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…
…and it all ends here, by which I mean we finally stop trying to prolong the magic of that eventful weekend. We’ve covered the cosplayers we saw; the actors we met; the big, big trailer we watched with thousands of other fans in an awkward communal setting; the one panel we were permitted to attend; the geek stuff we bought; and the other geek stuff we walked past.
Here on MCC, many such lists end with me promising all that “and more, more, MORE!” At long last, it’s time for the mores.
SWCC ran Thursday through Monday, a most unusual schedule for any convention that isn’t Dragon Con. We attended Thursday through Saturday, drove home Sunday, and decompressed Monday. We knew in advance we would be missing all the hottest tickets of the weekend. The panel covering Lucasfilm’s upcoming streaming series The Mandalorian was on Sunday, and of course we were bitter about losing the lottery for seats to the Episode IX panel. But we were determined to find our fun wherever we could on the premises.
We left Indianapolis Thursday morning and encountered our first fellow fans before we reached the Illinois border.
We reached McCormick Place shortly before 9 a.m. CDT and parked in Lot A, on the fifth out of six floors, a sure sign of crowds to come. Many attendees had beaten us there, as did professionals planning to attend the biennial ProMat Trade Show in the South Building. We encountered two such guys in the garage elevator, gave them walking directions to their shindig, and headed toward the north end of the West Building for the mandatory pre-show security checkpoint. That part, which I’d dreaded, was a breeze. This show was already shaping up to be a vast improvement over our horrid entrance experiences at Celebrations 2002 and 2005, where we sometimes didn’t get into the convention center until an hour after opening.
We joined the line at 9:15. The exhibit hall was scheduled to open at 1 p.m. Yes, we were ridiculously early. And we were hardly first in line. Hardcore Star Wars fans are notorious for their love of lining up for stuff. Since most of them don’t have ritual hunts that test their mettle, they have long, early lines instead. Remember that time Star Wars fans made headlines showing up far too soon for the world premiere of The Phantom Menace as if getting seats would be an issue? Lines and Star Wars stuff weren’t originally, firmly correlated, but eventually that became the norm…though I always found some truth to Roger Ebert’s comment on the phenomenon in his acerbic review of 2009’s Fanboys: “Anyone who would camp out in a tent on the sidewalk for weeks in order to be first in line for a movie is more into camping on the sidewalk than movies.”
McCormick Place foresaw this proclivity and explicitly forbade it. No one was allowed to form a line before 6 a.m. I’m sure a few trailblazers did precisely that, probably even had a countdown. For us 9:15 a.m arrival would be fine. We only had two Thursday morning goals: secure a space in Lot A; and pray that the basic act of entering the exhibit hall wouldn’t be the fiasco it was in 2002 and 2005. I mean, sure, starting to have fun ASAP was a secondary objective, but we would’ve been okay with arriving at 12:59 if circumstances had permitted.
That left us with nearly four hours to kill. We tried our best to murder each minute one by one. I checked my phone for signs of life and for any word on the fourth and final lottery we’d entered (this one for permission to buy some new Hasbro toys), were supposed to hear about by Tuesday, and had thus far heard zilch. So we played the waiting game to our best ability. I already chronicled that experience, which means we can fast-forward to when they began ushering all several thousands of us into the exhibit hall at 12:45.
We’ve already shared some of the fun. Have more!
Thursday’s personal highlights included our Sam Witwer photo op, our walk through half the show floor, our stop at the Galaxy’s Edge showplace (which is a big, big, BIIIIG deal to apparently everyone in the universe but us), wand our first glimpse of the Celebration Store line, when numerous customers reported wait times of 7-8 hours.
By 5 p.m. we were ready to call time-out and save the rest of the show floor for another time. We fled, crawled through Chicago rush hour traffic to our hotel on Wacker Drive, drove a second lap around the block because I had no idea where their driveway began, pulled in, checked in, struggled to find their front desk, and followed the familiar faces.
We checked in, we ate heartily elsewhere, and we crashed for the night. We hoped Friday would also not be a fiasco.
We kicked off our morning with a brand new experience: we tried taking the official convention shuttle to the con instead of driving and paying for more parking. We usually don’t stay in “convention block” hotels or availing ourselves of their advantages because we assume every floor is jam-packed with drunken party monsters who stay up overnight, never shut up, never let us sleep, and pull the fire alarm every few hours. This time we’d thrown caution to the wind, and were all too happy to try out the con-block perks for once.
We didn’t care what time we arrived. We disembarked at the transit loading zone, underwent another efficient security check-in, and reached the exhibit hall at 9:55, where we found the crowd had already been ushered inside. The crowd was a bit lighter for the first two hours because thousands of lottery winners were across the street at Wintrust Arena, smirking and living their best lives in their assigned seats for the official Episode IX panel and trailer premiere.
We’ve shared much of the next two hours already. There was our relatively quick but disappointing experience with the Celebration Store, where we got to chat with an Australian fan in line, and the “Star Wars collector pin” bug bit Anne and her temporary infection began…
…followed by our uncomfortable, bitter, yet emotional standing-room-only communion for the world premiere of the first trailer for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker…
…and we moved on. We grabbed lunch from Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs, one of McCormick Place’s best concession stands. We chatted with a really nice guy from Michigan who’s fighting a long-term battle with colon cancer and emphatically recommends colonoscopies to anyone and everyone he meets. He’s surely saved lives with such chats, though it was a bit of a tough accompaniment to our meat-heavy meals. We wandered more exhibit hall square-footage. We killed more time till my Katee Sackhoff photo op.
We had early-evening plans within walking distance, which left us with more hours to kill and no panels we wanted to attend, not even the exclusive, quickly filled-up ones. In an extremely rare move for us, we instead took an extended break in the animation room, a thing that every con has but we tend to bypass. The Celebration edition had a guy with Blu-rays airing a Clone Wars marathon on high-quality theatrical equipment. Frankly, I was jealous and now I want to watch all my stories that way.
I never memorized the show’s episode titles, but I know one of them featured young Saw Guerrera. I nearly fell asleep at one point. Long, long day. Meanwhile, Anne sat on the floor by the back wall and charged her phone.
Once we finally felt rested and I felt restless, we exited and found ourselves a new side quest: seeing how many of those Celebration exclusive pins we could track down to go with the two that Anne had bought at the Celebration store. Side quests are a fun way to prolong the magic in any given video game, and they can do the same for the duller spots of real life. anne found an animated ad on Celebration’s Facebook page that listed every participating vendor and their locations. We tracked down each and every one, just to see what would happen.
We were told the same thing at nearly all of them: YOU IDIOTS. YOU WAITED TILL 4 PM TO GO HUNTING DOWN HOT ITEMS? OBVIOUSLY WE’RE ALL OUT OF THEM! WE RAN OUT FORTY MINUTES AFTER WE OPENED! DUH! COME BACK TOMORROW WHEN WE’LL HAVE MORE UNTIL WE SELL OUT AGAIN RIGHT BEFORE YOU GET HERE!
Well, more or less. The all-caps were implied. I appreciated that they waited till we were gone before rolling their eyes. However, a big, volume-11 MCC shout-out to EFX Collectibles for actually selling Anne a pin that very afternoon. They were officially awesome and didn’t suck like all the other companies we could mention. Though the FYE clerks were empty-handed and useless to us, in their booth Anne struck up conversation with a young chap from Manchester, UK, a fellow pin collector who traded her a Donald Glover Lando pin for her Captain Rex helmetless-variant pin, which we didn’t know was rare and coveted by some. Both parties were quite satisfied with the arrangement.
More pins would’ve been cool, but Anne had gone about it all wrong by giving it some thought for several hours and then taking the plunge. Alas. She did find a non-exclusive pin she liked at a non-partnered vendor, which was nice.
Our next plan was a late-afternoon autograph from Michael Pennington, a.k.a. Death Star middle-manager Moff Jerjerrod in Return of the Jedi. Then calamity struck: despite all my careful timetable management and note-taking, my brain had crossed a wire and convinced me our Pennington ticket was for Friday afternoon. We approached the celeb-area entry and a kind and gracious volunteer had to read the word “Thursday” on the ticket in our hands. In a bit of above-and-beyond courtesy, the same volunteer cheerfully escorted us to the celeb-ticket booths where we could exchange for another time or actor. Since we’d already missed Pennington’s final appearance of the entire weekend, we had no choice but to trade for another actor. All told, the process was efficient and pleasant except for the part where Anne’s idiot husband slipped a mental cog.
Our Friday night plans were a sort of throwback. Previously at Star Wars Celebration 2005 we’d managed to stuff twenty-three fans from a Star Wars message board into the Pope Room at our local Buca di Beppo. This time we did a Friday night dinner with six of us in all, including two old friends from that engagement of fourteen years ago. Between us we had the worlds of podcasting, cosplay, and blogging covered. Good times all told, though a bit hard to hear amidst the maddening crowd of other fans dining and partying and whatnot.
Saturday morning came far too soon. On the way down from the hotel elevators to the shuttle stop, Anne got to compare pins with another collector in Jedi robes. At the stop, other fans began asking the collector if they could take her photo and chatted happily about some novel she’d written. After confirming details with reliable sources during the shuttle ride (thanks, Nanci!) I managed to confirm we’d failed to recognize E.K. Johnston, author of Ahsoka, the official New Canon novel starring the famed Clone Wars heroine.
We arrived around 9-ish, again had zero issues with security (this was officially our best Celebration ever), and waited and waited. Anne’s pins continued to unlock closed doors and helped her network with others around her in the know.
Our to-do list was short, but gave us long, empty time frames between appointments. We tried tackling Pin Hunt Part II first before our Matt Lanter photo op. Loving hugs to the folks at Kotobukiya for running a tight ship and selling us a darn pin. After that, Anne decided she had all the Star Wars pins she needed. Their prices were adding up a bit too quickly for her tastes. She may also have lost the thrill of the hunt.
We performed one last set of jazz hands with Matt Lanter. By this time the Celebration staff and the con photographers had their system in place and well-oiled from our perspective. And some of them were far more cheerful than the average crew.
we ticked off more to-do list items. We got our conciliatory autograph from John Morton, Snowspeeder pilot and Boba Fett stand-in. We caught up with our old friend Mindy, another Celebration 2005 survivor, and shot the breeze for a bit. We found a splendid room full of droids. We grabbed lunch from a McCormick Place food court a bit removed from the exhibit hall.
Several minutes after and hundreds of feet away from the food court, Anne realized her camera was missing. While she tried a few possibilities, I speed-walked back to where we’d sat and blessedly found her camera punch on the floor between booth and table leg. The day and hundreds of Celebration photos were saved!
We paced back and forth and killed more time. We saw and appreciated cosplay. We missed a few spontaneous happenings.
We arrived at the Marvel panel forty-five minutes ahead of schedule and were, like, #300 and #301 in line, give or take a hundred. Anne relaxed while I put on an imaginary journalist hat and live-tweeted for kicks.
The Marvel panel ended at 3:30. The hotel shuttles wouldn’t resume running till 5 p.m. We ambled aimlessly for about half an hour. We added a few last cosplay photos to our healthy collection. We got into a lively discussion with a mother-and-son cosplay duo (she was Mon Mothma), Star Wars trivia buffs who weren’t the first fans this weekend to tell us good things about Dragon Con, which is officially on our calendar for the first time.
Then we said “Screw it” and mutually agreed we’d had exactly enough Star Wars. We went downstairs and were among the first several passengers in line for the shuttles, ready to go the second they started their engines.
Our Celebration experience was officially finished. We returned to the hotel and commenced decompression.
We continued to replay large portions of the weekend in our heads, and that trailer on YouTube, for the next several days. I brought home an ugly case of “con crud” and consumed my weight in cough drops in three days flat. When recounting my failures, we took consolation in knowing Michael Pennington is scheduled to appear in the fall at another Midwest con, one that we’re 105% certain to attend if no one stands in my way.
Oh, and we have our keepsake photos of the biggest and best Celebration banner of all, one that spanned most of the length of the main hallway. It was a long, painted tapestry reprising faces and moments from all eleven films in a single, continuous timeline. The far right end of the banner was kept covered all day Thursday and most if not all) of Friday. By Saturday it was unveiled for all to see and enjoy.
The End. Thanks for reading. Lord willing, see you next convention.
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 4: Rising with Skywalkers
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