Star Wars Celebration Chicago Recap: The Force is with this Fandom

If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed that I spent last weekend in Chicago for Star Wars Celebration.  The five day convention encompassed everything Star Wars, including updates on Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge and the premieres of trailers for games like Jedi Fallen Order and the Vader Immortal VR, television shows like “The Mandalorian” and the upcoming season of “The Clone Wars,” and, of course, the debut of the first footage and the announcement of the title for the conclusion of the Skywalker saga, “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

I haven’t posted about this on here previously, however, because I didn’t go to cover any of the announcements for this blog or any other outlets, but rather as a fan.  I’ve been a massive fan of Star Wars for most of my life, ever since I saw “The Phantom Menace” in theaters (coincidentally, that film is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and Celebration concluded with a panel all about it).  This year also celebrates 20 years since the first Star Wars Celebration occurred in Denver, Colorado, and I’ve wanted to attend almost ever since.  So I made it a goal of mine a few years ago to, at the very least, attend this Celebration, as it was going to be the last Celebration before the final chapter in the Skywalker saga comes to theaters.

But as much as my love for Star Wars has remained unwavering over the years, over the last year or so I’ve almost felt ashamed to call myself a Star Wars fan.  This is due to what many now refer to as “toxic fandom,” something that increased exponentially after “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” was released in December 2017.  The film divided fans, and a sect of those who didn’t like it brought their hatred to the internet.  Actress Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in “The Last Jedi,” was harassed to the point where she eventually deleted her social media accounts.  You couldn’t read the comments on any Star Wars related article or video, even those unrelated to “The Last Jedi,” without seeing horrible insults hurled at everyone from the filmmakers to the studio to the actors to even fellow fans.  Female fans in particular have been the subject of some hate online from those who see the female protagonists who have dominated the Disney Star Wars era films as ruining the franchise.  The sad thing is, this isn’t anything new, either.  Even before social media, actor Ahmed Best was reviled for his portrayal of comic relief Jar Jar Binks in 1999’s “The Phantom Menace,” so much so that in the last year he revealed on his social media that he became extremely depressed and contemplated suicide.  It became discouraging, especially when the negativity in the fandom seemed to be the first thing to come up in any conversation about Star Wars.

But after attending Star Wars Celebration in person—and the first Celebration to be held since the release of “The Last Jedi”—that for all the negativity you may see online, that is only a very small portion of reality.  Because the reality is that the majority of fans are kind and passionate people who love radiate positivity and are willing to debate their various opinions on the franchise in a friendly manner—and even more importantly, are willing to listen.  This was apparent to me from the get-go, even though the first day of Celebration (Thursday) didn’t feature any news or panels.  I had so many great conversations with people everywhere I went, whether it was waiting in line to get into a booth on the show floor, or to catch a cab back to our hotels at the end of the day.  One man told me how he gave his winning lottery code for a seat in the area for the Episode IX panel the next morning to an older gentleman who was so thrilled to be there.  Another got so excited when I showed him an art print I had purchased featuring Rey and Kylo Ren fight side-by-side in the throne room in “The Last Jedi” and mentioned how that was one of his favorite scenes in all of Star Wars.  And just the dedication that fans put into their costumes is something to behold, from a screen-accurate depiction of a main character to an extremely deep-cut reference.

A portion of the massive mural on display at McCormick Place at Star Wars Celebration Chicago, celebrating the entire saga with art by Jason Palmer.

Friday morning brought about the Episode IX panel, which culminated in the premiere of the first teaser trailer for “The Rise of Skywalker.”  The panel took place in the convention center’s area and also streamed in various rooms throughout the convention.  I watched it streamed lived to the screens on the Star Wars Show stage on the show floor, standing shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other people.  Everyone was quick to cheer on the cast and crew, in particular Kelly Marie Tran (and when she appeared on the Star Wars Show stage later that day, fans chanted her name, letting her know just how loved she really is).  And let me tell you, there is nothing like watching the premiere of a trailer for a new Star Wars movie with other Star Wars fans.  The energy was palpable as the trailer began, and as it progressed, everyone yelled in disbelief when Rey does a backflip over a TIE fighter; cheered at Lando Calrissian (played once again by Billy Dee Williams, reprising his role from the original trilogy) piloting the Millennium Falcon; cried at our first look at some of the repurposed footage of Carrie Fisher’s Leia used for this movie; and finally lost their minds when we heard the distinctive laughter of Emperor Palpatine, followed by the long-awaited reveal of the title: “The Rise of Skywalker.”

I wasn’t sure if anything else could top that, but that same enthusiastic energy continued throughout the weekend.  I was fortunate to be able to attend many of the big panels.  Saturday saw the premiere of the trailer for the new console game, Jedi Fallen Order.  Sunday in particular was a big day: in the morning there was a panel for “The Mandalorian,” the upcoming live-action Star Wars show that will be making its debut on the Disney+ streaming service.  Showrunner Jon Favreau and director Dave Filoni showed a behind the scenes sizzle reel, but we were also shown an exclusive scene and trailer that have not yet been released online.  The afternoon saw a conversation with actor Alan Tudyk (K-2SO in “Rogue One”) followed by a much-anticipated panel about the return of the animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” which will also be coming to Disney+.  We still don’t have a release date, but we did get to see three clips in addition to a mind-boggling and emotional new trailer.  Monday was the final day of the convention, and included a really fun panel for the animated Disney Channel series “Star Wars Resistance,” which recently concluded its first season.  The panel featured a fun discussion with the cast and crew, followed by a surprise viewing of the first episode of season two (which if you are a fan of this show, I can assure you you’ll love). 

But the big panel of the day was one celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of “The Phantom Menace,” and again, the energy in that room was insane.  It was as if thousands of other people just like me, who were kids when that film premiered and have loved it ever since, flooded into the room, and the DJ got everyone there in the mood before the panel started by playing 90s hits.  Right before the panel began, everyone sang along to Weird Al’s “The Saga Begins,” swaying phone lights and lightsabers.  The panel featured a discussion with some members of the behind-the-scenes team and the cast, such as Anthony Daniels (C3-PO), Ray Park (Darth Maul), and Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine—that man had a great weekend let me tell you).  But the pushback throughout the weekend of the negativity that the fandom had become infamous for culminated in the warmest welcome for Ahmed Best, making his first Celebration appearance.  He received a long standing ovation, with some fans chanting his name, and even outside of the panel, his booth in the autograph area seemed to have a never-ending line of fans.

Me, hanging out on a replica of the Millennium Falcon interior from “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”

I came to Celebration hoping to meet some people and experience the latest Star Wars news in person, but I left with so much more.  I now know that the online trolls are not at all representative of the Star Wars fandom—in fact, I wouldn’t even call them fans in the first place.  The fans are the people I met and talked to and discussed and yelled at things with throughout the weekend, whether at panels, on the show floor, at the hotel restaurant, or at various meet-ups and after-hours events.  I could not be prouder of what I witnessed, and I have never been more proud to be a Star Wars fan.  Hopefully, the rest of the world will soon realize what I have.  And maybe it will, what with this Celebration ending in the announcement of another event: Celebration Anaheim 2020.

I’ll see you all there.

May the Force be with you.

One thought on “Star Wars Celebration Chicago Recap: The Force is with this Fandom

  1. Well written! I greatly enjoyed your recap of the celebration, I felt as if I was there as you immersed me in the excitement of the crowd. Thank you, JC

    Liked by 1 person

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