Sunday 17th July 2016 – ExCeL London Exhibition Centre – £32.00
A veritable smuggler’s horde of juicy first-looks and jaw-dropping reveals, plus an army of guest panels introducing anyone who’s anyone in The Force Awakens (besides an injured Harrison Ford), and last year’s Anaheim antics totally sold me on the benefits of attending Star Wars Celebration – doubly so as this year’s LucasFilm love-in was held on British shores for the first time in nearly a decade.
With work commitments restricting my availability across this past weekend’s three day fan-fest, I excitedly joined the massing throngs of Jedi, Princesses, Stormtroopers, Ewoks – and one Nute Gunray! – invading London’s ExCeL Exhibition Centre for yesterday’s final day of wall-to-wall Wars. If you thought the Mos Eisley Cantina was overcrowded – you couldn’t swing a womp rat in the ExCeL without hitting ecstatic fanboys or cosplayers on Sunday!
With everything from Rogue One costume exhibits to exclusive Art galleries and radio controlled X-Wing dogfight displays, as well as a Bantha herd of interactive activities (The Star Wars Show vlog recordings, Empire magazine podcast recordings, Mandalorian parades, Battefront gaming zones, Build an R2 area), I can’t accuse the organisers of this official shindig of skimping on the celebrations – the atmosphere was positively jubilant!
It ignites my lightsaber (not like THAT!) to see a franchise I have followed so fondly for so long to be so well represented by such a (rebel) alliance of strong supporters. It is truly inspiring to see how George’s galactic vision from nearly 40 years ago has touched and inspired countless scores of artists, designers, tattooists, children and families – and will continue to for generations to come.
But with a great turnout comes almighty queues, and while the crowds moved swiftly for the most part, I was less than impressed at having to join a tailback of human traffic to entre the event’s official Store – especially when so many of the over-priced convention exclusive products were sold out by the time we made it past the high-vis-adorned doorman!
The Autograph corner was also a slight bone of contention for me, with the thrill at being able to see saga stars such as Anthony “C-3PO” Daniels, Matthew “General Grievous” Wood and Ray “Darth Maul” Park gamely sign merchandise and chat with starstruck fans somewhat quashed by the two biggest names on the bill – Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill and Carrie “Princess Leia” Fisher – hidden within screened-off areas where only those willing to part with a extortionate amount of credits could see them.
I understand how escalating ticket systems and VIP packages at conventions work; I have attended many a similar event over the years, however at an officially arranged event focusing on celebrating one franchise, it seemed a little off to still restrict customers who have “only” purchased standard passes.
On the subject of missing out, as expertly organised as the annual event undoubtably was (schedules, maps, helpful crew, guidebooks, continually updated mobile app), I can’t help but feel like the ‘first come first seated’ wristband system for gaining access to the main event Celebration Stage panels was less-than-convenient for single day attendees – by the time we had queued to receive our entrance ticket lanyard, everything which sold the event to be in 2015 was “wristbanded out”.
Sure, I could catch-up on the live stream, or watch the shows on the giant video screen, but to hear thunderous cheers go up during the hotly-anticipated day-capping “Future Filmmakers” panel and not know why (the introduction of the young Han Solo; surprise guest Jon “Finn” Boyega, it transpires), felt like being so tantalisingly near yet so frustratingly far, far away.
I don’t want to sound like this is simply a case of sour meilooruns, because a lot of SWC was truly amazing and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but when you miss out on EVERY main stage event you come to realise how many of the multitudinous stalls are simply mountains of readily-available merchandise. Now I enjoy a good peruse as much as the next person, but I really required an additional Force-push to elevate this ultimate fan experience from merely good into hyperspace.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Star Wars Celebration Europe, but for too long I could have been at any large-scale money-making convention, rather than in the same building as such luminous franchise legends as Kathleen Kennedy, Dave Filoni, Rian Johnson, Mark Hamill, Pablo Hidalgo and countless others.
CR@B’s Claw Score: