Saturday, May 26, 2007
Star Wars Celebration IV
Some of you will no doubt roll your eyes when you see what I’m about to write, but my life truly changed the day I saw “Star Wars” for the very first time. Karen and I went to the 8AM showing at Grauman’s Chinese and were so blown away that we immediately sat through it again. We saw it a third time when it moved over to the Egyptian theater a few months later. Hiding in the bathroom, we then slunk back into the theater to see it a fourth time! I have, of course, seen it many times since then and, even though it’s not my all-time favorite movie—that honor still goes to “The Godfather”—it is the one film I’ve seen more times than any other.
By 1977, I was already a big science fiction fan, having grown-up on “Star Trek” and NASA space missions. But “Star Wars” was something altogether different. The story was epic but accessible and it was funny, too. I couldn’t remember any movie or TV show that so completely carried me away to another world. To me, “Star Wars” was on the scale of the “Lord of the Rings” novels and the Arthurian legend. I never quite saw movies the same way after seeing “Star Wars.”
Although I’ve (unfortunately) lost that innocent excitement about the franchise, I have nonetheless remained a loyal fan and have seen all five of the original movie’s sequels/prequels—in the theater—on opening day. Indeed, Karen and I stood on line so long to see “The Empire Strikes Back” (the second movie in the series), that I ran across the street to buy a pizza for us to eat while we waited.
No surprise then that I practically hopped out of bed today to hightail it over to the L.A. convention center for “Celebration IV,” a multi-day event commemorating the 30th anniversary of “Star Wars.” I arrived at 9AM, an hour before the doors opened, allowing me plenty of time to scope out the other attendees.
Now I’ve never worn a costume to a science fiction con (i.e., convention), but I always enjoy seeing other people who do. The 501st battalion of Imperial storm-troopers were there in force, cavorting with rebel sympathizers and posing for pictures. I also saw several Padawans (young Jedis) and Princess Leias in all shapes and sizes. An extremely tall Darth Vader caught everyone’s attention as photographers went crazy taking snapshots. Then, at 9:55AM, we all suddenly looked upward where a jetpack-wearing Boba Fett was flying in for a landing. Everyone burst into spontaneous applause. The convention had officially begun!
The mass of people politely poured through the doors before quickly running upstairs to the exhibit hall. There we were greeted by a life-sized replica of Jabba the Hutt, Han Solo’s giant sluglike nemesis. Fans were queued up to buy various “Star Wars” collectibles and I could see lines starting to form to get minor characters’ autographs. The exhibits were all far too commercial (e.g., Hasbro, LucasArts, etc.) for me, so I left empty-handed after a few minutes.
I then stumbled into a large hall next-door where one of the “Star Wars” fan clubs had set-up a life-sized X-wing spacejet like the one Luke flew when he blew-up the Death Star. Now this was more like it! I roamed around and looked at other fan club exhibits: the Mos Eisley cantina, peopled with small action-figures; a lightsaber duel between two Jedis; and a beat-up Honda convertible made to look like Luke’s land speeder. In any other world, it all would have looked pretty silly; but I loved it because it was far more authentic than anything the hawkers next-door were selling.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to the convention was to see “The Vader Project”—an art exhibit of Darth Vader helmets decorated by 66 “underground” artists and comicbook illustrators. I was not disappointed. One Darth Vader was depicted as the Statue of Liberty, while another had antlers. There was a clown Vader and several that made political statements about war. Shag, the well-known L.A. artist who paints in a mid-20th-century style, turned his Darth Vader into a tiki head—very cool!
From there, I wandered over to the Lucas Archives exhibit—a room filled with costumes and other artifacts from all six “Star Wars” movies. I was in ecstasy! Here were miniature prototypes of rocketships and space stations used during filming, as well as Luke’s bionic arm. Among the most fascinating items was a rubber sculpture of Annakin Skywalker’s charred head, which was used as a model for Hayden Christensen’s make-up when Annakin was turned into Darth Vader at the end of “Revenge of the Sith.”
“Look, there’s Annakin’s burned head!” a father excitedly told his young son. The kid recoiled in horror, but the rest of us thought it was pretty neat!
My feet were starting to hurt, so I decided to find an exhibit where I could sit. En route, my eye caught yet another Princess Leia in a skimpy slave girl outfit (show off!), only this time the princess was actually a guy!
“Argh! Where’s the bathroom so I can wash out my eyes!” a male passerby yelled in mock horror, while the rest of us quickly grabbed our cameras. This was by far the best Princess Leia at the con!
Rejuvenated, I headed into a small theater where fan films were being shown around the clock. Some were surprisingly sophisticated for being homemade. But everyone’s obvious favorite was “The Eyes of Darth Tater,” starring various Mr. Potato Head dolls enacting the final scenes of “Revenge of the Sith.” A microwaved Annakin was turned into Darth Vader while his wife, Padmé, gave birth to twin Tater-tots. ("Star Wars" humor...I guess you had to be there...)
With that, I was ready to return home and so made my way toward the parking lot. There, tucked between several cars, were people changing into their “Star Wars” costumes, including one fellow who was halfway to becoming C3PO. I wanted to tell him that he was going to be a big hit because there were no other C3POs at the con, but I just kept walking.
Then suddenly, as I was almost to my car, I heard familiar deep breathing. Rounding the corner was Darth Vader and two red-caped minions looking very unfriendly. I thought of taking their picture, but ran for the car instead. Best not to provoke the Sith lord, especially when he’s on his way to making a grand entrance.