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That’s No Moon, It’s Star Wars Celebration V: A Thursday Convention Report

16 August 2010 by

There’s four levels of convention: small, medium, large and epic. The size of the venue, number of attendees expected, price of admission and distance one can reasonably expect people to travel to get there all go up as your con reaches towards epic.

Star WarsCelebration V is an epic-level convention. It’s expensive, the venue is bigger than several shopping malls stuck together, and the expected 30,000 attendees have come from all over the world to be there.

When I arrived on Thursday morning, the line to get in wound around the foyer like a Sarlaac’s digestive system. Over the foyer hung a giant inflatable Death Star, probably fifteen feet in diameter. The line moved quickly and efficiently, though I heard some complaints it seemed like they dealt with the volume of people very well.

After a quick survey of the dealer’s room and the full-size dioramas there, it was off to panels. I was privileged to hear astronaut Jon McBride speak. He lectured about the physics of space travel, the process of training, the mission and the endangered future of space travel in America. Very little to do with Star Wars, but it was completely engrossing.

The next session was an interview and Q&A with Robert Watts, producer of almost every movie you ever liked. This is hyperbole, but not by much. David Collins led the interview, gently guiding Watts through his tendency to go off on amusing tangents. His charming sense of humor kept the audience in stitches and his insights went from things found on the special features in a DVD set to moving, uplifting stories from his long life and career.

“The future is upon us, bleeding into the now; and if we don’t pay attention we’ll be left behind. I’m 72 and I ain’t done yet!” Watts said while speaking of the proliferation of filmmaking technology to the masses.

While Watts prefers the warmth of film to the crispness of digital, he acknowledges that filming digitally makes it possible to work on a tight budget and allows more films to be made. He mentioned his love of YouTube, democratizing the art and giving a venue to anyone with a computer and a camera, and specifically mentioned Chad Vader as an example of what can be done by passionate amateurs.

Next I dropped in on a panel discussing the Star Tours and Indiana Jones rides at the Disney parks. SWCV coincides with the closing of Star Tours in order to make way for a ride based on the prequels. Surprise guest Anthony “C3-PO” Daniels stole the show with anecdotes from the ride’s debut.

The absolute highlight of the convention for me was the R2-D2 Builders Club. Not only did they fill a room with full-size Artoos, I came upon three of them playing music and doing what can only be described as dancing. They were surrounded by a throng of delighted children and equally enthralled adults.

Watching three dancing R2 units, I was struck by the inadequacy of existing robot vacuum cleaners. If the Roomba exists, why do I not own an R2-D2 who can do the same thing?

…because the little guys can cost tens of thousands of dollars to make and require some badass specialized mechanical skills. OhThe R2-D2 Builders Club is an international organization of people who are more awesome than you.

Strangely for a convention, most people were either in street clothes or costume, with little middle ground. You’d see lots of hats and t-shirts, but no steampunks and goths and con-standard uniforms of corsets and stompy boots. Cons are when I like to pull the weirdest stuff out of my closet, so this was disappointing. Maybe it’s because I went on Thursday, and with more people there on the weekend you’ll see more of it.

I counted just as many Mara Jades as Slave Leias, and quite a few regular Leias, but my absolute favorite were the two little girls dressed as Jawas. The 501st Stormtrooper Legion was out in style, and the Mandalorians were inspiring. There were quite a few Amidalas kicking around, looking fantastic. It seemed like there was a strong preference for the newer Star Wars material in costume choices.

The con was very well run! There were life-size dioramas everywhere, and the lines to pose for pictures in them were managed well. (I’ve been to flower shows of all the ridiculous things where the crowd was not so friendly and laid back!) The volunteers’ and staff’s great attitudes had a lot to do with it. I’d heard big convention horror stories and expected the worst, but the volunteers were helpful, and I was able to do everything that I’d hoped to do. I really appreciated the free wifi around the food areas, since that area overlapped with so much con space.

The size of the venue was a little problematic and I had a hell of a time finding that first show, the food was expensive, but a savvy conventioneer carries a water bottle. All in all, a great time.

Note: You can view some of the photos I took at The Convention Fans Blog flickr stream.

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