Star Wars Celebration Anaheim 2015: Day 1 Recap – The Force Awakens near Disneyland

in Conventions, Disney, Entertainment, Events, Movies

It’s odd that the 2015 Star Wars Celebration started with its climax. To put it in movie terms, the first scene of this installment in the Star Wars series was the explosion of the Death Star.

I arrived at the Anaheim Convention Center at 5:30 this morning. Absurdly early, but for a while it seemed like it might not have been absurdly early enough, as posted signs indicated that the main “Arena” stage area (where the Celebration’s most high-profile events and panels would be held all weekend) had already reached capacity. The warning was without merit, however, as I ended up among the final thousand or so attendees to receive a coveted orange wristband granting admission to the large hall.

The very first panel of the first day of this year’s Star Wars Celebration was billed as a conversation with J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy, the director/co-writer and producer, respectively, of the upcoming seventh live-action Star Wars feature film, The Force Awakens. But the fans who had been lining up since early the day before knew to expect so much more from this kickoff extravaganza (featuring, as the official program noted, “special guests”), and they were not left disappointed.

As my section of the seemingly-unending line finally snaked its way into the Arena just before 10:00 AM, we were greeted by the one bizarre misstep in this morning’s presentation: a somewhat obnoxious warm-up MC wielding (and firing) a t-shirt cannon, accompanied by an even more out-of-place electronic music DJ. Once the event itself began, however, the beyond-enthusiastic crowd was kept enrapt for the following hour.

If you happened to catch the live Simulcast on StarWars.com, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Mr. Abrams and Ms. Kennedy, along with capable moderator Anthony Breznican, introduced us to the cast of The Force Awakens, including faces both new and familiar: Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, and of course Luke Skywalker himself: Mark Hamill.

They also brought out the team of dedicated Star Wars enthusiasts-turned-robot-engineers who had been recruited by Kennedy to design and control the droids in the new movie, and with them the brand-new and mesmerizing “soccer ball droid” BB-8. Alert fans had known for some time that this droid was created using practical, on-set mechanical effects, but to see it operate in person was indeed marvelous.

And then came the trailer. Technically the second teaser for The Force Awakens, as Abrams reminded us just before he walked off stage, the new two-minute clip once again offers us a series of exciting but seemingly-unrelated images tied together by a mystical and ominous narration, but this time spoken by a voice much more recognizable. The teaser then ends with the shot that everyone had been waiting for: Han Solo and Chewbacca, together again on-screen after more than three decades. I have to admit I got more than a little choked up.

I think it took a while for everyone to get their bearings after that. I found myself needing to take a short break due to the excitement, and then I almost aimlessly wandered the show-room floor for a while (more on that tomorrow). After all, where do you go from that beginning? If that opening panel had a major failing, it was that it felt like it should have been the last one, or at least the occupier of more traditionally prime convention real-estate than 10 AM Thursday morning.

Still, I managed to make my way into a couple more scheduled talks before the day came to a close. One was a showcase of upcoming Star Wars-branded Disney theme-park merchandise that elicited its share of muted oohs and aahs from the attentive crowd. Another late-afternoon panel that I particularly enjoyed was the candid and frequently hilarious conversation with noted producer Howard Kazanjian. I was astounded to learn during his chat that director David Lynch, during the brief period when it seemed he might helm Return of the Jedi, did not want John Williams to score the movie, or the now-legendary Ben Burtt to do the sound! Kazanjian has evidently come to embrace the notion of throwing caution to the wind when it comes to decades-old showbiz gossip.

I definitely had a blast today, but I still can’t help but worry that having such a front-loaded Star Wars Celebration means that the rest of the weekend, no matter how exciting, will pale in comparison to that thrilling taste we got of Star Wars yet to come.

As I continue to report on my experience, I’m going to consider that the lesson here may be that it’s better to save the look forward until after you’ve already finished looking back.