Thursday, 21 July 2016


Star Wars Celebration Europe returned to London on Friday 15th July at the Excel and this was to be my first ever experience of a Star Wars Celebration.  I will admit I was excited, the closest I’ve come was watching the live feed on my computer from the year before which took place in Anaheim.  But even from this I could tell the atmosphere was going to be incredible.  Thankfully I wasn’t disappointed.



Actually my experience started a day earlier as I had tickets for the Cantina party which was being hosted at the O2.  A quick trip across the river on the cable car which I will admit I did not like at first.  Remember Jeff Goldblum’s character in Independence Day where he rides the alien ship for the first time?  That was me.

Accompanied by my wife, Rachel we headed into the party and the first act was Blues Harvest who set the exciting and fun tone for the evening.  Playing classic pieces from Star Wars all jazzed up so you can dance to them, they even played some pieces from Labyrinth.  That made me smile.  Other acts followed including Darth Elvis and Ash which were very popular.  On our way back to the cable car I looked up and saw two people walking in front of me who looked a little familiar.  It was none other than Dave Filoni and Sam Witwer.  Dave Filoni wasn’t wearing his iconic hat so I will admit I didn’t recognise him at first.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a photo and the two obliged.  Actually Dave was telling me where to stand and to turn the flash off.  It was nice to think I was being directed by Dave Filoni.  Both extremely nice people and a great start to Celebration.

Bumped into Sam Witwer and Dave Filoni
I was looking forward to some of the panels over the weekend, the big ones being the Rogue One panel featuring Kathleen Kennedy, Gareth Edwards and some of the cast from the movie, the opening ceremony and the Star Wars Rebels Season three panel.  I was fortunate to have reserved seating for the Rebels panel as well as the Lego Freemaker panel on the Saturday. In addition to these I really wanted to get into the Rogue One talk.  To do this you had to get a wristband.  All the big panels required a wristband and you could start queuing from 8pm the night before for the following day talks.  On our journey back to the hotel we walked through the Excel, the time being around 11pm.  Dedicated fans were already queuing, settling in for an uncomfortable night’s sleep on the hard Excel floor.  I knew then that my chances of getting a wristband for Rogue One were slim at best.  As we walked through the Excel and left at the back entrance we saw some Lucasfilm staff taking dozens of pizza boxes out of a car.  I asked if they were they for the queue and indeed they were.  A nice touch which is becoming a bit of a tradition at Star Wars Celebration.

Friday morning and the beginning of Star Wars Celebration Europe.  Loaded up with a good old fashioned full English breakfast we were ready for the queues.  We had already picked up our passes the day before so that bit was easy.  I had a media pass where as Rachel, unfortunately had a normal three day entry so this meant that unless she could get wristbands for the panels I’ve been reserved for we would have to go it alone for a few hours.  My fears were correct.  By the time we had arrived around 8:45 all the wristbands had gone.  Rogue One, Star Wars Rebels even the stages that would be streaming the Rogue One panel were gone.  Slightly disappointed we joined the queue for our bags to be checked and this would become a familiar process over the weekend.  If you wanted to leave the Excel you would have to swing by the bagging check area first.  Once we were checked we joined the main queue for entry.  This was well organised and the staff were shouting instructions clearly.  The long wait was torture on our feet and the heat was already rising.  A few Mexican waves helped the tedium of the long wait and finally the shutters were rolled up and the queues started moving.



This was it.  We were inside and the fun could begin.  I will admit at first I was overwhelmed and a little confused.  There were queues everywhere and we had no idea what they were queuing for.  It soon became clear that if you wanted to see any of the main exhibits you were going to have to endure a long queue.  Even the official merchandise stall had a queue and boy was it long.  There was an electronic board saying 90 minutes and the queue was passed that.  Having just endured a long queue to get in we decided that we would just look around the exhibits and trade booths for the first hour and there was certainly no shortage to choose from.  Spanning both sides of the Excel I was like a kid in a sweet shop.  I didn’t know where to look first.  Lego Star Wars, EA, DK, Topps, Hot Wheels, Disney, Forbidden Planet, Sideshow Collectibles and so much more.  I knew then that I was going to have a falling out with my bank balance.

One of the things you must do when coming to an event like this is plan your weekend in advance and also be realistic in what you want to see.  We knew we were unlikely to see everything on our checklist and as mentioned we were already crossing off the Rogue One panel.   But we still had a full weekend ahead.  Using the official Star Wars Celebration app on our phones we had our weekend plan and getting handy reminders before each panel or talk was so useful.  I wish every comic con had an app like this.  Kudos to the organisers for the app.  Our first reminder was over on the ‘One Force Stage’ where Full of Sith’s Bryan Young and Amy Ratcliffe were chatting about their podcasting exploits.  It was really nice to finally meet them in person.  We would make another two stops during the day to this stage for Blabba the Hut and the Fly Casual panels.  Again meeting friends in person that you’ve only chatted to via social media was one of my highlights of the weekend.

Nice to finally meet Amy Ratcliffe
The Rogue One panel was about to start and one advantage of not getting into this panel was that the crowds were a little thinner.  We took the opportunity to walk around the event with a little more ease and met Steve Sansweet who was doing a signing.  What a really nice guy and so down to earth.  We caught a little of the Rogue One panel on the big screen that was set up in the middle of one of the floors for the live feed.  The hosts of ‘The Star Wars show’ were on stage and it was interesting to see the setup and work that goes into bringing such a professional production to the Internet. 

Steven Sansweet, Rachel and myself
It was the end of the day and our feet were crying for mercy.  After a quick look at the cosplay championship taking place on the Celebration Stage we decided to head to the bar outside the Excel where fellow Star Wars fans were enjoying a well-earned pint or two, myself included.   The atmosphere was incredible and everyone in that bar was celebrating Star Wars.  I took the opportunity to hand out a few Bearded Trio pin badges and I was getting their badges or cards in exchange.  A walk back to the hotel, still buzzing from the day’s events and tomorrow was going to be busier again.

My first port of call on the Saturday (after another full English breakfast) was to head to the hotel outside the Excel to pick up a wristband for my reserved seating at the Rebels and Freemaker panels.  I also realised that there was a media entrance at the back of the Excel so I could skip the queues.  But since my wife didn’t have a media badge she wouldn’t be allowed in so I decided to queue up with her and anyway I could soak up the atmosphere and anticipation.  Once again the day’s wristband allocations had been and gone so unfortunately Rachel would miss the Star Wars Rebels panel.   After the same routine as the day before, bag check and wait for the doors to open we were inside.  The crowds were bigger, much bigger and walking around was a bit of an ordeal.  The first thing we did was head to the Rogue One exhibit where costumes and props from the upcoming movie were being displayed.  This was well laid out with plenty of space between exhibits so it didn’t seem too crowded.  My first panel of the event was finally here, the Star Wars Lego Freemaker panel.  I will be honest, I was thankful for the sit down.  Lego Freemaker hasn’t hit UK TV yet but it does look good with plenty of jokes and your typical Lego humour.  One to watch.



Once finished I met up with Rachel once more and decided to head to the ILMxLab VR experience.  This was one of my ‘have to do’ priorities and we were all ready to endure the queue which was as you would expect long.  However we discovered that media can be ‘fast tracked’ through and the lovely people at ILMxLab let myself and Rachel straight through.  Yes!  I was so excited about this.  I’ve never used VR and as an enthusiastic gamer myself I couldn’t wait to experience the HTC Vibe in the Star Wars universe.  We were giving a briefing on how to put the headset on and what to do If you feel dizzy.  I hoped I wasn’t going to be one of those people, I plan on being a regular VR user over the coming years.  After a short introduction we were lead into our individual booths where a member of staff would help you put the gear on.  I asked him if he would film me and take a few photos which he was happy to oblige.  Finally the demo began.  I was in the Star Wars universe!  I was on Tatooine and ships were flying over me.  This was amazing!  Then the Falcon appeared and I had to duck as at one point I thought it was going to land on me.  R2 was behind me and after a few repairs to the ramp of the Falcon which entailed pressing a few buttons with the sensor I had in my hand I was then presented with a lightsaber.  Oh my word!  Even though in reality I was holding this sensor, in the world I was in I was swinging about a lightsaber deflecting blaster fire from Stormtroopers that had just appeared.  I was smiling so much.  Then having defeated the Stormtroopers it was all over.  I left the booth so happy.  This was one of my highlights of the event.  I said to the crowd waiting ‘that was awesome!’  Walking out I said to a member of staff that I had been waiting for this since I was eight years old.  Being able to play in the Star Wars universe was a treat I will never forget and I want more.  I said to the member of staff ‘when are you bringing out the holodeck?’  He replied ‘We’re working on it.’


For the next hour I was on such a high, after all I had just witnessed the Falcon flying over me and battled Stormtroopers with a lightsaber.  It was a nice feeling going into my next panel which was my biggest one of the weekend, the Star Wars Rebels Season Three panel with Sam Witwer, Tiya Sircar and Dave Filoni.  This was on the Celebration Stage which was huge.  Thankfully I had a reserved seat with the press so had a good view.  There were some big reveals during the talk with Wedge appearing in season three and of course Thrawn.  Warwick Davis was our host and high fived me as he went past on his Segway.  For me Star Wars Rebels were the winners of the weekend with so many reveals and big news.  After the talk we were treated to two episodes from season three which included Thrawn and a new character voiced by Doctor Who himself, Tom Baker.  If these two episodes are an indication of the quality of the upcoming season we are in for a treat.



After once again meeting back up with my wife we grabbed a bite to eat and bumped into Paul Bateman who was a genuinely nice person and so interesting to talk to.  We headed to ‘The Star Wars Show’ which was streaming the weekend’s events live and we managed to get to the front.  We were on TV and even had a message on Facebook from Indycast’s Keith Voss who said he just saw us both on the stream.  Famous at last.   A final walk around the event picking up some more merchandise and a swag bag from the Topps booth we called it a day and went to the hotel where I had picked up my wristband earlier.  I had a hunch that this was where the Star Wars guests would be staying and sure enough after ordering a drink we sat outside right next to Peter Mayhew, ‘The Star Wars Show’ hosts and Ray Park.  We didn’t disturb them but it was interesting to hear them talking about Star Wars so passionately.  It seems that Star Wars is more than just a job to them.  After a quick drink we headed to the Fox bar just outside the entrance to the Excel and to our surprise discovered that EA were hosting an event.  Free swag was being handed out such as The Old Republic t-shirts and more importantly a free bar all evening.  That must have cost them quite a bit as the place was packed.  Once again the atmosphere was amazing with people I’ve never met before just coming up and talking Star Wars and the website.  A nice end to the second day.

The third and final day began with myself having to report to the Capital Suites on the third floor for a press conference with Dave Filoni, Sam Witwer and Tiya Sircar.  Dave Filoni waved to me as he walked passed, that made me smile.   This was a really interesting hour as we were able to ask the guests questions for our sites, podcasts and media outlets.  I managed to film the event live to Facebook as well as take photos and film on another video camera in HD.  Not sure how I managed that.  After the conference I had a quick chat with Sam Witwer who said he likes the site so I gave him a Bearded Trio badge.



A few more visits to stalls and then off to the podcast stage once more to listen to the Jedi News team.  Ana-Maria Leonte who had a part in Star Wars The Force Awakens had said prior to the event that she would love to meet up with us having met her previously.  As coincidence would have it she was sat down waiting for the Jedi News team so we had a nice chat, a lovely person and if you get the chance to meet her then make sure you do, she has some interesting things to say about her time on set.

It was coming to the close of Star Wars Celebration and the crowds were thinning.  We took advantage of this and had our photos taken with some of the sets spread around the event and Rach even managed to get into the official store.  To be honest this was a little disappointing due to what they had for sale.  However we did manage to get a Kylo Ren exclusive figure from Forbidden Planet which was very popular.

The closing ceremony was taking place on the Celebration Stage which was being shown on the big screen above ‘The Star Wars Show.’ Then it was all over.  A feeling of sadness hit us as I could have easily stayed for a few more days.  Having spent too much money our bank balances were probably thankful that it was over.  The Excel was a perfect place for Star Wars Celebration with huge space, plenty of food outlets and most importantly, plenty of facilities.  The staff at all times were helpful including the security guards who were giving out clear and concise instructions.


The atmosphere had been electric the whole weekend with so much to do.  Not once did we think ‘what shall we do next?’  The highlights for me were the Star Wars Rebels panel, the press conference, the ILMxLab VR experience but the best part of the weekend was meeting fellow Star Wars fans and friends in person for the first time.  Mark Newbold, Matt Booker, Andy Lyth Bryan Young, Amy Ratcliffe and John Hood to name a few.  John posted on his Facebook page after the event:

Star Wars Celebration Europe was, easily, the best convention I've attended in my lifetime. Filled with fellow fans, of all ages from around the world, having a blast within an 'inclusive environment' (to quote Danie). Strangers united by George Lucas' creation.
Serendipitous encounters with friends old and new, humour, duels with the dark side, a kiss from a princess, a hug from a Jedi and tears of joy. It's not everyday you meet childhood heroes who turn out to be amazing in person.
The Force was (very) strong with this one. More please.

I totally agree with him.  Every Star Wars fan should experience a Star Wars Celebration at least once.  This was my first and I was a little worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations.  I was wrong.  There are comic cons and then there is a Star Wars Celebration.  Professional, well organised, packed with events and most importantly packed with Star Wars fans.  A true celebration.


You can view over 170 photos from the event on our Facebook album

Here's a 27 minute floor walk video of the event.



Rob Wainfur
@thebeardedtrio

The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and John Williams

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1 comment:

  1. It was a pleasure to meet you at SWCE and thanks for the shoutout.

    ReplyDelete

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