On May 25, 1977, thirty years ago last Friday, Star Wars was unleashed upon the world. Yes, thirty years ago, C3PO first walked down the shaking corridor and said in a panic:
They've shut down the main reactor. We'll be destroyed for sure.
And R2D2 responded with a series of beeps and whistles.
And we in the audience knew something big was going on. We weren't sure what exactly. We just knew it was too big to be a space station.
On Friday, I had forgotten that it was thirty years since the release of Star Wars until I saw an article about it online. The article also mentioned that there was a huge Star Wars convention happening at the convention center in downtown LA.
Whaaaaat?! A Star Wars convention in Los Angeles? Why hadn't I known about this before? Had my life become so mundane that my fandom friends had failed to notify me? I quickly gleaned the details from the website. On Thursday, they had done a six movie watching marathon, and the convention continued through Monday. I had to go. Yes, I definitely had to go.
I called the Honey Bunny to see if he wanted to go:
Me: The Star Wars convention is happening this weekend. Would you like to go?
HB: Uh, let me think about it.
Me: I really want to go, but you don't have to go.
And we settled the matter with me going to the convention on Saturday and the Honey Bunny servicing his car. I swear, sometimes, he's a regular Han Solo.
With the Honey Bunny not going, I quickly put my plans into action. With the exception of Lebowski Fest (which doesn't count because all I did was drink beer and bowl), I hadn't been to a convention in ten years. I tell ya, back in the day, I loved going to sci fi conventions–-especially ones for Blakes 7. Those were some terrific cons, but I digress.
In preparation for the big Star Wars convention, I reached deep down into my T-shirt drawer archives and found my old Bantha Tracks/Official Star Wars Fan Club T-shirt. Oh yeah, I'm old school Star Wars fan. I also made myself a sandwich because at a convention you can never be sure what the food situation is like. There might be only vending machines or only expensive restaurants. Sometimes you can't stop to eat, and since I only had one day, I didn't want to stop. I also took a moment to meditate to find my center. At a convention, you will stand on line a lot and it is important to keep your center–-or at least your sense of humor. Remember, sci fi conventions are not just fun, they're also funny. Where else can adults carry blasters and not get arrested? I don't take this stuff super seriously (although don't get me started on Han shooting first), but I like the fun of it.
When I arrived at the convention center at 9:30 on a Saturday morning, I found myself among thousands of people. I circled the blocks and found reasonable parking then set off to join the Star Wars masses. I took a few tries to find the ‘I want to buy tickets' line, but once I found it, it moved along slow but steady. I even showed the kids how to make little towers out of pencils on the registration table. After I paid my money and was given a day pass with C3PO on it, a nice guy even told me where I could get a goodie bag.
My first convention stop was the dealers hall where you could buy T-shirts, toys, gizmos, and artwork. A lot of money changed hands as fans snapped up cool things to materialize their fannish obsessions. I asked one dealer of DVDs about the Wookie Christmas Special, but he didn't have it. I'm not interested in toys so much anymore. I sold all my action figures to come out to California.
At the back of the dealers hall was the autograph area. Back in the old days, if you went to a con and wanted an actor to sign something, they would just sign it. You might have to buy one of their photos, but it was pretty casual. Now there is big money in autographs. At this convention, you had to buy autograph coupons to get something signed. Hopefully, the coupon money is going to the actor. The two most expensive coupons (at thirty-five bucks) were Anthony Daniels (C3PO) and Carrie Fisher (interestingly enough, I have autographs from both of them). No, I did not cross paths with Carrie Fisher, so this will not be episode three of the Carrie Fisher serial. Other Star Wars actors signing autographs included Jake Lloyd, Amy Allen, Jeremy Bulloch, Tim Dry, Peter Mayhew, Tem Morrison, Mary Oyaya, and Simon Williamson.
After leaving the dealers/autograph hall, I realized that I had to focus my convention going. I only had one day and time was passing faster than Uncle Owen's blue milk through a Jawa's small intestine. Okay, that's a little disgusting. Let's move on. Looking at the event schedule, I found my goal, and it was two words long–-Irvin Kershner.
At this point, I realize half my readership is saying ‘whoah' and the other half is saying ‘who?' Irvin Kershner directed The Empire Strikes Back, the second Star Wars movie and my favorite of the three. Apparently, ESB is the favorite of many fans and was recently voted best Star Wars episode ever. Yes, ever.
I lined up for the Irvin Kershner talk about forty-five minutes before the start of it. That might seem a little extreme, but there were at least fifty people on line ahead of me. Besides on line (the real line, not the internet) is where you will hear all the convention gossip, and sure enough it came from two guys from South Carolina. To give you a mental picture, the guys were in their mid to late thirties. They wore Star Wars T-shirts, but other than that, they looked like average loud guys. They were obsessed with the Gentle Giant action figures and had been unable to score a Yoda. Yes, grown men were bummed about action figures, but that's totally cool in the convention setting. They also had friends who were going to the Robot Chicken panel which they wanted to go to. Additionally, they had also had problems getting into the opening ceremonies on Friday night. There had been a bomb scare or a suspicious package. I would later learn from a mother and daughter on another line that the opening ceremonies were not all that.
When I stood up to go into the hall, I saw lines of people behind me. I think I had timed my getting on line well. A lady dressed as a Jedi Knight yelled something at us like a drill sergeant, but no one could understand what she was saying. We guessed it was about where to sit. Besides, it was not the Jedi way to yell. That's what the Jedi mind trick is for, so she was no Jedi.
When we got into the hall, I scored a seat in the third row–-right behind the two ‘staff' rows. At one point a Tusken Raider sat down in front of me. Nice to know that the convention doesn't discriminate against the sand people in their hiring practices. Inside the hall, a disco ball was turning and a club mix was playing. On stage were some very hip couches. Back in the day, you'd be lucky if there were chairs up there. I liked the atmosphere. I wanted to get up and boogie.
Jay Laga'aia took the stage. He wore a pinstripe suit and was a real cutie. Now, you might be asking, who's Jay Laga'aia? I was certainly asking that. It turns out he was Captain Typho in Clones and Sith. Yep, that's him. He seems awfully nice.
Irvin Kershner came out and spoke like the film professor he was. He talked about living within the film while shooting it. While making ESB, he had to believe all the gadgets worked so the actors would believe. He wanted ESB to be about the characters. R2D2 was a character, and he felt he found the zen of R2D2 when R2 gets up on his toes to look into Yoda's hut.
He also told the story of Han Solo's ‘I know' line. The original line was ‘I love you too', but Solo would never say that. He would never follow the Princess's lead. He was too cocky for that. It was not in his character. So they were shooting right before lunchtime, and the scene wasn't working. Kershner kept trying different lines but nothing worked. The crew went on overtime but they were getting hungry. Finally, Kershner told Harrison Ford to just do it. Ford came up with ‘I know' and thus movie magic was made.
After the Kershner panel, I wandered around the convention. There was a room of Lucasfilm props, models, and costumes. A lot of guys were taking pictures of the Princess Leia slave girl outfit even though it was only on a mannequin. I guess it was the thought that it had once been worn by the princess that got them all excited about it.
There were also a few R2D2s roaming around. The kids got a kick out of him, but I noticed a childlike smile come over many adults too. R2 is one cool droid. If you scanned the crowd, you'd probably find one guy discretely holding a remote control. Droid building has gotten big, and there was a long line for the droid building exhibit.
However, the spot that most amused me was the United States Post Office Shipping Counter. Once you've bought all your toys, you can ship them home instead of taking them back on the plane. There's no need to worry if your light saber will make it through airport security–-although that could be an interesting scene–-‘look it's not as clumsy or random as a blaster'.
I started taking pictures of people in costume. Women costumers must love the new trilogy. It used to be long white Princess Leia gowns or slave girl outfits. It was the virgin or the whore with no middle ground and nothing really pretty to wear although one girl did wear a nice variation on the Princess Leia Bespin lounge wear. Now with the Padme couture, there are many more options, so a girl can dress like a Star Wars female with a bit of style.
Something I found interesting was the abundance of Stormtroopers and Imperial officers. Sure Stormtrooper costumes are very iconic and a definite challenge to make, but why would you want to be part of the evil empire?
To me, Star Wars was about the rebels fighting the evil empire. I didn't want to be a faceless stormtrooper. I wanted to be a Corellian slacker. Some wanted to be Jedis like Luke, but in the new trilogy, the Jedis turned out to be twats, so that was that. Yes, I can understand the need for anonymity at a convention where your picture will be taken thousands of times, but still there are a ton of creatures not in the evil empire.
The highlights of my day at the con were the two panels with the production guys from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies. Appearing for Star Wars were Ben Burtt (sound designer), Richard Edlund (visual effects), Ken Ralston (visual effects), Norman Reynolds (production designer), Phil Tippett (stop motion and creatures), and Robert Watts (production supervisor and producer). Appearing for Indiana Jones were Ben Burtt, Richard Edlund, Denise Muren (miniatures), Norman Reynolds, Robert Watts.
It was a thrill because I grew up seeing their names in the credits, and these guys had some stories to tell. Robert Watts was worth the price admission and probably could tour with a one man show. He would go off on these fantastic tangents and then turn to Norman Reynolds and say ‘Norman, do you remember. . .' Apparently, the two of them had some adventures. I kept waiting for ‘Norman, do you remember when we had to shoot our way out of the whore house in Hong Kong?' However, it was a family crowd, so he didn't go there.
At about seven that evening, the convention started to shut down. I didn't want to go to the Carrie Fisher evening or the fan party. I had walked miles around the convention center and I was beat. I decided to walk toward the car and stop at the first restaurant/bar I found. I wanted to take some time to chill.
I wandered into the Holiday Inn and saddled up to the bar. The bar staff all wore Star Wars t-shirts and had made up a special Star Wars drink menu. The Darth Vader cocktail was chock full of booze and included a shot of Jager. The C3PO was yellow and fruity, and the Yoda was made with Midori.
I ordered a beer and a chicken quesadilla and got to talking with a guy who was in charge of the security detail for the convention. He said the convention was going well for him. I said that fans have the expectation of waiting in line, so they don't mind doing it as long as they know they are in the right place. He was nice to talk to, but I had to get going. The Honey Bunny was done servicing his car.