A Day Long Remembered: The Force Awakens Panel

Now that I feel sufficiently rested, it’s time to share my experience at Star Wars Celebration, the biggest Star Wars convention this side of the galaxy. These fan events were always something that eluded me for awhile because they were always held in different parts of the country. At the time, I didn’t have the financial means to make these pilgrammages and was left to admire them from afar (the same goes for Disney World’s Star Wars Weekends, which I’ll finally get to experience this June!). Luck favored this little Sith when Celebration IV was held in Anaheim and despite a few bumps in the road, I had a great time. This year’s Celebration, an event made all the more magnanimous because of the upcoming film The Force Awakens, was once again held in Anaheim.


The convention would kick off with a panel hosted by J. J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy (the president of LucasFilm) who were going to talk about the new movie and show a new teaser trailer (which will be shown before Avengers: Age of Ultron). Anticipating a huge demand for the panel, the show would allow people to come as early as 6:00pm the day before the panel to secure wristbands for the live presentation held at 11:00am. I knew that the panel was going to be streamed online and was perfectly fine with watching it in the comfort of my own home before heading to the show. My wife, however, had other plans. She was really eager to do the “camp out” experience and when I showed my reluctance, she asked, “When will we ever get to do something like this again?” Her compelling argument and awesome enthusiasm won me over and we made our way to the Anaheim Convention Center at 10:00pm to wait in line. When we got there, the show crew ushered us to one of the underground halls of the facility where there were already approximately 1200 people in line.


Armed with a backpack full of video games and books, it was time to play the waiting game. The show wouldn’t start passing out wristbands until 6:00am on Thursday, so there was nothing to do but chill out, mingle with fellow nerds and enjoy the free pizza J. J. Abrams bought for us. Jumping ahead, when Abrams took the stage, all of us in the arena shouted out, “Thanks for the pizza!”


Now, I’d be lying if I told you that camping out at the convention center was the best experience of my life. On the contrary, it quickly grew miserable. For some reason, likely due to building regulations and such, there was no air circulating our hall and as the hours went by and more and more people filled the line, the air grew warm, sticky, and stale. After about two hours of waiting in line, the show crew made us all bunch up to make room for more people in the line. As a big and tall kind of guy, these new cramped quarters made it difficult for me to stretch my legs out. We didn’t pack any formal “camp” gear, like sleeping bags or fold up chairs, because we didn’t want to have stuff to carry around. By 5:00am, I felt like I was on the verge of a freak out. I got out of line and walked around and to my joy, one of the back doors leading outside was open, allowing me to take in a big, deep breath full of beautiful, life giving fresh air. The staff started handing out wristbands at 6:00am and we secured our place within the main arena where the panel was held. Anyone who showed up at that point would be sent to different rooms in the facility to watch a live stream of the event.




At 9:30am, we were escorted to the arena and took our seats. We found a nice spot just past the floor seats that afforded us a good view of the stage. We were close enough that we could see who was on stage without much assistance. At 11:00am, J. J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy came out and started the show. It was a great panel that discussed Abram’s initial reluctance to do the film and some tidbits about the film. This is all stuff you can see for yourself in the video below, but the highlight was seeing a real, working version of BB-8, the soccer ball droid featured in the first teaser trailer. This thing absolutely blew me away. From the sound of the crowd, I wasn’t the only one who though BB-8 was just another CG creation. Seeing the little guy with my own eyes as he rolled around the stage and picked a fight with R2-D2 was incredible and I still can’t believe its real. BB-8’s appearance followed Abrams’ support for his movies to use as many practical visual effects as possible. As someone who lived through the spectacle of the CG heavy prequels, this was an exciting prcolamation.

The last few moments of the panel were amazing, as the new cast of characters were joined by Anthony Daniels (who flubbed his own character’s name, eek!), Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Peter Mayhew. Supported by a crew of new Stormtroopers, it was so great to see my heroes in person regardless of the distance between them. It was exciting to hear them talk about their experience with the new trilogy and I reacted accordingly when Mark Hamill started choking up when talking about how he considers the fans as family. And then there was The Trailer. I believe it speaks for itself.

For those at home, I expect seeing Harrison Ford at the end of the trailer was an awesome treat. But to be in an audience of 2800 people and experience the collective pants wetting when Han Solo popped up on the screen truly was a once in a lifetime experience. For a film that has managed to stay under wraps for so long in this day and age, The Moment was an amazing payoff for everyone who was excited by the idea of Harrison Ford willingly coming back to Star Wars. When the panel was over we were all ushered outside, blinking wearily at the bright, noontime sun. The rest of the convention, with its miles and miles of merchandise, events, and panels, but for a few moments, we all just kind of stood our ground, absorbing and trying to process our brief look at the next chapter of Star Wars. The craziest thing is that we only have to wait seven months for the movie.



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