Star Wars, Celebrations, and Wristbands

Star Wars, Celebrations, and Wristbands

 

For fans, the Star Wars Celebration conventions have become a pilgrimage. Since 1999, the gatherings have been used to celebrate movie releases and anniversaries around the world, drawing approximately 30,000-40,000 fans per event.

This year, the eighth show in the United States (the twelfth overall) was held in Orlando, Florida over Easter weekend. The big-ticket panels were a celebration of A New Hope‘s fortieth anniversary and a sneak peek at the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but aside from the buzz and excitement flooding social media, there was also anger, frustration, and disappointment.

Why? Because the convention is stuck in the 20th century.

The 2017 convention hosted the headline events in three venues: The Galaxy Stage, the Celebration Stage, and the Behind-the-Scenes Stage. The events were held live in the Galaxy Stage, located in the Valencia Ballroom, and live-streamed to audiences in the Chapin Theater (Celebration Stage) and room W304 (Behind-the-Scenes Stage).

In order to get access to these events, attendees needed wristbands, which were only available by queuing the nights before and sleeping in the convention center. Star Wars fans love lines, and have since the first film premiered in 1977, but the frustrations and anger came in how the convention organizers handled the overnight waiting period. After starting their convention camping trip at 8pm, some fans were promised through a loudspeaker announcement at 1am that everyone in line was guaranteed seats in the Galaxy Theater for the 40th anniversary panel. When it came time for their wristbands, they got screwed by line jumpers.

Based on other accounts on Twitter and Facebook, this experience is far from isolated. Here’s the thing, though. In 2017, there is no need for it.

The wristbands were also used for the other panels on the Galaxy and Celebration Stages, and attendees were able to receive two wristbands per day by choosing their top two panels across both stages. Tickets went on sale on May 25, 2016, and pre-orders were handled through the Celebration website. ReedPOP, the convention organizer, had contact information for each purchase.

Upon purchase, ReedPOP could set up simple accounts for each ticketholder, and when the schedule is finalized, ReedPOP could require each ticket holder to log in and set their Galaxy/Celebration panel priorities. Wristbands could be issued by a lottery system, and could be picked up at registration with the event badges.

Seats could be assigned, or they could be given on a first-come-first-serve basis with a queue for each panel.

No overnight camping. No line-cutting. No frustration for attendees who are paying hard-earned money to have a good time.

 

Now, let’s take it a step further.

Star Wars fans are incredibly social. Let’s say that I want to see The Last Jedi panel with my friends from various podcasts or fan groups. ReedPOP could set up the ticketholder accounts to allow grouping, and those groups would be entered in the seat lottery as one entity. The groups could be limited to twenty seats to prevent an entire group from having an unfair advantage.

 

Now, let’s go one more step.

Not counting YouTube viewers, the big-ticket events were presented to 10,264 people, or about twenty-five percent of a 40,000-person assumed attendance. According to the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), the Valencia Ballroom can seat 6,000 people, the Chapin Theater can seat 2,643, and W304 can seat 1,621. It’s also a fair assumption that most (if not all) of the attendees want to see panels like the Star Wars 40th and The Last Jedi. So why not expand the seating and use the streaming capabilities to serve more fans?

Based on the stage schedules, ReedPOP had reserved eight additional rooms for scheduled events. Those rooms – W300, W303, W306A, W307, W308, W310, and W312 – house 2,600 extra seats. They could only be used for the headline panels because they’re slated for other purposes throughout the day such as podcasts, educational panels, and screenings, but for the headline panels that brings us to thirty-two percent, and virtually exhausts the West Concourse of the OCCC.

If ReedPOP could secure access to North and South Concourses, both of which are attached to the West Concourse by skybridges, they could easily open streaming access to every attendee, including ticketholders who purchase their badges at the show. The North and South Concourses can house 32,111 people each in theater mode, reaching 64,222 total.

The North and South Concourses may be a bit of a financial stretch for only two to three hours over two days, but there is another possibility in the connected hotels. Both the Rosen Centre and the Hyatt Regency Orlando are connected to the OCCC by skybridges, and both have substantial meeting capacity. Rosen has 4,000-seat capacity in their Grand Ballroom, 1,888-seat capacity in the Executive Ballroom, and 1,500-seat capacity in the Junior Ballroom, leading to a total of 7,388. The Regency has 3,120-seat capacity in their Plaza International Ballroom, 1,040-seat capacity in the Orlando Ballroom, and 832-seat capacity in the Florida Ballroom, leading to 4,992 seats total. Together, they reach 12,380.

Using the hotel ballrooms, the 10,264-seat base jumps to 22,644. If the extra West Concourse rooms are used, we come to 25,244. Between the two, around sixty percent of the audience could attend the headline panels.

 

Of course, at this point it’s time to answer the question: Why do I care?

I have wanted to travel to Celebration since they started in 1999, but I have never had the opportunity to do so. But, I’ve also been a bit spoiled by Dragon Con, a 70,000-90,000 attendee convention where lines are limited to one or two hours for big ticket panels. I’m not keen on waiting in lines for hours and hours to see a panel when there are no other options, especially when there is so much more to do at the convention. This whole logistical miscalculation has me reconsidering Celebration on the whole.

I’m also a Star Wars fan and convention attendee who has sleep apnea and uses a CPAP machine to sleep each night. That would prevent me from “camping out” on a concrete floor, and would also require me to be awake for 24-36 hours at a shot. While Celebration has a disability contingency that allows someone to pick up wristbands on my behalf, that’s not something I’m going to ask my wife to do for me.

Finally, that’s two nights of hotel room rental where I’m not actually using it. That’s a lot of money.

I don’t expect this blog post to be an end-all solution to Celebration 2017’s queuing woes, but it certainly shows that there is room for creative problem solving. A conflict obviously exists, and it’s evidently driving fans away. The question is what is more important to ReedPOP and Lucasfilm/Disney: Money or fans.

ReedPOP should seriously consider ditching the overnight queuing and remove a source of friction from the only official Star Wars convention that our fandom has. Celebration should live up to its name and celebrate what we love. Celebration shouldn’t include anger, frustration, and disappointment, and it certainly shouldn’t start off with it.

Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

She was the first to show me that a princess could save the day, both in fiction and reality.

She used her talents to entertain and educate, both on the screen and on the pages, and used her battles to show us all how to recognize and defeat our personal demons. She was sharp and acerbic, could disarm internet trolls in seconds, and proved that no matter the adversity, you can always make a comeback.

She will always be royalty to me.

 

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Thoughts on Legends

 

Thoughts on Legends

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I’m sure you’ve seen the news. A group of Star Wars fans who want Lucasfilm to continue the Legends/Expanded Universe stories have purchased a billboard in San Francisco to raise awareness and place their demands in the public sphere. After multiple attempts at petitioning online and through letter-writing campaigns, this crowd-funded purchase was their next step. If the news reports are any indication, it got noticed. I know at least one Lucasfilm employee saw it.

Sincerely, congratulations on executing a successful crowd-funding campaign, although I believe that $5000 would gone a lot further as a group donation to Make-A-Wish or Force for Change, both of which are friends of the Star Wars brand. But, I digress.

I once had the greatest of respect for the Bring Back Legends petitioners. I still am a huge fan of the Legends/Expanded Universe stories because that is where I really dove into Star Wars after discovering the movies. I was there for Heir to the Empire – there should be a t-shirt for that – and for pretty much everything that followed, for better or for worse. I recognized how futile the overall campaign was in the post-buyout era, what with the marketing challenges and high potential for general audience confusion, but these guys were super passionate in their fandom.

They still are. That’s part of the problem.

Somewhere along the line, they started becoming aggressive toward fans and artists. They started harassing my friends and fellow fans, including threats of bodily harm, rape, and death. That aggression escalated when The Force Awakens premiered, resulting in some in this movement spoiling plot points on public sites until Lucasfilm relented. This actually caused some sites, including the official Star Wars Books page on Facebook, to shut down for a time because they couldn’t stop the flood.

The Legends movement became the face of ruining the Star Wars experience for all fans because it wasn’t the right canon.

Yeah, it’s the internet. No, it’s not right.

It wasn’t every Legends supporter, but this echoes GamerGate and the Mens Rights Activist movements (among countless others) in that a very vocal extremist minority has become the movement’s active voice. I’m sorry, but perception is reality, and right now, this movement is perceived as being a bunch of bullies.

I don’t stand for that in fandom. It has poisoned their efforts, and it has poisoned Star Wars fandom overall. It’s even driving away some of our best ambassadors.

As a Legends/EU fan, I share Chuck Wendig‘s sincere hope that the Legends movement gets some resolution. I firmly believe that more Star Wars work means more great mythology to enjoy, but I cannot find it in my heart to support the Legends movement because of this activity. They need to find a way to clean their house, excise the cancer, and make amends to fandom at large.

Star Wars is still forever, and it should be for everybody.

Review: Star Wars Smuggler’s Bounty Resistance Box – January 2016

 

Star Wars: Smuggler’s Bounty
Resistance Box – January 2016

Jan 2016 Box

 

The Force is still strong with this subscription box.

After the success of the First Order box from Funko’s Star Wars subscription box service, it was a no-brainer for me to upgrade from the month-to-month to a full year subscription. This time around, the service was still capitalizing on the global success of The Force Awakens, but they shifted gears from the bad guys to the Resistance.

The box’s form factor is the same as the First Order box, including durability and the treasure chest layout. The UPS driver who serves my route left this one out in the intermittent Georgia winter rain, and even though the box was damp, the contents were unharmed.

 

Jan 2016 Top Tray

 

Similar to the last box, the top tray for this go-round contained a patch and a pin. The plastic envelopes were both opened on one side due to what looks like a production issue, and as a result the pin was bouncing around in the box. Since the box is well compartmentalized and the pin is quite durable, nothing was damaged.

 

Jan 2016 Patch

 

The patch is embroidered with BB-8, the adorable little hero droid from the new movie and the focus of the marketing for this box. When my wife saw it, she beamed, so I know that it’s a winner in our house. The pin is of Poe Dameron, the hot shot star pilot of the Resistance, although at first it kind of looked like Jessika Pava, the female X-Wing pilot from the film. One can dream, right?

 

Jan 2016 Pin

 

Under the platform that housed the pin and patch was a navy blue Funko t-shirt. This time, it was a movie-themed shirt focused on the heroes of the Resistance. In my opinion, it is much more attractive than the simple figure shirts from the last box, although I would have liked to see Rey more front and center. Regardless, it is still a nice shirt design. Based on what I’ve been able to find so far, it seems that every box is the same this time, so there are no shirt variations or chase figures.

 

Jan 2016 shirt

 

The big ticket items this time were one exclusive Funko Pop figure and a Funko Home ceramic mug. The figure is of Chewbacca with his bowcaster, and while I have never really been impressed with the figures of the Wookiee before, this one really caught my attention. It’s actually furry, and that somehow makes it adorable.

 

Jan 2016 Chewie

 

The ceramic mug is modeled after the protocol droid C-3PO, right down to the detail of his red arm as the mug’s handle. It seems like a sturdy, wide 12-ounce mug, but it is hand wash only and not microwave safe. Those two criteria are killers in my house, so I’m not quite sure what I plan to do with this item.

 

Jan 2016 Mug

 

In the end, remember that the promise made by Funko is that this $25 box will contain $50 worth of merchandise without any filler. By my estimation, Funko has once again delivered on their promises of value and content. The figure is about $10 in stores, and the t-shirt is in the $15-25 ballpark depending on the vendor. The pin and patch are around the $5 price point each, so the real wild card this time is the mug. Most of the comparable mugs online go for about $10, which places this box in the $45-55 range. All of that without any mini-comics or postcards.

The next box, which is due to arrive in mid-March, is centered on the cantina from A New Hope, and the spotlighted character is Greedo. The order window closes in early March. If you’re on the fence, I recommend the $25 “pirate” plan, but if you really want these kind of items with a Star Wars flair, I fully endorse the annual “smuggler” plan.

Seven Days of Star Wars: Day Seven – A New Hope

Seven Days of Star Wars
Day Seven

 

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Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
(PG, 121 minutes, 1977)
(PG, 125 minutes, 1997)

This is the final installment in a series of looks at each of the wide-released theatrical Star Wars films leading up to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This includes each of the films that comprise the saga’s story after the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm by the Walt Disney Company and the April 2014 canon reset.

The series progressed through each of the films in reverse chronological order, starting with 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and moving onward to Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Today wraps up everything with Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, which is the one that started it all.

A New Hope – or (as some of the old guard fans who saw it in first run frequently chastise me) simply Star Wars – is an interesting mix of the science fiction and the sword and sorcery genres. As a result, Star Wars isn’t science fiction, but more of a space opera fantasy. It’s a tale of people and sweeping elements of human mythology, and as a result I give a lot of leeway when – with apologies to nitpickers like Neil DeGrasse Tyson – it comes to the science of spaceflight.

I can’t remember the first time I saw A New Hope, but I know that it was on a pan-and-scan VHS tape, and no matter how many times I saw it that way, it still didn’t compare to the Special Edition theatrical experience. My parents accompanied me to the opening weekend premiere in January 1997, and I knew that they were having a blast watching me watch Star Wars in a way I had never seen it before. I got completely engrossed in the film, and crept to the edge of my seat during Luke’s trench run. I cheered when the Death Star exploded, and when I glanced over with embarrassment for breaking silence during a movie – a cinematic taboo in my youth – my parents were grinning ear to ear.

The Special Edition changes didn’t bother me in general. Most of them were visual updates that neither added nor detracted from the story, but added depth to the atmosphere and environment. The Jabba scene was only okay with me, even though it grinds the plot progression to a halt by repeating information we learned in the cantina.

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The lone exception in my eyes is the shootout in the cantina. By not letting Han shoot first, or even alone, it removes part of the character’s definition for me. I liked having a Han Solo that was an independent, proactive, and rough smuggler. That element is lost in Han being reactive; even if he’s preparing to kill Greedo, he still hesitates in the Special Edition.

Many people point to Darth Vader in this film as an iconic evil character, but he’s actually quite shallow in this story. He’s a mustache-twirling caricature of a villain, but not terribly complex. He’s visually set apart from both the Imperial troopers and Princess Leia. Interestingly, the Imperial officers are in black, presumably because they are not as expendable as those in white, and Tarkin (who is far more complex a villain than Vader in this movie) is in a somewhat ambiguous grey.

Before I get into the itemized list of things I love about A New Hope, the winning point for this film is how it can be viewed through the lens of any of the heroes. A modern action film, including the prequels to an extent, would limit the story to one character and their journey. A New Hope tells several distinct parallel tales, including those of Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan, and Artoo-Detoo. In fact, A New Hope defines Artoo’s character by making him one of the main characters and true heroes of the film.

That’s really the magic of Star Wars: The franchise has an entire galaxy as a rich setting, and it drops the viewer directly in it instead of feeding elements to an audience through precious minutes of exposition. That element is taken care of in a scrolling block of text, and it only provides enough to frame the home instead of completely furnishing it. The movies feel so realistic because of the immersion, and have defined my favorite type of movie: The one that doesn’t provide answers but rather makes me work for them and figure them out as we go.

That’s the magic that allows me to forgive shoddy dialogue and plot holes. That’s the magic that allows me to indulge my inner child as I travel to a galaxy far, far away.

 

Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Force

The Force is one of the backbones for the story, and in comparison to the rest of the saga, it’s amazing how much it has evolved from this point. Obi-Wan describes it as “an energy field created by all living things” that surrounds and penetrates and binds the galaxy together.

Consider that. From the perspective of 1977, it’s an all-encompassing energy field that Jedi can tap into. From the perspective of 2005, it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi learning from Qui-Gon Jinn that the Living Force has merit and value.

Obi-Wan truly became a Jedi Master, but it took his failure with Anakin Skywalker, his exile, and his communion with the spiritual world to get him there. It is the foundation for the nature of the Force in this franchise, and an inspiration for millions of fans worldwide.

Of course, by this time, Kenobi is a crazy old wizard living on the outskirts of Tatooine civilization. The first time Luke mentions Obi-Wan, the looks between Owen and Beru are telling, and it’s a detail that I didn’t notice as much before seeing Revenge of the Sith. Now, they stand out as much as the meaning behind the claim that Obi-Wan died around the same time as Luke’s father.

In the post-Revenge of the Sith world, Obi-Wan’s expressions appear more pained when discussing his friendship with Anakin Skywalker and the betrayal of Darth Vader. He lies – a “certain point of view” – about it just as much as he does about Anakin wanting Luke to have the lighsaber, but the conversation still appears to eat away at the Jedi Master.

I also see Kenobi’s small smile as he embraces his destiny in a new light. It still carries an element of acceptance, but it also has a bit more assurance behind it after knowing the Qui-Gon Jinn has passed on his knowledge to his apprentice.

Obi Wan

 

The Droids

The odd couple of Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio help drive the plot for a good part of the movie. In what was unique to me, Artoo’s dialogue and feelings are interpreted through See-Threepio and the audience’s own impressions, bringing the viewer into the film instead of leaving them out in the theater.

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A New Hope is where these two droids, characters that have appeared in every film, are introduced. Artoo is unique in that he knows the complete story (so far) and has the power to inform Luke of his father’s destiny and mother’s fate. I consider him one of the true heroes of the franchise.

 

TIE Fighter Attack

The musical sequence starting with Obi-Wan’s sacrifice and leading into the escape from the Death Star is one of my favorites to play loudly in my car.

It starts with the Force Theme as Kenobi realizes his fate, and then launches into a passionate version of Princess Leia’s theme and the Rebel Fanfare as the Millennium Falcon rockets from the landing bay. Luke mourns with Leia’s consolation over the Force Theme before the music leads into the Rebel Fanfare as a battle theme intercut with bits of the music for the Empire. It is an exhilarating piece that gets the blood pumping.

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This concludes the Seven Days of Star Wars celebration. Of course, there is so much more to the franchise than these seven feature films, including the current official canon of comics and books leading into The Force Awakens, and the thousands upon thousands of hours of content from the former Expanded Universe, which is now called Legends. Even though it isn’t considered “official” by Lucasfilm, it remains a treasure trove of good stories, and as long as they entertain and inspire, they still serve a purpose.

Tomorrow, a movie premieres that fans were told would never happen. It is the beginning of a new era and a brave new world in the Star Wars universe. We don’t know what lies in store for our heroes old and new. Some will live, some will turn, and some will die, but the constant is that we carry on as a society, and our lives and lessons follow suit from generation to generation through tales of the human condition told in metaphor and mythology.

May the Force be with you always.

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My Rating: 8.5/10
IMDb rating: 8.7/10