So far my Labor Day weekend on the internet has been all about (a) toy fans reveling in the Star Wars “Force Friday” merchandise onslaught, and (b) longtime cohorts kicking around Dragon*Con in Atlanta seeing lots of SW-related costumes, actors, and at least one novelist. I’m happy for everyone enjoying themselves for those various reasons, but skimming through all this STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS has put me in a nostalgic frame of mind about a relevant occasion from our own past that I meant to dredge up four months ago for May the Fourth but delayed due to distractions.
Ten years ago last April, my wife Anne and I attended all four days of Star Wars Celebration III (“CIII” to our friends), the second and final major SW convention to grace the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis. As with the 2002 shindig (previously relived on MCC here, here, and here), our weekend was filled with costumes, props, things containing Star Wars logos, performers, crowds, terrible line management, and out-of-town internet friends given a great excuse to visit.
Sadly, my own write-up of the experience was atomized shortly after its initial posting due to a freak accident involving dumb stupid idiotic software that made it too easy for a trusting message-board administrator to delete dozens of threads with a single misunderstanding keystroke. Anne’s own version of events survived the purge and remains online as a minute-by-minute account more thrilling to those of us who were there, probably less so to outsiders. This, then, is the recap of her recap.
(Please note: all but a few images from this three-part MCC miniseries are scans from 35mm prints. They’re not the best ever, but they’re what we have left.)
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After the time we wasted in autograph lines at CII, we were determined not to do the same with CIII. We chose exactly three — one for myself, one for Anne, and one for my son, who spent the weekend with his mom. Ralph Brown, shown above, was my choice because of Wayne’s World 2, though the Celebration rules forbade him from offering any non-Star Wars character photos at his table. Anne’s choice was Scottish actor Michael Sheard, best known as Admiral Ozzel from The Empire Strikes Back, the one who gets famously Force-choked. We took a photo of him, but we discovered later to our dismay that his was taken at the very end of the film roll and came back to us poorly developed and distorted.
My son, age ten, didn’t care about actors’ names, so he randomly chose what he thought was the coolest-looking Jedi: underwater hero Kit Fisto. The guy who played him in Attack of the Clones was a non-actor named Zac Jensen, who at the time worked as a creature-workshop carpenter alongside his brother Jesse, who played fellow Jedi Saesee Tiin.
That doesn’t mean he couldn’t sign autographs. He was in great spirits when we met him, and we still have the Kit Fisto photo, signed and framed.
Fun trivia: the Jensen brothers couldn’t reprise their roles for Revenge of the Sith because of the scheduling demands for their next behind-the-scenes gig as art/production designers for CBS’ Survivor, where they remain gainfully employed to this day. Jesse even gets a Co-Executive Producer credit.
They weren’t our only Star Wars character sightings of the weekend. Several presentations in the main hall were hosted by Jay Laga’aia, a.k.a. Padme’s pal Captain Typho. He brought humor, energy, and a ukulele to the proceedings.
From one of the few Q&As we photographed: Jay welcomes the acrobatic Ray Park! Curse our lousy seats and primitive picture-taking tools.
Anne’s summary from the time:
Park talked abut his love of fighting and how he was inspired by Bruce Lee films and wanted to be part of Jackie Chan’s group. He taught fighting (and misses teaching) and went to senior students to learn some of the moves he didn’t know. He is still attached to the Iron Fist project, but it has been sold to another production company.
He is very conscious of what villainous roles can do to young children, particularly those who know him. While his own daughter is still a baby, his little niece saw him fighting Lucy Liu on television (Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever) and, as Liu apparently resembles his wife, thought he was hurting his wife. The little girl refused to speak to him for awhile.
He and Jay both confirmed that, while their roles were relatively small, they loved SW and were happy to do anything George asked for the chance to be in them. Park also said that he knew ahead of time that Darth Maul’s voice would be dubbed and realized that his own voice would be anticlimactic.
They got him a broomstick and he demonstrated some of his martial arts moves and then pulled some kids up on stage with lightsabers to show them some basic moves. He was also given the opportunity to get revenge on Obi-Wan for cutting him in half in TPM. Jay produced a 12″ TPM Obi-Wan doll, Ray performed a martial arts kick that knocked the doll out of his hand and was retrieved with the doll completely severed in two. Jay hurled the doll out into the audience and there was a mad dash for it as if it were an errant baseball in the middle of the World Series.
A rundown of some other things that happened:
* Anne’s Hyperspace membership (read: official SW fan club) was supposed to grant her early con admission and other perks. Never worked. It was supposed to grant only her kind exclusive access to the official Fan Club Lounge. When we approached on Sunday, it was unguarded and unpopulated except for its own separate concession stand selling bratwursts, the Convention Center’s best food of the weekend.
* There was an artists’ room (not enough of them for a full Artists Alley, I guess) where I got to meet comics creators Adam Hughes, Tommy Lee Edwards, and Ken Steacy.
* They had one room set aside to display official Lucasfilm props and costumes. Those figure into Part 2.
* Yes, there were SW cosplayers. They’re Part 3.
* Anne, a massive Expanded Universe fan, was tickled pink to attend a Star Wars Expanded Universe panel with authors Aaron Allston (who passed away in 2014), Troy Denning, Karen Traviss, Del Rey editor Shelly Shapiro, and two Lucasfilm reps. This was shortly before the “Legacy of the Force” series began, back in the days before the EU joined DC Comics’ pre-Crisis universe in publishing purgatory.
* The weather on Friday was rainy all day, and monsoon-like in the afternoon when we had to return to my car parked a half-mile away. We drowned so many times, more than any other day in my life. So. Many. Drownings.
* We caught a performances troupe doing a thing called “Star Wars in 30 Minutes”. Days later we saw a guy doing the entire trilogy as a one-man show, but by that time I was really, really tired of hearing unaltered SW movie quotes as punchlines.
* We sat through a SW Fan Film collection whose entrants we’d mostly already watched at CII. One previously unseen short, “Stargeeks“, featured a cameo for fellow message-board member and future reality-TV star Melody Mooney. (Longtime MCC readers will recall her from our Gen Con 2008 experience.)
* Very last panel of the weekend: a Dark Horse Comics Q&A with editor/cofounder Randy Stradley, writer Kevin Rubio (“Tag & Bink”), artist Jan Duursema (co-creator of Quinlan Vos), inker Howard Shum, and I’m sorry I forget who else. This milestone event marked my first time ever asking a question at a convention Q&A. It’s been a rare impulse for me ever since.
* Due to overlong lines we missed opening ceremonies, and gave up on approaching the CIII official merchandise store on both Thursday and Friday.
As with CII, we had several friends in attendance as well, fellow members of a Star Wars message board that’s been around since 1999 and somehow survived for sixteen years and counting, even during years when Lucasfilm gave us zero products to buy, even after we’d given up on seeing any more live-action films in our lifetime. Funny how that changed.
We first met up with Our Heroes by happenstance Thursday night at the Steak ‘n Shake down the street from the Convention Center. You’ll note Anne and I were younger then than we are now. One of us has aged more gracefully than the other.
That wasn’t our last meal together. As one of the few members actually from Indianapolis, I took on the thankful task of arranging for one big group dinner on Friday night. Fortunately I thought far enough ahead that I reserved us the famous Pope Room at Buca di Beppo downtown before any other fan clubs could get to it.
The Pope Room isn’t some far-off banquet hall. It’s simply one round table that seats eighteen. The coolest part is, as long as only four or five people talked at once, the acoustic design let us hear talkers on the opposite side of the table. Truly a marvel of Italian engineering.
By this time we’d been married for just nine months, still in the early happy-couple phase that I’m told will end any minute now. I was also nine months into my low-carb diet, and by this point had lost eighty-odd pounds. You’ll note I look much leaner in these pics than in the CII pics. Or in our 2015 pics, for that matter. A pasta joint was one of the worst places for me just then, but this night wasn’t about me.
We managed to cram 23 diners into the Pope Room before Anne and I took our leave and let them commence alcohol escalation. We had early plans for Day Three and needed the sleep after two straight days of heavy conventioning. And “early” is worse than it sounds: Saturday morning was the con’s biggest event: George Lucas, live on stage, three times only. The Sagamore Ballroom would hold roughly 3300-3500 people. Total CIII attendance was over 34,000. Math told us only one-third the population would have the chance to breathe the same air as Lucas, and maybe also hear him talk.
We arose at 4 a.m., returned downtown from our cozy apartment, and joined the line around 4:55 a.m., blocks away from the main event. While the city and the sun were equally shut down, this was the line we joined in progress:
I may have drawn the endpoint toward the wrong escalator. Regardless: long, long line.
It wasn’t raining anymore, but that was small comfort to four (maybe more?) of our friends who’d gone straight from the Pope Room to this very line and had stayed there overnight, outside in the low temperatures and complete lack of pillows. I know at least one of them later came down with “con crud” days sooner than any of the rest of us. But public appearances by George Lucas are a rare sighting in the wild.
Under the guidance of armored reps from the 501st Legion, we fans moved along, moved along until we reached seats at least at 8:35. Ten minutes later Jay Laga’aia took the stage and got things rolling, 3¾ hours after we arrived. It was an abominable wait, but we can’t say it was the worst line we’ve ever lived through. That came later.
At an inadequately star-striking twenty-five minutes, the George Lucas extravaganza contained much more of producer Rick McCallum than we’d hoped, and contained ten scant minutes of the creator/writer/director/owner himself. In those ten minutes we confirmed the following:
* The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles DVDs were in the works. (Those finally happened in 2007 and 2008.)
* Lucas claimed to be very happy with Episode III as is, implying that no “special edition” edits would be necessary. Sure.
* He was happy with all movies as they stood, despite critics and what he called the “sentiments” of others.
* The forthcoming SW TV show would be live-action and based on some characters we’ve seen before, but not anyone major. They wanted to do a year’s worth of scripts before shooting, which might’ve started as early as 2006 if the concept wasn’t a tapestry of LIES.
* Lucas isn’t averse to staged photo ops, as a small, terse, seemingly disabled child was escorted from the Q&A mic to the stage for pictures with his idol.
That last bit ate up a fair number of minutes, and the whole thing ended five minutes earlier than we were told it would, but whatever. We saw the George Lucas from the back of a large ballroom. We got what we came for. Later in the men’s room, I overheard guys complaining that questions were allegedly screened ahead of time and that some of them were rephrased by the staff before fans were allowed at the mic — either to prevent people from wasting time, or to form-fit their questions to align with Lucas’ canned responses, depending on whom you believe.
After that soiree, we offered to do a favor for a few friends who hadn’t been there all four days. We told them we’d pick up some official CIII merchandise for them. We’d had two good days of conventioning and figured we had more time to spare than they did. While they sallied forth and enjoyed their Saturday, at 9:15 we joined the CIII store line we’d been eyeballing and dreading from afar.
Hundreds upon hundreds of shoppers were there ahead of us. We were told the wait could be a good 3½-4 hours. We weren’t thrilled, but we promised our friends, and we wanted a couple of nice things for ourselves.
There wasn’t just one line — no simple, single spiral. There were lines everywhere. Or one line with many branches. Or many lines with a single goal. An entire exhibit hall was set aside to overflow with moneyed people tricked into infesting a non-Euclidean space where concepts such as “forward” or “how much longer” held no objective meaning. The serpentine barriers twisted and turned and U-turned and double-U-turned and most of them led toward a cluster of cashiers and boxes in the center of the labyrinth.
While we waited, a PA-system announcer helpfully updated the crowd each time an exclusive CIII item sold out. At 10:30 the official posters were gone. At 1:00, the Vader gumball machines. Then the pencil-toppers. Then the bobble-heads, except wait no we found more ha ha never mind please don’t shoot. Eventually they stopped the annoying broadcasting and passed around a list of sold-out items instead, as a helpful attempt to convince some shoppers to abandon hope and go away now. Didn’t work. As long as a single scrap of CIII official merchandise remained in a single box, eleventy billion Star Wars fans were determined to wait for it, even if it was a Vader baby’s onesie.
About 11:30, a vendor walked up and down the quote-unquote “lines” selling personal pan pizzas for $6.00 and pop for $3.00 a bottle. This was the only food we ate at the show all day.
We saw a pair of attemped line-jumpers get caught by security and punished by being placed right back in line. We chatted with a fan who swore that the quiet French woman in line in front of us had played Zam Wessel in Attack of the Clones. We watched the cashiers, runners, and other volunteers whose idea of customer service would make Dante and Randall from Clerks look like Nordstrom supervisors.
We stood up, we sat down, we stood up, we sat down.
At 2:30 we reached the register. We tried not to cry. Never let people who’ve ticked you off see you cry. 2:30 was over five hours since we’d begun our journey. Imagine standing in line a good ten minutes to buy groceries. Now imagine doing so THIRTY-ONE CONSECUTIVE TIMES while your feet pulse with agony and your temper flares nova-hot as you watch the 15-year-olds on duty take turns running outside for smoke breaks.
I won’t even get into the details of how our cashier must have struggled in all math classes ever. Our total and our change took time to sort; our items took more time for bagging and handing over.
Mission accomplished as we exited at 2:45. Five-and-a-half hours in all. Longer than the horrendous 2015 Carrie Fisher experience. Twice as long as our first Superman Celebration line in 90-degree weather without shade. Longer than my average ER trip. Longer than any BMV death march. Longer than my high school graduation ceremony of 700+ students.
The Star Wars Celebration III official merchandise store was, and remains to this day, literally the worst line we’ve ever done in our entire lives.
Why’d we do it, we asked ourselves?
Because Star Wars. And friends.
Also, we still collected action figures back then, and the exclusive CIII Vader figure had a voice chip with lines recorded by Academy Award Nominee James Earl Jones. As of tonight, here in 2015, the battery hasn’t died yet. Ten years later this li’l guy hangs in our library and is still one of the coolest SW figures in our house.
…but mostly it was for our friends.
To be continued!