Star Wars Celebration Chicago was my first time attending Celebration, and it certainly did not disappoint. I have attended a number of different conventions, each with their own feel, but Celebration was certainly different than all the rest.
First of all, Star Wars Celebration is singularly focused on…you guessed it, Star Wars! I have attended conventions that are specifically geared towards a certain genre, such as comics or anime, but even then they incorporate and welcome other forms of entertainment. At Celebration, everything is all about Star Wars – the programming, the cosplay, the vendors, the kid’s activities, the display pieces, and even the after-hours events! There were the couple groups of cosplayers who wore Star Trek cosplay throughout the weekend, but even then many of them incorporated elements of Star Wars through accessories or signs. For those who did wear Star Trek cosplay in order to try and get a reaction, most of the reactions they did get were overall positive. It usually brought forth a laugh, smile, or joking comment of “Are you at the wrong convention?” Star Wars vs. Star Trek maybe one of the great nerd debates, but I think this showed that the two can live in relative harmony.
One of the best parts of Celebration were the display pieces on the show floor. Star Wars groups from around the world brought and assembled sets and ships for attendees to take photos with. Some of the pieces included a TIE Fighter, X-Wing, Palpatine’s throne, a speeder bike, a tank from Rogue One, Tatooine, Endor, Ach-To, Mandalore, Jabba’s Palace, and much more! There was even a recreation of the interior of the Millenium Falcon, starting with the dirty version on Han Solo’s Falcon, and then going into the nice and clean version owned by Lando Calrissian in Solo. The Millienium Falcon set was easily the most popular photo op of the entire convention, with the line always being at least an hour long (usually at least two or more). Even until the very end of the day on Monday, there was a long line of attendees hoping to get photos in the only ship to make the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs.
There were also lots of interactive booths where you could paint figures, play tabletop games, race go-karts, help paint and build a diorama of the Battle of Scarif, or sign a giant poster behind the Otterbox booth.
On the first floor of the West Building was the Droid Room. Over 100 droids, from the painstakingly accurate to whimsical interpretations, were on display for attendees to view. Each droid had a plaque giving the droid’s designation, its maker, and where it was from. Many of the makers were nearby, more than willing to answer any questions you might have. What I loved most about this room was the amount of variations there were in the decorating of each droid. For example, there were by far more R2-D2s than any other droid on display, but each and every one was unique in its own way. A few were sparkling clean, as he was in his earlier days, but many of them had varying degrees of dirt and grime, showing just how much he has been through over the course of the films. Various droids also appeared on the show floor over the course of the weekend, and always attracted a crowd when they did.
Towards the back of the show floor was the Multi-Club Exhibit. Here is where the Rebel Legion, 501st Legion, Mandalorian Mercs, Saber Guild, Galactic Academy, Droid Builders Club, Dark Empire, et al. had their tables. Celebration attendees could stop by and talk with members about what each club does and how they can join. On display were several costumes from members, and everyone was welcome to look at the costumes, take pictures, and ask questions. Many of them also hosted panels throughout the weekend, where they could go into detail about which costumes fall into each club, how to volunteer if you’re not quite ready to join as a full member, and how to go about building your costume.
Another thing I loved about this convention was the sense of community that I felt over the course of the weekend. That almost always happens at conventions, as we are around people who share many of the same interests as us, but again it was a little bit different at Star Wars Celebration. Many of the big panels were broadcast in the show floor at the Live Stage, so even if you didn’t win a seat through the lottery, you didn’t completely miss out and got to see what went on at them. During the Episode IX panel Friday morning, nearly the entire floor stopped when they finally revealed the trailer. Immediately, the energy in the room shot up as we all turned to each other and talked about what we had just seen. We finally had a name – The Rise of Skywalker. What had we just seen? Who is the Skywalker that that title is talking about? Is it Kylo Ren (Ben), or will we find out that Rey is actually a Skywalker? Of course, we were all shocked by the reveal of Palpatine in the trailer – how could he still be alive and what will that mean for our heroes and the Resistance?
One of the best parts about attending this convention was how you immediately knew that you had a connection with every other attendee – a love of Star Wars. Whether you were standing in line, taking a break at a table in the concessions area, or just hanging out in the hotel lobby, it was easy to break the ice because everyone there was passionate about some aspect of Star Wars. It didn’t matter if the person sitting next to you was from the same state as you or the other side of the world. Conversations came easily and new international friendships were made because of the franchise and everything is stands for. In fact, I met someone from the 501st Legion in Germany because he played Princess Leia’s theme on his instrument as I walked by in my cosplay of her from A New Hope.
There were many moments of levity throughout the weekend. Whether it was the men cosplaying as the boom mic holder in work boots and bright pink shorts, the Running of the Hoods, or a conga line of Tusken Raiders, the weekend was proof that Star Wars fans love nothing more than to lovingly poke fun.
There are certainly parts of the Star Wars fandom that have garnered a lot of attention because of the negativity they bring, but I did not experience any of that over the course of Celebration weekend. Virtually every person I met was kind, welcoming, and excited to talk about what they loved most about Star Wars. There were two shining examples of this. On Friday, Kellie Marie Tran (Rose Tico) was welcomed by fans chanting her name both during the Episode IX panel and again when she appeared on the Live Stage for The Star Wars Show. For someone who had been bullied and harassed online so much to be given such a warm reception was a beautiful sight to behold. On Monday, Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks) received a standing ovation from the crowd at the panel commemorating the 20th anniversary of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Best received a great deal of backlash from both fans and the media over his portrayal in the prequel trilogy.
At previous Celebrations, much was made about standing in lines. People would camp out in lines for hours or days just for the chance to get exclusives, shop in the Celebration Store, or get into one of the in-demand panels. It almost became a rite of passage for attending Star Wars Celebration. This year, the convention organizers did their best to do away with all the line-waiting so that attendees could get the most out of their convention experience. Exclusive merchandise and panel attendance was selected by lottery, which you could enter for online once you registered your badge. Even if you did not win a spot, you could show up day-of and hope that not everyone who won a spot showed up. The convention organizers also unveiled the new Lightspeed system as a way to combat lines for the Celebration store and panels. You could reserve a time in the app, show up, and do your shopping then as opposed to waiting in line for hours. Through the app you could also reserve space in certain panels, again cutting down on lines. As with anything new, there were initially some glitches in the system the first day or two, but eventually things were ironed out and ran fairly smoothly. For the areas that did have unavoidable lines, such as for the Millenium Falcon set, the Her Universe booth, or the standby line for the Funko booth, staff did a good job of keeping them contained so that foot traffic could still flow by as much as possible.
Overall, the weekend truly was a celebration of the best parts of the Star Wars fandom. Yes, there were some hiccups along the way, but that is to be expected with crowds of this size and the first year of implementing new strategies. The staff did their best to correct any problems that did arise and give attendees the best experience possible. From a youngling wielding their first lightsaber to a General Leia motoring her way across the floor, it was clear that everyone there thoroughly enjoyed making new friends, reuniting with old ones, and journeying to a galaxy far, far away for a few days.