Behind the Stars of Star Wars Panel at Dragon Con 2015


The following sentence is something I never thought I would write. At this past Dragon Con, I had the extreme privilege of hosting the Saturdays Stars of Star Wars panel with Hera herself Vanessa Marshall and the man behind the mask of Chewbacca, Peter Mayhew.

Peter’s tales

Ever since I first saw Star Wars so many years ago, Chewbacca has always been one of my favorite characters. He’s always such a lovable teddy bear, but also such a great sense of safety and security for the heroes as they go through their journey. Vanessa Marshall was an absolute treat to be around. She’s been a central part in ushering in a new era of strong women in the world of Star Wars television. It was an amazing privilege that I got to share – in some small part – the Dragon Con stage with two such incredible people!

Vanessa Marshall and Peter Mayhew

I have to confess that initially I didn’t know I would be hosting the panel because I was far away from internet access conducting my air force field training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery Alabama. So when I got the word that the panel was happening upon returning home, I was thrilled frankly very nervous as well. However, I must admit I was totally unprepared for the adventures which would ensue.

Riley Blanton moderates

It all starts with the trooper huddle.

I have to start this part of the story by sending out a huge shout out to Josh Mueller who is the CO of the GA garrison of the 501st legion. He helped me put together some amazing pre-panel entertainment. This involved about a dozen stormtroopers who volunteered to walk amongst the crowd as “security.” This being said, I found myself in a rather out-of-body experience. I had gathered some of the SWR team outside of the doors to the panel to start getting ready and suddenly about 12 stormtroopers surrounded me. I then  found myself giving a sort of pre-game pep rally to a bunch of stormtroopers. Only at Dragon Con.

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Trooper time!

I got to meet both Peter Mayhew and Vanessa Marshall and the were both an absolute treat to meet. Vanessa was gracious as could be and Peter was every bit as kindly and pleasant as I could have hoped. They were both on their game and were there for the fans with plenty of entertaining stories to share.

Highlights of the panel included:

  • Peter recounting his encounter with the TSA. Peter was confronted by TSA agents who thought his lightsaber-shaped cane looked dubious. Quite coincidentally, as soon as the hold-up became public on Twitter, miraculously Peter was justly given his lightsaber can back and all was right with the world. 

    • One of my favorite questions was when a very nervous kid asked of both Peter and Vanessa “why is there Darth Vader”? Vanessa recounted in the most endearing of ways the “story of Darth Vader.” (she had to censor the whole killing the younglings part)
    • Another amazing moment was towards the end of the panel when I screened the Comic Con BTS reel for the whole audience and we all watched it with Vanessa and Peter. It was incredible.

  • Lastly, the panel was capped off by giving a gift to each guest. For Vanessa,  a pair of BB8 Earrings, and for Peter, a much-deserved medal as a way of showing our gratitude for the guests coming to Dragon Con 2015.

All in all, having the opportunity to host a panel with such amazing Star Wars royalty and getting to share that experience with so many Star Wars fans at Dragon Con is something I’ll never forget. Best Dragon Con ever.

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-Riley Blanton

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