Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
This coming weekend is Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, where thousands upon thousands of lucky Star Wars fans will rendezvous to share their love and respect for the galaxy George Lucas built, meet other people who made it possible, and hopefully learn lots of news and spoilers about The Force Awakens. California is beyond our reach, but a few of our friends will be there and should provide us with lots of updates and photos or else.
I’ve been digging through our photos and writings from our experiences at the second and third Celebrations, which were each held here in Indianapolis in 2002 and 2005…
Our original write-up of our Celebration II experience clocked in at over 10,000 words, not including the Anthony Daniels prologue. You’ll pardon me if I don’t reprint it here, because the details are exhausting and minute and excessive and chronicled far too many minutes that weren’t worth chronicling. I think I can whittle that down to a good-parts version and add another batch of photos at the end.
Thursday, May 2, 2002:
The night before, we had dinner at the Circle Centre Mall food court, where we met several internet cohorts in person for the first time. This wasn’t our first time meeting online folks in person in a public group setting (that was our 2000 road trip to St. Louis), but Celebration II was our first time meeting friends from our longtime Star Wars message-board home, the one where we’ve been members since 1999. We figured out what each other looked like, we made buttons using someone’s handy button-maker, and we bought advance tickets for the next evening’s get-together: an opening-weekend showing of the first Spider-Man movie. Obviously Attack of the Clones would’ve made more sense, but it was two weekends away.
Friday, May 3, 2002:
The lines for Will Call and unregistered attendees turned out to be one and the same. They/it were several blocks long, winding beyond the Indiana Convention Center and due south until it reached the RCA Dome, back when that was a thing that hadn’t yet been demolished. Long lines were the order of the entire weekend.
At opening ceremonies, all the biggest names — George Lucas, Ewan McGregor, John Williams, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Natalie Portman, and Ian McDiarmid — were totally not there, but sent CII their prerecorded blessings. We received live greetings from Anthony Daniels, Hayden Christensen, producer Rick McCallum, Lucasfilm’s Steve Sansweet, and some Lucasfilm marketing guy. The highlight of the program was exclusive never-before-seen sneak-preview Attack of the Clones footage just for us: the entire lightsaber battle between Yoda and Count Dooku. Everyone lost their minds. They showed it again. There were tears of incalculable ecstasy.
I indulged Anne in a Star Wars Expanded Universe panel focusing on the still-in-progress “New Jedi Order” arc, featuring contributing authors R.A. Salvatore, James Luceno, Aaron Allston (R.I.P.), and Troy Denning, plus two Del Rey editors. Later the tables were turned when I had the pleasure of meeting artist and Quinlan Vos co-creator Jan Duursema at the Dark Horse Comics booth.
The exhibit hall was exactly what exhibit halls today are like. At the time, our only previous super-sized convention experience was Wizard World Chicago 1999, so my 2002 notes kinda go on and on about all the booths and dealers, the copious semi-nude paintings in the artists’ section, the overpriced collectibles, and other things that are standard-issue con decor today. By the time we found the official Celebration II merchandise store, it was a gutted wasteland where nearly everything was sold out for the day, though we were told there’d be more tomorrow.
We ran into our various friends throughout the day, and convened that evening for Spider-Man. At the time, everyone loved it. It would be a few years before we learned better things were possible.
Saturday, May 4, 2002:
…was the same day as the annual Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, which has another headliner sponsor today, but is otherwise the same event, down to the part where several road closures complicate any downtown travel attempts beyond a saint’s patience. Any Celebration II attendees who weren’t staying in downtown hotels, such as us locals, had a rough morning weaving around barricades and seeking the cheapest possible event parking.
Carrie Fisher was in the house. Her autograph line was literally blocks long and lasted all day. After the first couple hours they knew how this would play out, began sitting down on the hallway floor in circles and playing cards. By late afternoon they were marrying, procreating, and burying their dead. Anthropologists gathered around to document their newly-developing rituals and customs. Several hours later it was capped, much to the chagrin of those who were in line beyond the “cap” mark and had just been effectively told to kiss their autographs goodbye after so much futile waiting. The survivors, realizing that they now faced the prospect of zero-population growth, abandoned the just-written Carrie Fisher Autograph Line Colony Charter of Freedom and surrendered themselves to the con organizers’ dictatorial rule once again. One Bessie Bubowski of Memphis, Tennessee, who was part-way through sewing the very first Carrie Fisher Autograph Line Colony Official Flag, cussed up a blue streak and set her half-finished flag on fire. The Carrie Fisher Autograph Line Colony police began to accost her, until they realized their fledgling nation had dissolved ten minutes ago.
(Not too different from how Indiana Comic Con 2015 went, really.)
We attended a Q&A called “The Rick McCallum Spectacular”, in which Lucas’ favorite producer raved on and on about these newfangled “digital movie projectors” that he was so certain were the wave of the future. He showed eight minutes of Attack of the Clones footage that I described at the time, only partly tongue-in-cheek, as “awesomely spectacularly gosh-wow nifty-keen kick-butt”. The footage was accompanied by John Williams’ score and absolutely no dialogue. When the quote-unquote “Q&A” part began, one fan asked about how we as a society can come together and make digital movie projectors a reality nationwide, allowing McCallum to repeat his sales pitch using slightly different words, and then he made his A/V guys show us the entire eight-minute montage one more time. No one got to ask a question #2, and that whole “digital projector” fad someday took care of itself.
We returned to the Celebration II official store and waited 110 minutes in line just to buy ourselves each a Jorg Sacul action figure, a Celebration II exclusive.
There was a room with original SW movie props. There was lunch with friends at a chili restaurant called the Hard Times Cafe. (Today that spot is a Noodles & Company.) There was the autograph line for the Expanded Universe authors, though Salvatore’s line was capped ten minutes before his signing began.
There was a Q&A session with the Warwick Davis, star of Return of the Jedi, Willow, the Harry Potter series, the Leprechaun series, and more, more, more.
I took lots and lots of notes during Davis’ hour, but I’ll spare you. The best moment came when one questioner stepped up and yelled into the audience’s microphone, “EWOKS SHOULD BE EXTINCT!” Davis looked at him, smiled, and said (paraphrased), “That’s great. Thanks, Jeremy.” The entire crowd turned and watched Jeremy Bulloch, a.k.a. Boba Fett, step away from the mike and quickly exit the room.
Dinner that evening was with friends at the Steak ‘n Shake down the street. My original recount of that occasion was several hundred words long and the TL;DR version is “the service was phenomenally terrible”. It was the complete opposite of our friends.
Sunday, May 5, 2002:
Today we almost never step onto a convention floor on Sundays, but this was Celebration II, we were younger, and this was therefore different. We spent part of the day watching a series of Star Wars fan films (shorts only, nothing feature-length), through which I kept notes in case future generations needed to know someday. Again, I’m cutting that part, though I’ll cheerily dump that and any other outtakes in the comments section below if anyone out there really is interested. My favorite (at the time) was called “Figure Club” parodied exactly what you think it parodied, and is available nowhere online. I’d be surprised if any of those short films still exist.
Our final Celebration II event was a Dark Horse Comics panel featuring Jan Duursema, editor Randy Stradley, inker Howard Shum, and “Tag & Bink” co-creator Kevin Rubio. This marked a very rare moment in my life, because I never ask questions at panels, but this was sparsely attended and I really wanted to know something. Unfortunately I prefaced the question by confessing I’m more of a comics fan than a Star Wars fan. That earned me a few good-natured boos and hisses from the other fifteen or twenty people in the room. Fun times.
Mostly, though, Sunday was autograph lines. Hence the upcoming photo section.
Having learned a lesson from the wretched Friday and Saturday entrance lines, we arrived super-early on Sunday to figure out their weird autograph system. Nearly three dozen different SW-related actors, actresses, and stuntmen great and small were signing autographs for a price. These guests were seated in a town-square arrangement and were cordoned off from the rest of the Exhibit Hall (except Carrie Fisher, who was elsewhere in the Convention Center establishing the Second Carrie Fisher Nation with a bunch of unrequited autograph seekers who’d learned nothing on Saturday). To enter the autograph area at all, you first had to buy coupons for however many autographs you wanted, then redeem a coupon with each person whose autograph you obtained. Coupons could be purchased for $15 apiece, or you could buy a book of ten for $120.
Anne had arranged to split a book with one of our board buddies. At the end of Saturday she went ahead and bought said book in advance. Sunday we ran into our co-conspirator, who decided she only wanted one (1) autograph. She gave Anne $12.00, took one (1) ticket, went on her merry way, and we never saw her for the rest of the show. That was probably best for her personal safety.
That left Anne with nine tickets, which she insisted on splitting with me, even though I hadn’t planned to get any for myself. She’s always been thoughtful and generous like that. Remember, this was when we were best friends, not even dating yet.
When the doors opened at 9 a.m. sharp, the front, middle, and back of the entrance line bum-rushed the doors. Much yelling and tension ensued. It had been a long, long weekend for everyone. Patience and several other virtues were wearing thin.
We had to start with Kenny Baker’s line because Anne promised my son she’d get him R2D2’s autograph. The line took 2½ hours because first he had to catch up on hundreds of pre-purchased autograph requests before he could turn to us in-person beings who were ready to come up and meet him. Baker carefully signed his full name in legible cursive on each photo at an average speed of 10.78 seconds per autograph according to my measurements, which is much longer than the autographing industry standard of .05 seconds per unreadable squiggle. Eventually live humans were allowed to approach, but he didn’t have time to look up from the table because of all that intensive autographing.
Baker will next be seen this December in an art film called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You may have seen the awesome new trailer. Probably today. If not, you should see it now. Several times.
Meanwhile, my son’s R2D2 autograph, which we framed and had in his bedroom for years, is sitting in a pile in the other room, left behind when he moved up to college.
By this time the lines for the big, big names — Billy Dee Williams, David Prowse, Jeremy Bulloch, President Fisher, et al. — were impossibly long and capped. Meanwhile, the crowd waiting to enter the autograph area grew more restless, largely because the staff was made up of a lot of volunteers that hadn’t put much thought into organization. At some point, for reasons undiscovered to this very day, the David Prowse line was ordered to merge with the Billy Dee Williams line. Some people became overly paranoid that others were sneaking in, and vocalized their suspicions to the annoyance of everyone else. Obviously, with thousands of people, security and volunteers could not possibly catch all line-jumpers and other malcontents, but what can you do?
Tensions kept rising. At least two visible skirmishes resulted. The first one concluded quickly when a sturdy bouncer-looking type laid a definitive verbal smackdown a foot away from some disgruntled college guy’s face. I didn’t see much of the second tussle, but at one point another guy yelled at a staffer at the top of his lungs, “I WILL SUE YOUR ASS!” We never did find out what the deal was. But the crowd outside the autograph area (barricaded safely from us lucky folk inside the area) was one of the ugliest ones I’ve ever seen, to this very day.
When we escaped Camp Baker, we had eight more autograph tickets and the firm determination that we were going to have fun NO MATTER WHAT, which became Anne’s personal motto of the day. We agreed we were done with Star Wars A-listers.
Whom we had the pleasure of meeting instead:
* Julian Glover! Kids our age knew him as villains in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and For Your Eyes Only. As General Veers he led the Hoth battle in The Empire Strikes Back.
Glover turned 80 on March 27th, but is still keeping busy as Grand Maester Pycelle in Game of Thrones.
* Ken Colley! Captain Piett was a rare Imperial officer who lived long enough to appear in two Original Trilogy films, thanks to his promotion to Admiral when his predecessor was Force-choked to death for incompetence.
Colley is two years younger than Glover but appears now and again in various BBC productions that rarely see Stateside release.
* Peter Mayhew! Chewbacca should’ve been unattainable as a certified A-lister. When we passed his table, he had no line. At all. This seemed wrong.
Despite health issues, Mayhew will be joining Kenny Baker and other old friends in the forthcoming Academy Award contender Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In its brand new trailer that you should’ve watched eight more times in the time it took me to type the last several paragraphs, that’s him at the end standing next to a famous old friend we’ll probably never see at a convention.
* Warwick Davis! Yeah, him again. Close enough to A-list, but his line was likewise surprisingly not bad.
Davis had his own reality series for a while, and has a double-secret role in the British war drama Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I don’t think he’s in the hot new trailer, but perhaps we should watch it twelve more times just to make sure.
* William Hootkins! The man, the myth, the legend: Jek Porkins, ace X-Wing pilot. He popped up in dozens of roles before he passed away in 2005.
* John Hollis! Best known as Lando’s sidekick Lobot, he was also a Kryptonian elder in the first two Superman films, and a guest star on assorted BBC genre shows such as Doctor Who, The Avengers, and Blake’s 7. Hollis passed away in 2005, five days before William Hootkins did the same.
* Mary Oyaya! Better known as Luminara Unduli, one of the Jedi Masters in Episodes II and III who had no lines. Today she lives and performs in Australia, but her IMDb page curiously remains an unfinished work.
* Nalini Krishan! She spent a few moments as Luminara’a padawan, Barriss Offee. Krishan recently relocated to L.A. and is plotting her next career move.
* One of our favorites of the bunch: puppeteer Tim Rose, one of the guys behind the Admiral Ackbar. He was a very nice man whose wife accompanied him and with whom we had a very nice chat. She showed us an old, old Ackbar figure she picked up from one of the dealers, who gave her a nice discount upon learning that she was Mrs. Ackbar.
Rose’s official website confirms he’s signing at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim this weekend.
* For our last autograph ticket, we narrowed down our choices to two: the youngsters playing Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru for a single scene of dialogue in Attack of the Clones and one wordless moment at the end of Revenge of the Sith. We could meet the completely unknown Bonnie Piesse or the completely unknown Joel Edgerton.
Bonnie Piesse had us at “Hello”, which was literally her only line in the entire Prequel Trilogy. Her official site indicates she’s done some Australian TV and occasional gigs as a singer/songwriter. We must confess we do not have a photo of Joel Edgerton, prominent costar of Warrior, Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty…
We had a blast chatting with these interesting folks, as well as getting their autographs and taking photos with the ones who didn’t care if it was forbidden or not. This sort of pleasant interaction was far better than we ever could have hoped for with the Major Celebrities.
Fun was officially had. After the fan films and the Dark Horse panel, it all ended far too soon. We left downtown, dropped off our rolls of film at Target to have them developed, drove home and collapsed into happy, strung-out heaps.
Three years later, we did something like it all over again.
(P.S.: Seen the new trailer for The Force Awakens? It’s rather nifty.)