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Star Wars Celebration Chicago 2019 Photos #4: Rising with Skywalkers

Colbert Abrams Kennedy!

Our host Stephen Colbert., director J.J. Abrams, and producer Kathleen Kennedy, streaming to us live from a galaxy far, far away.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

April 11-15, 2019, was the ninth American edition of Lucasfilm’s Star Wars Celebration, recurring major convention celebrating their works, creations, actors, fans, and merchandise, not always in that order. After jaunts around the U.S. coast and overseas, this year’s was in Chicago, gracing the Midwest with its products for the first time since 2005. My wife Anne and I attended Thursday through Saturday and fled Sunday morning…

The centerpiece of the entire weekend, its biggest event, its most anticipated breaking news story, was the long-awaited first trailer for Star Wars Episode IX, as yet un-subtitled when the convention began. The trailer’s release was scheduled as part of an hour-long presentation which would star director J.J. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy, at the very least. Additional unnamed guests were promised. It was fair to assume these surprise pop-ins would be the big, big-name costars from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, almost none of whom were on the show’s main guest list.

Everyone wanted in on that event. Everyone wanted to be part of that live magic. Everyone wanted to count their first viewing of the trailer among their greatest SWCC 2019 memories. Not everyone got their wish.


D/O!

Someone earned a six-figure salary to mount a toy Apollo 11 capsule on a roll of duct tape.

The trailer presentation was scheduled Friday at 11 a.m. CDT, to be held across the street from McCormick Place at Wintrust Arena, home of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. The venue seats 10,387 people. Given that Celebration’s attendance would number in the tens of thousands, there was no way for the entire geek population to flood in there at the same time. The showrunners could’ve taken the same approach that we experienced at Celebrations II or III (2002 and 2005) and held the same live event multiple times, but they decided against it. Instead…there was the controversial lottery.

Abrams Kennedy concerned!

Abrams and Kennedy concentrating on questions they wouldn’t possibly answer.

Each ticket allowed its holder one (1) entry in a prize drawing to win a chance to sit in Wintrust Arena and view Abrams, Kennedy, and their mystery guests in person, much like rock concerts that would cost about the same as the con did, or a megachurch service that would pray for tithes of similar value. Some winners instead received the consolation prize of a seat in either of the two McCormick Place stages that would serve as overflow venues, streaming the same event simultaneously on large screens but a few blocks away from where the action was really happening. Between the Galaxy Stage and the Twin Suns stage, that added a few more thousand seats to sweeten the pot and broaden the base of winners. That’s perhaps 14,000+ lottery winners in all.

This same system was used for other highly sought-after Celebration features — seats for the Saturday infomercial for Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge (gloriously detailed mini-parks coming soon to both Disneyland and Disney World), seats for the Sunday panel for The Mandalorian (their upcoming live-action streaming series, hosted by showrunner Jon Favreau in person), and permissions to buy the hottest Celebration-exclusive merchandise from Funko Pop, Hasbro, and Lego. Tens of thousands could enter. Far less than that would win.

Anne and I were total lottery losers. We didn’t bother entering the lotteries for events held on days we wouldn’t be there, but we entered all the rest, even those that didn’t matter to us. We won nothing. No chrome-blue Funko Pops. No Hasbro action figures based on figures Anne already bought twenty years ago. No Lego sets, whatever they were. No arena seats. Not even overflow seats. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Bupkis. Diddly-squat.

BB-8!

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s BB-8! Also, big shout-out to the designers of the Galaxy’s Edge booth for their 15-foot alien stalagmite, a super annoying obstacle for hundreds of us, far worse than the world’s largest floppy hat.

The system had its flaws. Anyone who bought more than one ticket (say, three to five passes for three to five separate days) had one chance to win for each ticket. Some folks entered even when they had tickets to attend other days but not the actual day-of. More than a few folks auctioned off their seats to other fans on eBay for exorbitant prices. During the event itself, we learned from friends on the inside that at least a few hundred Wintrust Arena seats, possibly more, remained empty for the entire hour-plus, for reasons never explained. The system was far from transparent and far from generous in the eyes of thousands of us. It could’ve been an even bitterer pill to swallow: at least we weren’t among the VIP ticketholders who paid an upper-class sum of $850.00 for their amazing colossal five-day Celebration weekend but lost the Episode IX lottery.

(We also take comfort that we weren’t the dude in the arena wearing a “FIRE RIAN JOHNSON” T-shirt, or the handful of trolls trying and failing to heckle Celebration via its Twitter hashtag, who in all likelihood weren’t even at Celebration. I just don’t get some human groupings. At all.)

I’ve heard from fans who fly more often than we do that lotteries aren’t uncommon in your bigger, more famous cons in New York or California, especially San Diego. That’s not how our Midwest cons roll. At all.

Droid preshow!

BB-8 welcomes his new buddy, way too itty-bitty for us to see.

Total lottery losers who were shut out of the Arena as well as both overflow rooms had three viewing options:

  1. Watch the presentation and trailer later at their own convenience while the rest of the world passed them by
  2. Watch the presentation and trailer live but alone from the comfort of their own hotel room or home via YouTube on a device of their choosing
  3. Watch the presentation and trailer live on kindasorta big screens at the Star Wars Live Stage in the middle of the exhibit hall with thousands of fellow losers, obstructions, and complete lack of acoustically useful accommodations, by which I mean lots of loud noise and poor speakers

After spending Tuesday and Wednesday upset and frustrated, we ultimately settled on option 1 as our Plan A. We decided not to care for a while, and see how long that would last us.

Friday we arrived at McCormick Place via hotel shuttle, walked inside at 9:55 a.m., avoided the show floor screens, and lined up across the hall at the Celebration Store, perpetually busy home of the show’s official merchandise and non-toyetic exclusives. Thursday had been an utter wreck for them — register outages became a major issue that resulted in many, many fans spending upwards of 7-8 hours in line for the Store. Such reports were not encouraging. We absolutely did not want an encore of our disastrous experience with the Celebration 2005 Store. We figured our best possible chance to get into the Store was during the Episode IX panel, when the majority of the population would care more about the trailer than about shopping, if only for that brief moment in time.

That part of our plan worked. It took us a tidy 75 minutes to get into the Store. I spent the last ten of those minutes using my phone to catch the livestream, in enough time to see surprise host Stephen Colbert take the stage and rattle off a monologue that I mostly missed because I never, ever take my phone off Mute. I turned on YouTube’s beta-testing closed-caption function, with mixed results. Our turn to actually enter the Store and gaze upon their wares came up a few minutes later, before Colbert had brought out any guests.

It took us five minutes to confirm they were already out of the two souvenirs we wanted more than anything in town, and fifteen minutes for us to pick replacement souvenirs and pay for them. We exited at 11:35. That part was much faster than expected, and didn’t leave us with much else to do.

Trailer Audience!

Without any zoom-lens use, you can still make out a few faraway iotas of Kylo Ren’s petulance.

Purely for kicks, we switched to option 3, joined the throngs in the exhibit hall, and anticipated a dissatisfying viewing experience. We arrived too late to catch one of the more notable moments, a standing ovation in the arena for Kelly Marie Tran, who we understand received the loudest, happiest response of anyone on that stage.

Aisles were clogged with thousands of fellow lottery losers, standing wherever they could find space that afforded them screen visibility around various tall booth walls, stacked boxes, oversize banners, and other unfriendly protrusions. The noise level at first was about what I’d expect drunken bars are like on game nights. I couldn’t understand a single word emanating from the speakers. Naturally the big screens offered no closed-captioning.

Suotamo live!

I tried the YouTube livestream instead. Wi-Fi results were very mixed in this throng.. Thrill to the sight of Joonas Suotamo buffering and buffering. And on an additional broadcast time-delay, at that.

Virtually all commerce had stopped in favor of standing still and watching the proceedings from far, far away. Authors at their autograph tables stopped signing and turned to watch for themselves. Vendors were not happy. Those vendors could go outside and fly kites for a while for all we cared.

balcony watchers!

Fans perched at the upper-level café for a hopefully clear view from midair.

Shortly after noon, at long last began our feature presentation. Several rounds of “SSHHHHHHHHHH!” filled the hall, then went silent in unison at the sound of Rey’s heavy breathing. The music began at pianissimo and quickly worked its way up the decibel levels and got us worked up.

Trailer time!

The camera craned away from the guests on stage and made way for the reason we were all gathered here today: advertising!

The crowd watched as one. We cheered as one. We whooped and hollered as one. Together we held our breath in the seconds before the subtitle was revealed to the entire world at that very moment after years of speculation. Together we got it. Tens of thousands of voices cried out in Chicago with the interjections and expletives of their choosing. To say nothing of the reactions of the Viewers at Home.

Rise of Skywalker!

Cue thunderous applause.

Back in the arena, Celebration guest Ian McDiarmid took the stage, his renewed relevance revealed with the utterance of a single, sinister laugh. He spoke three words. They rolled the trailer again. Anyone who hadn’t already run anyway in ecstasy stood enraptured a few minutes longer.

Both times I didn’t understand a single word of Mark Hamill’s narration. I had to wait till two days later to catch it at home at the preferred viewing size and audio level. But we got the gist of it, which was: whoa.

I assume you’ve already seen this several times. If not, go click-happy.

Anything we did at Celebration beyond this point was basically extra credit. The Live Stage provided its own opportunities for extra credit over the next few days. Chief among its offerings: frame-by-frame forensic dissection of that trailer we all just watched. Star Wars fans being who they are, now that we’d felt its emotions and let its triumphal score pierce us to the soul, the next obvious step was to look for more clues. Hardcore fans needed to know everything and they needed to guess at it right now.

Kylo Red!

It’s Kylo Ren in red! Who’s he fighting? Are they anyone? Who gets to kill him? Someone’ll kill him, right?

Finn Study!

And there’s Finn! Will he ever get a last name? Or twelve action figure variants? Or an Attack the Block sequel?

The arena would’ve been a comfier, more immediate experience with better sound and larger visuals. But we, the Legion of Lottery Losers, made peace with our own lower-tier mass communion. Whether the setting is a state-of-the-art theater or an extra-large flea market, there’s something about a geek harmonic convergence that convention showrunner fiat and any number of internet trolls can’t blast away.

Lando Returns!

…yeah, there were tears in that exhibit hall.

To be continued! Other chapters in this very special maxiseries:

Prologue: Our Star Wars Celebration Chicago 2019 Pre-Show: Who We’ve Already Met
Part Zero: MCC Live-Tweet: Our First Star Wars Celebration Chicago 2019 Line
Part 1: Imperial Cosplay
Part 2: The Right Side of the Force Cosplay
Part 3: Scum and Villainy Cosplay
Part 5: The Stars in Our Galaxy
Part 6: The Droids We Weren’t Looking For
Part 7: How to Draw Star Wars the Marvel Way
Part 8: Adventures in Official Merchandising
Part 9: World of Wheels and Wings
Part 10: Welcome to Our World of Space Toys
Part 11: Fashion and Shopping
Part 12: What We Did in the Star Wars

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