A Reflection On Star Wars Celebration Anaheim 2022

by Erik Amaya

After roughly a week of recovery, it is time to discuss Star Wars Celebration Anaheim 2022.

Such a declaration makes it sound like the event was in some way traumatic — which is not the case. It was, however, taxing even if it was filled with joy, community, and excitement. And the fatigue that followed may be unique among fan conventions: a mixture of exhaustion and the realization that it’s time to go back to real life. It is a curious sensation which lacks the restorative aspects of a true vacation.

Of course, that may have something to do with the way I, personally, approach conventions. It is still, ultimately, a job.

Take, for example, the way emotions rode high during the morning panels. What the Lucasfilm Presentation recap video available on the official Star Wars YouTube account does not convey is the way people shouted their love for things. Sure, you may get Ewan McGregor reacting to one particularly loud ‘I love you!’ but that energy was constant — it even spilled into the announcement of the new series, Star Wars: Skeleton Crew. And, curiously, it was something I felt I could not take part in. But I still noted the enthusiasm. For those who made the trek to Anaheim, CA, Star Wars is still primarily a thing to love.

With that also came a sense of welcoming for first time attendees and new Star Wars cast members like Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s Vivien Lyra Blair, who ran onto stage following the premiere screening on the series on Thursday night. The appreciative crowd absolutely made her feel like family.

A sense of family was also on display during Friday’s morning panel for the upcoming Light + Magic documentary series. Although, that was something emanating more from the Celebration Stage as Industrial Light and Magic luminaries like Dennis Muren and Joe Johnston reminisced about the wild west days of the special effects company. Nevertheless, it made me excited for the series, which debuts July 27th.

Also, I will admit I was finally overcome with emotions on Saturday morning when Chopper, of all things, wheeled out onto stage at the end of the “Mando+” panel. The fully-realized droid appeared to announce, yes, he will be part of the upcoming Ahsoka series. From then on, I felt connected to the material — specifically the brief Ahsoka sizzle reel — in a way I did not expect. A sense of anticipation about Hera Syndulla’s live action debut was entirely unexpected. And yet, there I was reacting to it in a way that the Lucasfilm presentation — complete with a live choir singing “Duel of the Fates” and John Williams performing a mini-concert — did not.

Although, in retrospect, finally seeing Williams conduct music was definitely something special.

Outside of the big presentations, I noticed something different about the show floor when compared to Chicago 2019 and Anaheim 2015 — it seemed smaller. To be fair, there didn’t seem to be fewer vendors, but the options appeared more limited. Interesting off-brand shirts were entirely missing, vintage items scaled back, and only recent Hasbro Black series figures appeared to be available (although I totally should’ve picked up that Constable Zuvio from that one booth). Granted, some of those limitations are no doubt pandemic related. But it may also be part of an overall change in shopping as a convention activity in the last ten years or so. When so much is available online, what is left to do at a convention but hunt for Funko Pops or buy blind boxes? Two things I don’t particularly enjoy. Although, now that I think about it, even the Pops seemed unusually scarce.

That said, Hasbro, Bandai Namco, and a few other larger companies had truly stellar displays of their wares and the Live Stage area remains one of the most energetic and sociable at just about any convention.

An aspect of the convention that was both an absolute treat and something exclusive to Star Wars Celebration was “The Mandalorian Experience” — a walkthough exhibit of props used on The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. A full-sized Naboo Starfighter is something you don’t really expect to see, even at Celebration. And yet it was there, as real as life with a puppetted Grogu in the droid enclosure. The starfighter, Grogu and Din Djarin’s (Pedro Pascal) new ship, served as the centerpiece to a fabulous array of screen-used props and costumes which confirmed, among other things, how accurate the Darksaber replicas available in Galaxy Edge or from Hasbro really are. The event was no doubt a boon to cosplayers looking to make their costumes more accurate. For me, the cool and detached reporter, it was still one of those moments where Star Wars felt more real, if even just as a television show full of interesting design elements. But when it is still possible to remember when I was six and lived the Star Wars movies, a space like The Mandalorian Experience is a time machine.

But no matter the amount of professional detachment, the buzz around me was thrilling. As mentioned before, the love was readily apparent wherever I went. Sure, I saw a few kids meltdown from over-stimulation and the beginnings of a fight between one couple over merchandise, but the overall feelings was one of joy. There was also gratitude on display because getting to the event meant a lot of effort. Both could readily be heard in the conversations at the nearby bars and restaurants, the way people regarded one another’s costumes, and the responses to elaborate creations like the Probe Droid roaming the floor and the one attendee who converted their mobility device into a Starspeeder 3000.

And though Celebration was stressful for any number of reasons — COVID prevention compliance could have been much better, for one thing — those sensations of joy, welcoming, and thankfulness are what I’ll hold onto when I look back on it.

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