Arriving up to ExCel on the DLR was a great feeling. Much like Comic-Con, it was easy to pick out Star Wars fanatics from the crowd of commuters, because they all seemed to be talking to each other about BB-8 and Rogue One on the train. Before we entered the ExCel conference centre in London’s Docklands, I spotted a Rey cosplayer, in full Jakku peasant regalia, ordering a caramel macchiato from a Starbucks kiosk.
The cosplayers went all out. I passed heaps of Stormtroopers, Sandtroopers and Darth Vaders on the way in. Lots of people were asking for photos and nobody was turned down. Everyone had time for a picture, a pose, a smile. The creative cosplay also extended to cross-overs; female Darth Vaders in skirts, Limp Bizkit Stormtroopers (I’m serious), Kylo Ren or “Matt” from the Saturday Night Live comedy skit. It was cool to see FN-2187 style Stormtroopers, complete with blood on the helmet.
The first exhibit I went to was the Costumes and Props from Rogue One show, which put the film’s new character costumes and models on display. The exhibit itself was comprehensive, and gave a sense of what is to come in the next instalment of the franchise. A highlight for me was seeing the new Imperial Deathtrooper costumes, which are basically specialised Stormtrooper armour with a bronze colour coat.
The Star Wars High-Performance RC Experience was a show at Star Wars Celebration that demoed the new Propel Star Wars RC crafts. As the first time that the general public could see and pre-order the units, the show itself was amazing; Propel had set up two rooms that were emulating scenes from Star Wars. The first was the scene in Star Wars IV: A New Hope where the Rebel Alliance destroy the Death Star, and the second was the Speeder Bike Chase scene from Return of the Jedi. Both shows were amazing; the team at Propel were controlling the RC units with precision and skill. I loved their show! They had great lightning and smoke effects. The Speeder Bike Chase scene room even used real dirt, so it actually smelt like being in the outdoors.
In the Main Exhibition Hall, the LEGO stall was a great addition – it gave people the chance to build mini X-wings or TIE fighters (you got to choose dark or light side. It was a part of the gimmick). Those people who completed them would get a free LEGO pack. Kids loved it. Even older people like myself got to have a go! There were life-size models of Rey, BB-8 and Kylo Ren in LEGO which was so cool to see.
We also stopped by to look at a few comics. I was amazed at the fact that Wonderworld comics were exhibiting all the way from Michigan. Wonderword have exclusively produced special variant covers of Star Wars comics. I picked up the Star Wars Special C3-PO #1 Wonderworld comics variant.
Next up we went and saw the section where the R2D2 Builders’ Club was. These guys build R2D2s and BB-8s from scratch. I LOVED THIS. EVERYONE WAS SO ENTHUSIASTIC AND THEY LOOK LIKE THEY PUT A FUCKLOAD INTO THE CRAFT. No wonder they hired a couple of fans to build R2D2 in The Force Awakens. Amazing job – I wish I could do this! The club can be found at http://astromech.net/.
The people at PropShop UK had a little makeshift room with exhibits from The Force Awakens. Props such as Darth Vader’s melted helmet (“I will finish what you started”), X-wing fighter pilot helmets and Kylo Ren’s mask were all on display. They even gave me a chance to put on FN-2187’s helmet for a photo op. If you wanted to, you could also get your face 3D printed onto a figurine of an X-Wing fighter pilot! Cool stuff.
Unfortunately for the common fan like myself, there were plenty of areas of the exhibition which were simply inaccessible unless you were press or paid extra on top of your 40-odd quid exhibition ticket. If you didn’t go and queue early in the morning, you had no chance to even go and see a panel, like the Rogue One panel or Mark Hamill Q&A on Friday, or the Anthony Daniels panel on the Saturday. I did get tickets to see the EA Battlefront Conference, which was a good experience. The panel offered exciting insight into new additions to the Star Wars Battlefront franchise, such as the Death Star DLC, and more from the creators of the game. I’d say that because this was so limited, I was quite glad that I didn’t get a full weekend pass. You can pretty much do all the exhibition bits in a few hours. It would have been cool to have many more screens showing these talks, or even bigger halls where people could fill it out instead of just 4,000. Despite this, the talks are still available on YouTube, although it would have been great to experience the atmosphere first-hand.
I’m also sad that I didn’t get to go and see Trials on Tatooine by ILMxLAB, which is a new VR experiment by the studio that lets viewers explore Tatooine in all of its glory. It’s something that was exclusive at Celebration, but once again, the wristbands were all snapped up hours before. This was a bit disappointing again. I don’t see the point of going somewhere only to be turned around even before you’ve had a chance to queue. Not everyone can queue up 24 hours in advance.
All in all, I found that it was the people – the fans and the exhibitors and staff – who made Star Wars Celebration 2016 so successful for me. The cosplayers were fantastic and the overall atmosphere on the day was electric. What let the experience down for me was the lack of availability of some of the more exclusive events and panels, and the additional charges which seemed to make these special features inaccessible to normal fans like me. Compared to last year, which was heavy with The Force Awakens exclusives, Star Wars Celebration 2016 didn’t to seem to offer much in the way of new content and launches. Despite that, it was incredible to see the franchise come to London, in all its glory, and to get involved with the spirit of Star Wars.
Simon Davidian and Kirsty Capes
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