Sunday, April 2, 2017

Pre-Celebration VIII

I did not realize just how excited for Star Wars Celebration VIII I was until the one-month-out mark came around. That’s when the fanboy giddiness kicked in and my preparations began. As I am wired for project planning and live by lists and spreadsheets, waiting until a month out to dive in was odd for me. Chalk it up to one of life’s little anomalies I guess. Regardless, once I got in the right frame of mind, it was game time. It’s been five years since my last Celebration, so as the old Star Wars saying goes, “This is where the fun begins”!

Celebration I in 1999 and Celebration II in 2002 never even came across my radar. My life at the time was a non-strop whirlwind of college, work, music, performing and touring, sports, women, and partying. I was at the tail end of all that in 2005 when Celebration III took place. However, my travel schedule that year was rather full, so the best I could do was just to cop some of the convention exclusives online. Then Celebration IV in 2007 came. It was in Los Angeles, where my closet childhood friend from Virginia/DC lived, and I hadn’t been out to see him in a few years. So it was perfect, I could attend my first Star Wars Celebration and hang out with my boy for the weekend. In hindsight, from a convention standpoint, it wasn’t the greatest or well organized show (remember, CIV was pre-Reed Pop), but for me it was spectacular! None of my family, crew, or friends are into Star Wars, so CIV was the first time in my life I was surrounded by, and interacting with, other Star Wars fans. And I drank it all in with the thirst of a man who had just crossed the Dune Sea on foot. I saw, shopped, and experienced as much as I could cram into each day. Then at night my boy would pick me up from my hotel, we’d hit Koreatown for dinner (when I’m in L.A. all I want to eat is Korean BBQ and In-N-Out Burger), before his friend, who was on a TV show, would take us to these exclusive Hollywood nightclubs and parties. I don’t think I slept more than two hours a night, if that. But I was part of the panel crowd who were the first people on Earth to see the first-ever The Clone Wars trailer, so it was all well worth it. In addition to all that, CIV was the catalyst to me joining the 501st Legion. I was previously aware of the 501st and loved the charity aspect of the organization. However, despite wanting to be a Stormtrooper since I was three years old, I wasn’t sold on the notion of adults running around in costumes. That all changed after meeting men and women from the Legion and seeing them in action at CIV. When I returned home, I immediately set out looking to get my hands on some TK armor. Funny story, on the first morning of CIV, I got a photo of a 501st Stormtrooper arresting me. I obviously didn’t know it at the time, but he was from Minnesota. He was the Central Garrison CO, and a year later I’m at his house so he could help me with the final modifications to my armor. Seeming there isn’t too many 6’7” Stormtroopers (he also does Vader), I showed him the picture and he confirmed it was him. Small universe!

Next up was Celebration V in Orlando in 2010. While I can’t predict the future, I’m certain CV will go down as my absolute favorite Celebration of all time. By 2010 I was married and had been in the 501st Legion for two years. My wife came with me and we were going to spend the week after Celebration at my cousin’s house with him and his wife. I was a little nervous my wife, who is by no means a Star Wars fan, would be bored out of her mind. She like the movies, especially Episode II, but other than being supportive of me, wasn’t really into it. As The Force would have it though, she loved it! We were at the convention center open to close all four days and had a blast. Reed Pop did an amazing job. Looking back, it wasn’t one big, defining moment that made CV so great, but a culmination of hundreds of little things. From the photo ops, exhibits, panels, people we met, collection shopping, to the 501st parties and after parties, my interview for a documentary, the Ahsoka statue (which I’m still trying to convince Steve Sansweet to sell to me…haha), and the conversations with strangers on smoke breaks. I could easily do an entire piece on stories from CV, but for the sake of this article, I’ll just leave it at that. Two years later, in 2012, my wife and I were back in Orlando for Celebration VI. And while CVI was quite as fantastic as CV, it was still awesome! Some major highlights from CVI were being less than ten feet away from George Lucas at a panel, taking mad photos with Victoria “Scruffy Rebel” Schmidt when she was in her Ahsoka (still the best Ahsoka I’ve seen to date), and sitting right behind Seth Green to watch Kyle Newman’s “Smuggler’s Bounty” radio drama. A little over two months later however, George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney, and the Star Wars portion of my world came crashing down. I truly did make an effort to keep an open mind and stay optimistic, despite what my gut was telling me at the time. But sadly, by mid-2014 my worst fears were realized, and Disney had officially destroyed all George Lucas and Lucasfilm had worked so hard to build, not to mention the future of Star Wars for me. Despite that, I still wanted to attend Celebration VII in Anaheim in 2015. Although Reed Pop was still running the show, I was apprehensive about what a Disney-Star Wars Celebration would be like, and how drastic the differences would be (I was already not happy with “them” changing Celebration VII to Celebration Anaheim, as it signified yet another blow to Lucasfilm tradition). I never got to find out. Less than a month out from CVII, something personal arose which forced my wife and I to cancel our trip. It was hard for me to sell our badges (emotionally, literally it was mad easy), as I never envisioned missing another US Celebration. However, I sold them to two fellow 501st members here in Minneapolis, so there was some comfort in knowing they were able to go (four-day badges had long since been sold out). The most disappointing part of not going to CVII wasn’t missing the convention itself. In 2013 I became the admin and content manager for the 501st Legion Twitter account and a member of the 501st Legion social media team. During the two year span between that and CVII I met and formed relationships with 501st members around the country (and world), who I was looking forward to meeting in person. Not to mention all the fellow Ahsoka fans I interacted with via running @AhsokaTanosLife. Additionally, I was looking forward to the first-ever live 501st Tweeting from a Celebration. But hey, Sith happens.

So here I sit now, a week and a half before CVIII, and five years removed from CVI. And I’m as excited as a Jawa in a Coruscant junkyard! I have essentially zero interest in anything Disney-Star Wars, so that nullifies my interest in most of the panels, exhibits, etc. Thus, my agenda this time around is much different.

Live 501st Legion Tweeting
I don’t bring armor with me to Celebration. I never have and never will, unless I get my Ahsoka Loyalist Clone armor done, then I’d rock that just because it would be unique enough to justify missing other things while in armor. So I’m looking forward to having a second chance to do the first-ever live Tweeting from the 501st Legion Twitter account at a Celebration. And being in street clothes, running around the floor all weekend, I’m bound to capture some amazing things.

Over the years I’ve been able to do some insanely cool things with my @AhsokaTanosLife Twitter account and ahsokatanoslife Instagram account. I’ve built a sizeable following of fellow Ahsoka fans. I’ve made #TanoTuesday and #AhsokasDailyHoloImage social media staples. And I’ve created two annual holidays, Ahsoka Tano Day and Ahsoka Fans Day, which are both celebrated by fans all across the globe. @AhsokaTanosLife was in its infancy during CVI so I want to go all out for CVIII. First and foremost, I printed four @AhsokaTanosLife t-shirts, one for each day of the convention, so that I’m representing at all times. Second, I created a CVIII exclusive, limited edition @AhsokaTanosLife postcard. I had two hundred and fifty printed, each is numbered, and I will be giving them out for free at Celebration.

The Lost Holocron
I’m hoping my first of its kind, all-original Star Wars Hip Hop album, The Lost Holocron, will be well represented at Celebration. I haven’t received official confirmation from the various parties involved yet, but chances are people will be hearing songs from The Lost Holocron throughout the weekend. Be it at panels, on the exhibition floor, at the 501st Bash, the 501st Banquet, or during various events/activities, DJs and sound engineers might be playing tracks off the album. So that’s dope! I’m also going to be handing out The Lost Holocron business cards throughout Celebration so that folks have the info and links, and can go check out the music on their own.

There is a long list of individuals I’m looking forward to meeting in person for the first time. There are 501st Legion members, Ahsoka fans, and Star Wars acquaintances I’ve formed online relationships with over the past five years since CVI, not to mention folks I haven’t seen since CVI, and it will be great to link up.

Ahsoka Lives Day
Johnamarie Macias and Amy Ratcliffe started the Ahsoka Lives Day at Celebration tradition at CVII in Anaheim. The second one was held at Celebration Europe III in 2016. This will be my first, and I’m excited to take part in the festivities.

Collection Shopping
As a Star Wars collector, there is truly no better place to shop than at Celebration. One can find items from all forty years of Star Wars, without the ludicrous mark-ups online dealers and sites try to pass along. So no matter the Celebration, shopping is always one of the best parts!

I’ve always found the dopest thing about Celebration is that people can go for drastically different reasons, have drastically experiences, yet everyone can thoroughly enjoy themselves. Thus, saying “Celebration has something for every Star Wars fan”, is actually a spot-on statement.

Numerous individuals, blogs, websites, etc., have written “Celebration Survival Guides” or “Celebration Planning Guides” types of articles. So if you’re looking for a full version of something like that, they are definitely out there. However, I’ll leave you with a few of mine:

1.Planning Your Day
First and foremost, understand it’s physically not possible to do everything you want to do each day. There are multiple things are going on at any given time, so you will be forced to prioritize. Remember to factor in the time you will spend waiting in line for things, especially the bigger, more popular panels. So sometimes skipping one thing you really want to attend may allow you to attend three things during that same time period. There’s often a balance, but only you know what’s most important to you.

2.Bring a Poster Tube
Unless you have absolutely zero interest in art work and/or posters, free or purchased, I highly recommend bringing a plastic poster tube with you to Celebration. While vendors do sell poster tubes at Celebration, they are much cheaper bought elsewhere. Poster tubes come with a shoulder strap so they are easy to have on your persona at all times, and they fit easily into the overhead compartments on airplanes. In my experience, a poster tube doesn’t even count as a second carry-on. There is amazing artwork to be purchased, and more free posters given away than you’ll know what to do with, thus, a poster tube keeps them safe during the trip.

3.Take Smoke Breaks
Even if you don’t smoke cigarettes or e-cigs, take a break every few hours and head outside the convention center. I’m a former cigarette smoker and current e-cig smoker, and the best conversations I’ve had, coolest folks I’ve met, and closest relationships I’ve formed, all happened while outside on smoke breaks. At all three Celebrations I’ve attended. Inside, everyone is super laser focused on what they are doing/experiencing at the convention. Outside however, people are just hanging out enjoying a smoke. So you easily get to chatting with people, getting to know folks better, and building contacts and relationships.

See everyone at Celebration!