor demonstrating star-wars related crafts.  It was very interesting, and fun.  None of it seemed dull or insulting to the intelligence of anyone.  Even I, as an adult was intrigued by the crafts and activities. 

Now, back to the stage.  We were not sure how often this happens, but there was a "Jedi Master" who was leading the room, and he gathered all the kids who were not participating in the craft lessons or battle royal.  He had a miniature Jedi Academy on that stage.  They had a costume parade within the room, and they had a photoshoot.  It was fun, and interactive, and  unexpected.    

As a Child Protective Services, Crystal thought it was a great room  the activities were great, relaxed, and comfortable.  There was water readily available.  The place was enclosed and safe for the parents to keep and eye on their kids. 

I also glanced at the Podcast stage, which was across the hall from the Family Room.  It was a relatively small room that is probably the smallest room allotment they have.  It was never full at the times I was there, but it was nice to have a place to see talented podcasters broadcast.    

There were other places I could not go to since they were only open to VIP (people who pay more) rooms.  I suppose it would be comparable to the VIP perks in Botcon, Power Morphicon, or the a la carte  additions to Wizard World Conventions.  However, this was already a $150 price tag, and at this point, it would be my second most expensive convention this year next to San Diego Comic Con.  I did not have the same bang for my buck in this convention for that price.  To think that I would have needed to pay MORE would be ridiculous.  
Myself as Jedi Russel with an awesome Jedi Mulan.  Yay, Star Wars-Disney corporate mergers...err, I mean mashups!

I get it, paying more would probably be for the hardcore fans, but at $150, that is such a high price for a casual fan, and yes, I am pricing that as a casual fan price because all the perks for hardcore fans are not included int hat price tag.  The child prices are around half that per day, so each day runs around $60 to $75, and it may be worth it with the child activities, but just barely, and if you are accompanying your child in these activities, you are not participating in other activities.  

Is Star Wars Celebration Worth it?  I would say yes, but don't go all the days, and you don't have to go every year, or you don't have to travel across the continent or the globe to do so.  If you are choosing between Star Wars Celebration and Wondercon or the other convention that week, Big Wow, go to Wondercon or Big Wow!  

John Garcia is a college professor of English, Literature, and Popular Culture. He has been going to conventions since 1998, and cosplaying since 2001.    

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