Category Archives: Star Wars

Exit History, Enter Legend

History changes hands in downtown Orlando on Friday, 10.1.10, with the opening of the Amway Center; The multimillion dollar event venue that boasts state-of-the-art, hi-tech, and every other flattering catch phrase that Webster’s can dish out. It even has it its own flattering catch phrase for the grand opening ad campaign – Enter Legend. How do you not look forward to that?

Amid the pomp, circumstance and ribbon-cutting there is another, quieter side to the opening of the new venue. The closing of the old one.

As the new rings in, the old is wrung out. Despite the problems, out-dated amenities and dated appearance of Amway Arena, there is still a value that cannot be glossed over. Especially for those of us who spent many a night in the belly of the beast.

Former colleague and forever friend Jim Abbott, music writer for the Orlando Sentinel, spent much of his career covering concerts at the O-Rena (a vintage moniker that just stuck with the old building despite the name changes). As a burgeoning event photographer in my days at The Sentinel, I covered everything from minor league hockey to big league basketball to, yes, concerts.

I remember watching the Solar Bears – Orlando’s International Hockey League team – both as a fan and as a pass holding member of the media. I covered them for The Sentinel during their 2001 season when they became the last team to with the Turner Cup before the league folded.

I watched from the stands as Shaquille O’Neal played as a rookie in the Orlando Magic lineup, only to find myself – a mere seven years later – at court side, photographing the team in action.

I was there when RUSH took the stage at the grand old venue during their Roll The Bones Tour of 1992. And I photographed the concert event of a lifetime when REM teamed up with Bruce Springsteen , John Fogerty and Tracy Chapman during the Vote For Change Tour of 2004.

They will remain some of the best times I have spent in Orlando, and some of the best assignments I’ve had the pleasure of carrying out.

As those doors close, new ones will open. I have watched the Amway Center slowly emerge through each phase of construction (I pass the site every day on my way to work) and have toured the facility three times as it took shape. It lives up to every boast, and will help make many more fantastic memories.

I will enjoy the new, but I will always cherish the old. Here are just a few of those most cherished.

The 2001 Orlando Solar Bears... VICTORIOUS!

Penny Hardaway... 'member him? Yeah, me neither.

Steven Tyler belts it out at Amway in 2002. One of my favorite concert pics.

Tracy, Michael and Bruce tried to make a Vote For Change in '04. It eventually happened.

Britney in 2004 - pre K Fed. The good 'ol days.

Billie Jo and Green Day rocked the arena in '05. Another favorite.

Neil. 2005. 'Nuff said.

Star Wars In Concert: my last show at the O-Rena. A fitting end.

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For The Troops: A Family Affair

Prelude

Conventions mean something different to everyone in attendance. Collectors, costumers, journalists, and geeks out for a good time: we all have our own agenda.  Star Wars Celebration V had its variety of personalities, and offerings to satisfy every one of them. But beneath all the eye candy, collectibles and panels, there are people. Masses brought together by the common denominator of the Star Wars Saga and the need to celebrate all that it is… with each other.

When it’s all said and done, we are one big family.

Prep Time

Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without The Empire. And a Star Wars party wouldn’t be much more than a bunch of geeks in t-shirts without the 501st Legion.

The 501st wants YOU.

For more than a decade, the “bad guys who do good” have been at the forefront of Star Wars costuming while throwing their support to charities as goodwill ambassadors of the Star Wars Universe. With over five thousand members from all over the world, the 501st is a testament to the inspiration of the Star Wars saga and the lasting dedication of the fans.

I’ve had the pleasure of photographing the Florida Garrison at several events, including Disney’s Star Wars Weekends and Star Wars Celebration 3. I was lucky enough to be chosen as the official photographer for their legion photo at Star Wars Celebration 5. With garrisons across the globe, the 501st rarely gets the opportunity to show off it’s true numbers at one event. There were hopes of a record breaking attendance at C5, which lead to the obvious concerns of where the photo would be taken. In the weeks before C5, a suitable location was agreed upon by Scott Will and Matt Paisley (both of the Florida Garrison),Dean Plantamura and 501st founder Albin Johnson (both of the Carolina Garrison). The group would meet in the convention center entry, near the main C5 exhibit hall. The immense space could be photographed from the 2nd or 3rd levels with a perfect view of the entire floor. Every trooper would be in plain sight. The photo was then scheduled for the third day of the convention, Saturday, August 14th, at 4pm.

As with most plans, it did not go off without a hitch. But that’s part of the fun.

Hitch I: That’s no moon.

The giant inflatable Death Star that the convention staff decided to hang in the entrance. It made a great impression, no doubt. You walk into a building and see the Death Star hanging over your head, you know you’re in for a good time. It did, however, pose a problem for the photograph.

As it hung directly over the center of the floor, so did it partially block the proposed view of the floor from the upper levels. In order to get everyone in the photo, I’d have to be on the stairway, facing the entrance to the hall. This posed a different problem. From a higher level, I’d be looking straight down at the group. On the gradual incline of the stairs, I’d be looking toward the group. Even at the top of the stairs, whomever was at the back of the crowd would be pretty far away.

Now that's a centerpiece.

The problem was already noted by the time I met up with Dean on the first day of the convention. But with no alternative location spacious enough to hold the legion, a shot from the stairs was the only option.

This, however, was Thursday. The photo was scheduled for Saturday. There was nothing anyone could do right now. It was going to be a big deal, yes, but it would be fun. Also …there was a friggin STAR WARS convention going on! There were two days of partying to be done in the interim, and I had my long time friend and co-conspirator John Booth to hang out with during all the geekery!

Me and John and Wampa.

... and speaking of parties. The 501st threw a pretty good one on Friday night.

During walks to-and-from panels, and back-and-forth from the main exhibit hall, I’d sometimes stop at the stairs. I’d walk up and down, look out over the crowded floor. I’d step back in awe of the space and of the masses milling about, and I’d wonder, “how the hell is this gonna happen?”

Time passed, as it tends to do. Saturday came – and it was busy. The 501st shoot was not until 4pm, and a morning meet-up with my friend and former Orlando Sentinel college Tanya Hanson, was a great start to the day at the convention. This was also the day of the Main Event: The event of all scheduled C5 events, the John Stewart interview with George Lucas.

This was something John and I had elected to stay FAR away from for several reasons, the top reason being that it was ONE SHOW ONLY. The prospect of spending the night on the sidewalk, waiting in line for the wristband that either granted access to the 2,600 seat theater, or the more likely prospect of seeing the simulcast on one of 6 other rooms, was not how we wanted to spend our time.

Besides, the 501st threw a hell of a party the night the lines began (didja see the photo?!) and the exhibitor floor was comfortably navigable as the masses converged for the show itself. For us, it proved to be the right decision. To each, his own.

In addition to meeting up with Tanya, I had the Slave Leia shoot to tend to (check out that story here – yeah, like you’re not just going to look at the photos). In fact, the 501st shoot was only one of three photo shoots I had scheduled that day; The third being the First Imperial Storm Trooper Detachment (FISD). Some FISD members are also part of the 501st, but they wanted their own group shoot. FISD member Steve Carter got my information from the 501st, made the request, and I was happy to oblige.

The Leia shoot took quite a while thanks to understandably huge crowds. Seriously, you try getting over fifty hot women together in a small space without attracting some interested parties.

… now put them in metal bikinis and imagine the crowd. Fewer males between the ages of 18 and 25 voted in the last primary.

The best excuse for gridlock, EVER.

Not long after I got Leia’d (yeah, I’m ashamed of that one) I started feeling anxious about the 501st shoot. As I went off to find Dean and Scott and Albin, Tanya and John rushed off to get in line for that afternoon’s Robot Chicken panel. Luckily I’d made a point of going the previous day.

This was as close as I got... still a good time, though.

I arrived at the 501st exhibit room at about 3:10 and was luck enough to find 2 members of the Belgian Garrison (I told you they had members all over the globe) who were also looking for Albin, and knew where he was. We found him judging a costume contest on the 4th floor and, upon realizing I was the official photographer, he made a special request. I was now to be the photographer for the Galactic Academy: a younger version of the 501st.

The Academy shoot, scheduled for 3:30, was to be a much lighter version of the Legion shoot. Kids were gathered on the stairs with their official banner, parents gathered to take photo of their own, cuteness and Star Wars love all around. It was pretty cool, and some of the costumes were very well done.

Kid Power!

All in all, more proof that Star Wars fans kick ass at all age levels.

After the Academy left the floor, it was time for the non 501st people to clear the floor. This was no small task.

Hitch II: The Hazards of Space.

Massive floor space mans massive crowds moving freely about. Luckily the 501st is a well oiled machine and very used to handling large crowds. I met up with Dean, and also Kathy Johnson. Kathy, wife of Albin and a 501st member herself, was going to organize the legion in a format similar to the group photo they shot at C4, three years earlier.

Kathy rallies the troops.

As she went to organize the legion members who had already began grouping around the perimeter of the main floor, I got to witness some crowd control. Dean had enlisted some fellow troops to move the convention crowds off to the sides of the main floor to make room for the group shot.

Dean Plantamura: Crowd Control

I, myself, went around asking people to move to one side and sought help from 501st members in keeping people away from the floor and away from the spot I needed on the stairs. I was soon steered toward some members who were on hand for security. They actually bowed out of the main photo to lend a hand in keeping order in the crowd.

How. Cool. Is. That.

I don’t know how long it took – I honestly didn’t have time to glance at my watch – but amid military style organization and several voices of authority, the floor soon was cleared. Completely cleared.

As Kathy began lining up the troops, I took some photos of the set up; Groups of Storm Troopers, Biker Scouts and Darth Vaders moving into position.

One Sith, Two Sith, Black Sith... Black Sith.

Now, how often do you see more than one Vader at a time? There were, like, five or six just hanging out together in one corner. Like some kinda basketball team from hell. Awesome.

I eventually noticed that the stairs were beginning to fill up. There was only so much security and, with such a massive effort on the floor, spectators showed up in droves.

The crowd was kept back and I had to stake out my spot on the stairs for fear of losing it.

I watched the precision and speed at which the troops fell into line. What was a shapeless, moving mass of people had turned into an empty floor. Then turned into an organized pattern of uniforms and armor.

I was told there would be two photos needed, one with the helmets (known as buckets) on, and one with them off, so everyone’s face could be seen. There were also some honorary members who were supposed to be in that particular photo.

The troops settled down at Kathy’s command. Camera flashes had been going off, and would continue to fire, all about the crowds that lined every floor and every step, but everyone on the floor faced me. I took a second and thought back to the times I passed by and stood at this very spot and wondered how it would all come together. I looked out at the formation of the group… and just marveled.

Almost there...

I have never – in the twenty years I’ve been shooting for whatever purpose, or employer, or event – never been more humbled at the sheer size of what I was documenting.

Hitch III: Jammed communications.

The honorary members were actually supposed to be in attendance for the “buckets on” photo. Weather I was confused – which happens enough – or the original request was just wrong, the outcome was simple and predictable. I shot the “buckets on” photo and shouted, “OK, now buckets off!”

This was met with some delay and shouting and quizzical looks by many of us. Dean maneuvered his way up the crowded stairs to inform me that the honorary members were on their way and the first photo would need to be re-shot. No biggie. It’s not like anyone broke rank or left the floor.

Within a few seconds a flutter of maroon fabric glided over from the edge of the floor and settled, front and center of the group. Adrianne Curry, still in her Slave Leia outfit from the earlier shoot was to be part of the 501st group. This was as good a reason as any for a re-shoot. Right behind her was Steve Sansweet – an integral member of the legion – along with Star Wars artists Terri and Tom Hodges.

Then cheers rose up from the crowd. For a second I thought The Maker himself had decided to join the fun but, instead, an equally important figure approached the group. Albin Johnson.

For whatever reason, he hadn’t been there and I felt quite embarrassed for not noticing. Within seconds, the OK was given and “buckets on” was an official go.

I shot three separate photos, just to be safe. Each one, counting down from three. Kathy counted down out loud, with me, holding up fingers to show the countdown.

I later realized, it’s pretty hard to see through tinted lenses. And even harder to hear through helmets. These guys – and girls – are good.

Within a few seconds, “buckets on” was done.

Awesome.

Then Clone Wars director Dave Filoni ran up to the crowd. Dave – between his appearances and interviews – was as busy as anyone could be, but made time to be at the photo. I saw Steve Sansweet bending Dave’s ear a bit as the troops were removing their helmets. I used my lens to zoom in and get a better look, then I saw Dave remove his trademark hat.

Buckets were indeed off!

Hey Dave, buckets off.

Thanks, man.

“Ready, three shots again,” I hollered. And with each countdown, the group photo came closer to history.

Finally, it was done.

“That’s it! THANK YOU!” I shouted. A resounding cheer rose up, from the troops, the spectators, and the photographer.

I spent the next few  minutes on the main floor shooting photos of the troops as they gathered for photo ops with the fans, and each other. I heard Steve Sansweet tell Kathy Johnson, “I told Dave he should take off his hat. It’s buckets off!”

Steve’s the man.

I saw Dean and went over to say hi. No sooner did I reach him than he turned to me and said, “Do you have a few extra minutes?”

As it turned out, there was to be an engagement.

A fan had approached Steve with the news that he had intended to propose to his girlfriend after the 501st photo. The plan was to bring her over to meet Steve, then pop the question. Dean wanted to know if I had time for a few photos — like I’m gonna turn THAT down!

The groom-to-be made his way to Steve as Dean and I tried to remain inconspicuous. I shot casual.

The happy couple.

He introduced his fiance (or so he hoped she would be). The din of the crowd was way over any conversation that was happening in front of me so I could only watch for the right moment.

He reached into his pocket.

He took her hand.

He got down on one knee.

… ok, screw casual, she knows what’s going on now.

Awwwww.

I kept shooting but also tried to absorb the vibe. This was an unbelievably special moment in their lives. And it was happening at a STAR WARS CONVENTION!

Fuckin’ A!

... until Death Star do you part.

After the engagement I had a brief moment of panic. The FISD shoot was happening. Without me.

The plan was to have the shoot in the Star Wars Laser Tag room right after the 501st shoot. So off I went.

Did you ever start doing something only to realize you had forgotten something very important? Well, unfortunately, I realized I forgot where the laser tag area was, yet I was already running feverishly toward it. I found myself near a guest services desk and took the opportunity to right my wrong and ask directions. As it turned out, the laser tag area was around the corner from that very guest services desk.

I burst in the room just as the group was assembling. Fortunately, it was nowhere near the 501st group size – or even the Slave Leia group size. I even had a chair to stand on: this was just getting easier and easier.

Neat, organized and efficient. Another success… and in much better time.

Another happy family.

After the shoot I went to meet John and realized the Robot Chicken panel was not yet over. Had it only been an hour and a half since I stared off for the 501st shoot? Could all that have happened in such a short time? It was as if time stood still. For once.

I’d meet John in line for the Gary Kurtz panel – something which both of us really needed to see. I tried to explain everything that had happened at the shoot but was still dazed and unable to put it all into words. Not tired, not worn out. Actually, euphoric.

This is the first time I’ve really reflected on all of it since that day.

John and I have both agreed that C5 was probably one of the best convention experiences either of us has ever had. Everything from the panels we attended, to the crowd control, to the exhibits. Not to mention an impromptu meeting with ILM model maker Jon Berg in the Ralph McQuarrie gallery – a brief conversation that ended with us thanking him for helping create our childhood and him giving both of us a big bear hug. A true family moment.

John’s thoughts can be appreciated here.

Looking back, it was everything any of us could have hoped for, and then some. But the time that best encapsulated the spirit of the Celebration, was the afternoon I spent documenting the spectacle of fans united. Helping legions of devoted and giving people document their own events. Watching the crowds part as one family merged in gargantuan celebration, and as another family took it’s first step toward a future.

All, in the heart of the Empire.

The Shoot

Photography is the act of capturing life. From the delicate, fleeting moments that otherwise could be lost in the bustle of the everyday to history changing events that, through the skilled eye of the photojournalist, hold an awe-inspiring aesthetic of the human condition.

This is neither.

I was lucky – and when I say lucky, I mean lotto-style lucky – enough to have the chance to record for posterity, the largest gathering of Slave Leia costumes in the history of the metal bikini.

During my weeks of feverish preparation for Star Wars Celebration 5, I was asked to be the official photographer for the 501st Legion. I have had the pleasure of working with the Orlando chapter of the internationally renown Star Wars costume group on several occasions and was honored to oblige the request to be the photographer for the gathering of the entire legion at the latest Star Wars Celebration. Not long after the 501st request, I was contacted by members of the FISD (First Imperial Storm Trooper Detatchment) – another costuming group specializing in the famous white Imperial armor – for some help with their group photo… and naturally accepted.

Just out of curiosity, I asked my contact at the 501st if he knew of any Slave Leia groups who needed a photographer. The request was half-joking (maybe less than half) but he responded with the email address of the head of LeiasMetalBikini.com.

“No shit?” I thought.

I sent an email with my offer to take a group photo. As if they had any problem finding a photographer. And as it turns out, they did, in fact, need a photographer.

“No shit,” was my unspoken reaction.

After forwarding some examples of my work, I received an enthusiastic acceptance and was set as the official photographer for LeiasMetalBikini.com.

“No Shit!” — I actually yelled that out loud. Lucky I was home alone at the time.

In my career I’ve covered college football, hockey, basketball, concerts, fires and a political rally. This was not the largest crowd of onlookers I had to deal with, but it was the tightest. I don’t know how many people were crammed around the Gentile Giant booth on the C5 exhibitor floor, watching the ladies line up around a full-size Jabba The Hutt statue, but claustrophobia couldn’t have been an issue for any of them. Unfortunately, deodorant was an issue for some of them.

But the scenery was worth it.

All geeky, awe-struck, hormonal spazing aside, these women are very cool. They took so much time out of their days to pose with fans all over the convention center. Model/reality TV star/big time Star Wars fan Adrianne Curry was also part of the group and was constantly honoring autograph and photo requests wherever she was. It takes guts to put on the bikini but it takes heart to take that kind of time out for the fans. I thank every one of them for their patience.

That said: ladies and gentleman (ok, gentleman) …the Leias.

awesome

awesome

awesome

That's Ken the Elvis Trooper. He's awesome too, but in a different way.

awesome

awesome

Even just walkin around, they're awesome.

Yep, that's awesome too.

Decompression

Star Wars Celebration V is in the books. On the blogs. And in the Tweets. The orgyastic four-day festival of all things Star Wars (but mostly The Empire Strikes Back) was another affirmation of the enduring appeal of the saga, and the strength of the bonds of fandom.

In short, geeks rule!

I’m still regaining my strength and senses. Also getting used to the emptiness of my home which, until this afternoon, was bustling with the activity of fans in convention mode. My extended family – The Booths of Ohio – have since landed safely and settled back home. They are no doubt going through the same emotional re-adjustments that I am, as are several thousand others who just finished up a fantastic fan gathering.

You can’t help but feel bummed in the hours and days after such a great time has ended. Especially when you know it will be at least another 3 years until it happens again (Celebration IV would celebrate the 30th anniversary of Return of the Jedi, which will be in 2013). Sifting through your memories – which, in my case, means editing photos – helps the decompression process and allows you to relive the happenings, revisit the people and hold on to everything that was.

I plan to put it all into words before too long. Some things – like Adrianne Curry and about 30 other women dressed in the Slave Leia metal bikini, and hanging out with ILM model maker Jon Berg – will be tough to put into words. For now, pictures will tell some of the story.

Hands down, most amazing costume of the con... and the best I've seen ANYWHERE so far.

Yup, that's John Stewart. And I didn't have to wait 12 hours in line for a wristband to see him!

I don't know and I don't care. Great Fett!

He had to take a Sith.

A great piece from the custom skate deck gallery.

In my day we had to use all different colors to make our LEGO figures! Get off my lawn.

Star Wars meets The Exorcist.

The 501st party. Yes, those are guys in Leia dresses. Be thankful they're not wearing the metal bikini.

Even Elvis is a Star Wars fan!

Anyone who thinks all Star Wars girls are weird-looking is a moron.

Chuck Silver of the band Sci Fried.

If Bow-Flex put this in their ad I might buy one.

Slave Leias Rule!

... and Adrianne Curry ROCKS!

The 501st Legion. Best costume club EVER (Adrianne is part of them too so the bikini is represented along with the armor)

That's a lotta troops.

The guy on the right is Steve Sansweet, Lucasfilm director of fan relations. The other two just got engaged after the big 501st group photo... not to Steve, to each other.

Mr. Daniels goes to Orlando

Flashback to the 1999 Star Wars Celebration in Colorado; Anthony Daniels hosted the opening ceremonies and some of the presentations. The man behind the golden visage of C3PO proved a charismatic presence – well worth the hours spent waiting in the rain.

Fast forward to 2010; Anthony Daniels hosts Star Wars In Concert. The two-hour celebration of the music behind the stories of a galaxy far far away is a fast for the senses and a highly recommended event for both the Geek Nation and music lovers alike. I had the honor of photographing the event, with a little help from my friends at the venue head office, and also got the chance to meet the host backstage before the afternoon performance.

… with a little help from Dustin at TheForce.net a review and photo gallery are now part of Star Wars history… at least on their site.

Star Wars Celebration I Revisited: Part 4 Sunset

8am May 2, 1999: Last day… and I ain’t ready to leave.

 

My flight, however, would be leaving at 11pm , ready or not. I pack everything that morning because I’d be checking out before catching the bus to the convention. Since I’d been spending my days at Celebration, having dinner and hanging out in the lobby for most of the night, there wasn’t much sense in paying for a room I wouldn’t use before catching the 9pm bus to the airport. I had arranged to leave my bags in the valet luggage locker behind the front desk and I was ready to go. Rob and I met again for breakfast to go over the event schedule and make a plan for the last day, then went to meet up with everyone from the previous day. Mike walked over to our hotel to hang out before the bus showed up. Unfortunately, the others had caught an earlier shuttle and we didn’t catch up.

 

The day was spent checking out the ILM displays in the exhibitor hangar. Favorite displays included a Millenium Falcon model, the Episode 1 C3PO and Scout Walker and Tie Fighter models from Episode V. An R2D2 rolled about the floor, stopping to chat with guests and pose for photos. A few yards behind was a gentleman carrying a magazine in a rather ungainly manner. It was, in fact, R2’s operator trying fruitlessly to hide the remote control. He looked up and smiled as I walked by, it was Don Bies. Way Cool.

 

08

 

12

 

111

 

We checked out displays of all the toys that were scheduled to go on sale at the midnight Toys R Us Star Wars release and filled out raffle cards to win pieces of the Taco Bell and Pepsi displays. Ben Burtt was doing a presentation, Steve Sansweet had a panel on collecting and Anthony Daniels was set to host the closing ceremonies at the end of the day. As we walked to the line for Ben’s panel we saw something we had not seen all weekend. The Sun! The rain had stopped, the clouds had parted and the fog was almost completely lifted. The Rocky Mountains were finally visible at the horizon! A nice treat for the last day.

 

041

 

I don’t recall much about the panels and closing ceremonies – apologies to Ben, Steve and Anthony, but it was ten years ago. The big news was that some dealers in the vendor tent were having huge discounts because the tent leaked. We ducked in but the soggy posters and wet boxed items really weren’t worth the discounts being offered. We went through the exhibitor hangar one last time and discovered that Mike won part of the Pepsi display in the raffel. A huge Darth Maul printed on plastic awaited him along with a Naboo Fighter printed on cardboard. He offered his winnings to Rob and me as thanks for the previous night’s dinner but I just didn’t have the means to carry either piece on the way home.

 

We made our way to the bus, sadly looking back at the convention grounds. The mud glistened in the late afternoon sun but more storm clouds were gathering just above the horizon. Maybe it was time to leave after all.

 

As I prepared to board the bus I noticed a couple of folks wandering toward the grounds, all decked out in black and silver. My first, clueless thought was, “What are Oakland Raiders fans doing here?” Then, as they turned around I noticed the forehead ridges….

 

KLINGONS?!

 

As I looked around I saw the motion of the crowd begin to slow as all eyes moved toward them. They were obviously out for some attention, and they were getting it.

 

“Wrong convention,” shouted one fan.

 

“Go back to your own galaxy,” shouted another.

 

One plucky lad of no more than 7 or 8 flipped the bird as his mortified mom pulled his hand down and his dad laughed. All Geeks, apparently, are not created equal. On the bus I’d heard talk of a Star Trek convention that was happening at a nearby hotel. I could only wonder how many Jedi would now be crashing their party.

 

We arrived at the hotel in time to watch a sunset. I hadn’t seen one of those since before I left Orlando. Later, a lengthy dinner gave way to some convention stories with other fans in the lobby. Rob had an early flight and was soon off to pack. We exchanged addresses and wished each other a fun Episode I premier. A little while later, I was headed for the airport. The rain had held off and I took some time to gaze at the stars before the bus arrived. No Star Destroyers were visible.

 

Another series of flights awaited and a two and a half hour lay-over in Atlanta meant plenty of time for a turbulence free nap. My flight from Colorado turned out to be a smooth one and I slept almost the whole way. The flight from Atlanta was filled with memories of the convention, looking over books and programs and replacing the sadness of having to leave with the anticipation of opening day which was not far off.

 

Orlando greeted me with a sunny, warm morning. My dad picked me up and listened as I went on and on during the whole drive back. He’d taken me to see Episode IV, V and was my ride to VI. I’m sure he was having flashbacks of those drives home. Once back at my apartment I left the unpacking for whenever I woke up. I’d scheduled an extra day off and used the time to catch up on much needed sleep.

 

When I awoke, sometime that afternoon, it was raining. I went back to sleep.

 

I had written Rob once or twice since the convention but we eventually lost touch.

John got to experience Celebration 2 – sans rain and mud – at the Indianapolis Convention Center.

John and I both had a monumentally cool time at C3, again in Indy. We passed on C4 and eagerly await C5.

 

Look on Wikepedia and you’ll hardly see a mention of the first Celebration. For whatever reason the following 3 were better documented. That’s another reason I decided to post my memories.

 

Every so often I’ll meet someone who was at C1. Some will simply roll their eyes, some will smile with fond recollection. I’m one of the latter. For all it’s issues – the rain, the lines, the autograph refusals – C1 was an experience to remember. Of course there were going to be problems, we all knew that going in. You can find bad points in anything if you look hard enough. What matters are the memories that are made, the fans you meet and the celebration of the films that made our childhood. And our lives.

 

End … until the next gathering.

Star Wars Celebration I Revisited: Part 2 Getting To Know Fans

8:30am, April 30, 1999 A New Day! Still raining, but new none the less.

I awoke ready to take in all that Day 1 of the Celebration had to offer. After a much needed shower I unpacked and took a quick look at the folder the front desk clerk had given me upon my bleary-eyed check in the night before. Upon opening the folder I realized the joy that one who had never stayed at a Doubletree Hotel could only have after a long trip and a short-night’s sleep…

there were COOKIES in there! Two, huge, chocolate chip cookies!

I really must have been a mess the night before to have missed them. I then realized my first challenge of the day was already met – finding breakfast. Coffee, fresh from the in-room coffee maker.  A cereal bar – I packed a few for snacking. A chocolate chip cookie, big and very rich. And I didn’t have to spend a dime. Great Day In The Mornin’!

After my feast I donned my Star Wars ball cap, rain jacket and backpack and headed down the hall to the elevators. Shuttles to the Wings Over The Rockies Air And Space Museum were leaving every twenty minutes – or so said the information in my cookie-laiden information folder. As I left my room I wondered how many fellow fans were at my hotel. No one on the plane seemed to be sporting any Star Wars gear or even mentioned the con and I found the hotel lobby rather empty when I arrived in the wee hours. Upon arriving at the elevators, I saw no one. I was either late or very early. The door opened as soon as I pressed the down button and I stepped in. Just as the door began to close I heard approaching footsteps and a voice … “hold the door please?!” I did. After a moment, a flowing brown robe turned the corner and stepped into the elevator. I’d be riding with a Jedi this morning. He saw my Star Wars cap and we both just smiled. I complimented his light saber hilt on the ride down. He explained how it was all machined metal, no re used parts. He unhooked it and handed it to me  to check out. It was heavy, and very well made. No sooner did I hand it back than the elevator doors opened. First floor!

The quiet hotel lobby of the night before was now bustling. My Jedi friend and I quickly lost each other in the crowd but fans were everywhere. I had never seen such a huge gathering of Star Wars faithful. Kids in all manner of costume. Adults in t shirts and the occasional Darth Vader helmet or Jedi robe. Looking back, there were generally not a lot of costumes. The high quality armor, body paint and weapon props were not as widespread as they are now. Then again, clothing does not make the geek. The sentiment and loyalty of this crowd was palpable, and I wasn’t even at the convention yet.

Shuttle busses were now running and I needed a place in line. The convention officially opened at noon but the bus ride would take a while and registration… who knows. I followed signs and the crowd to the bus stop – which didn’t have any cover from the downpour that, surprisingly, wasn’t letting up. The rain prompted a temporary solution, we waited in the lobby. There was still time before the next bus so conversation popped up at random – fans getting to know fans. Everything from ‘where are you from?’ to ‘how many times did you see Episode IV in the theater?’ This was why I made the trip. Props to the event and all the wonders that await but there was nothing, NOTHING like being among so many people who shared this common bond. I kept thinking about my friend and fellow Star Wars nut John who, sadly, could not make it to the festivities. The only thing that could have made it cooler was to have my friend among all these friends.

I recall discussing The Matrix with a couple from, I think, Pennsylvania. Bad writing but great story, awesome effects but questionable acting – it’s almost like Star Wars AND there will be sequals! ‘I bet they will be good,’ said the husband. Yeah, well, time has a way of beating the crap out of many an observation; from ‘can’t wait for the Matrix II’ to ‘Jar Jar looks like an AWESOME character.’

The bus arrived just as the rain let up. We filed on, sat down, then off we went. It was crowded but no one cared, more time for conversation. I chatted with Rob, the guy in the seat next to me. He was a Star Wars toy collector from way back.  We talked about the evolution of the industry, the detail in the new sculpts but that they just didn’t look as cool as the first ones we ever saw. Fans getting to know fans.

The bus arrived just in time for it to start raining again. The ground was barely visible for the crowd that moved from the bus stop to The Wings Over The Rockies Air and Space Museum. The overcast skies didn’t dampen their spirit, which was a shame because the lines were friggin ridiculous. I don’t recall the registration process, which leads me to believe it went smoothly. Rob and I managed to stay in touch through the registration mob so we continued on to the convention grounds, looking over the event list and taking in the sights.

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Most of the day was spent waiting in lines. All of which were outside and the rain rarely let up. But it was worth it. While waiting for the opening ceremonies: Anthony Daniels walked by the line and said hello, an impromtu trivia contest broke out, Chewbacca walked by (I heard it was an employee wearing one of the actual ILM prop suits but it was never verified) and a friendly security guard made jokes and told stories about his former job as a bar bouncer.

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The presentations included: Video greetings from cast and crew, and George. Behind the scenes footage and new trailer material (the crowd took particular interest in the Philly Blunts shirt Ewan McGregor wore in the video footage of his lightsaber stunt training). Doug Chiang and Trisha Biggar talking about design and costuming. Rick McCallum talking about being the producer of a Star Wars film and the F’ing sandstorms they had to put up with while filming on location (Rick’s colorful like that).

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The hangars of the air and space museum housed ILM prop displays, the merchandise area and various sponsor displays. Everything from free kids meal toys to posters to books to drink cups was up for grabs. Most of it went real fast. Life size Star Wars characters made of Legos stood guard at one end, pinball machines and video games instigated more lines at another end. Somewhere in the middle sat a full sized X Wing fighter. And I thought the machined light saber hilt was cool!  Also, costumes were easier to find in this location. A girl in a Slave Leia outfit received her share of attention, a very well painted Darth Maul prowled the exhibitor floor and, of course, Jedi roamed the grounds.

 

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Sooner or later, it got late. Very late. Time flies when you’re chatting and waiting in line and staring in amazement and… not eating. I hadn’t had a bit to eat since breakfast and my head was starting to hurt. No restaurants had we at the first Celebration. No food courts to retreat to. There were Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC kiosks set up outside the exhibitor hangar. Yep, outside. Mud, rain, lines and Taco Bell. A couple beef burritos and a Pepsi were inhaled and then it was off to check out the vendor tent for a few minutes until closing time.

While checking out the collectibles, and then on the bus, the headache came back. This is what sometimes happens when one waits way too long to eat and then gorges on junk. I felt progressively worse as the headache became a stomach ache. I held it together until we got to the hotel. When I could finally get off the bus I started feeling normal, then not. I made it into the lobby and into a door labeled “washroom” hoping for an actual bathroom. It was, however, a washroom. Sinks only. I didn’t have time to rationalize the absurdity of the situation, the chicks cannot hold the smoke and I could not hold the burrito. Needless to say, nature took it’s backward course into one of the sinks and I soon felt well enough to make it back to my room for some Tylenol and a nap.

The nap turned into all out sleep and I awoke at 3am needing something to munch on. Fortunately I only ate one cookie the previous morning and it’s cousin was waiting for me on the table. I spent the next half hour watching random television stations as I drank a Coke, ate my cookie and went over the previous day in my mind. All in all, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Bring on Day 2!

… to be continued.