It was at the International Star Wars Fandom panel, early Saturday morning, to be precise. Now, it’s not an earth-shattering thing, certainly, and con-goers will have learned this long before some halfwit writing pretentious long-form did so. But please forgive me, I’m new to this world. Celebration Europe 2016 was not just my first Celebration, but my first convention. This seemed to surprise many I told; ‘overwhelming’ was the word our very own Bruce Gibson supplied, catching sight of my bulging eyes as my mind failed me when he asked what I thought of it all. ‘What, on purpose?’ another asked incredulously. ‘You’re either brave or mad’ said another. She was right, too, and I’m certainly more one than the other – though sadly I fear I’ve got it mixed up of which quality I have more. So what is this valuable lesson? Well, I’m getting ahead of myself – and need to delve a bit more into the past.
It was a … an indeterminate night, several years ago, that news reached me of the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, that there’d be new films, and a little while later when we fans received confirmation of perhaps (YMMV) one of our greatest fears: the demise of the Expanded Universe. Or EU, as it was colloquially known. Yes, back before Brexit, there was Swexit, or something. Many were sad; I was among them. I loved that universe and didn’t want it to end. I had become quite invested in it, after all.
And emotionally, too, of course. I must be among the few who actually liked Ben Skywalker (not that Ben) and Jaina Solo and even Jagged Fel – Captain Cardboard, for crying out loud – and I wanted to see how they fared. But all (mostly) good things must come to an end and this was no different. It wasn’t so bad, really, because I still had my Star Warsian friends, I still had the fandom. Unfortunately, things did not go smoothly in the fandom.
Many were upset, understandably. Some decided to make their feelings known through petitions, which is fair enough. However, things turned sour when a small faction of fans pushed too hard, to the extent that their actions could reasonably be called harassment. This is of course not okay – and though I never experienced this personally, I condemn it all the same. Again personally, I only experienced heated arguments with friends within the fandom who absolutely abhorred the change and were quite vitriolic in saying so. For me, it became just too exhausting (again, this has no patch on those who endured more) and my relationship with fandom soured, so I left. No great loss to the fandom, of course, but it was a loss to me. I didn’t want to talk about Star Wars; I’m reticent to talk about it still. I just want to watch or read a thing and then move on without dwelling on it.
And then I went to Celebration.
There’s of course a few things that you can do at Celebration: you can buy stuff. Good lord, you can buy stuff. I certainly did. First day there I nearly spent two days’ worth of budget. After that first day? Eh, not so much. Not knocking it, of course. If you like toys and Star Wars paraphernalia, Celebration has your back. And your front. And your wallet. The other thing to do is to go to panels – and I did that, too (Obligatory holiday pic of me attending the Rebels premiere with some familiar looking scoundrels). And certainly panels are one of the main draws, for it is those where we learn useful and illuminating information on the inner workings of the franchise we all love and – for the most part – enjoy. And where, too, new information on the future of the franchise is revealed (mostly) for the first time. So, if you’re going to one of these conventions then a panel will likely appear in your future.
But there is another aspect, one I hadn’t counted upon, and it’s the lesson I learned in the International Fandom panel: community. Sadly I can’t recall who said it, though I think it may have been James Floyd – or Jawajames, as I embarrassingly called him after the panel – who said that at first he came to conventions for Star Wars. And then he came for his Star Wars friends. In a learning curve that would give Tom Daley a run for his money, I learned this lesson too. I learned this while hanging out with my Star Wars Report compatriots, Bethany, Bruce and Riley, alongside William of our Ion Cannon podcast, who all obligingly suffered my presence and ineffective noodle eating, where we spent the day not doing much but had a lot of fun not doing it. I learned this with Jordan, the Mando’ade cosplayer who miraculously managed to assemble and paint his armour in a matter of days, and who generously gifted me a portraited photo as we waited in line to see Mark Hamill (Jordan, I am so sorry that I didn’t get to thank you once again, post-signing. I was shuffled along out of the centre rather smartly). I learned it from Becky with the good hair*, whom I met in both queues for Carrie and Mark. I learned it with Swara, Alan, Anthony, Tricia and the lovely Dutch fellow whose name I’ve sadly forgotten, but spent a wonderful hour sitting beside in the Carrie Fisher panel, and who can whistle very, very loudly.
*This is a joke, obviously. Her name was Hannah and her hair was impeccable.
This is the best of Star Wars. After A New Hope, obviously. And Empire Strikes Back. And Return of the Jedi and – okay, top ten, easy. This fandom is built on a love of Star Wars, but is sustained by friends and friendship.
If an inanimate object knows anything, it’s two things: that friendship brings out the best of us and, that if the first rule of Fight Club is to not talk about Fight Club, do not make a movie about it. What on earth were they thinking? I digress.
Star Wars Celebration knows this, and acts as a catalyst to that – as well as a thank you, of sorts, to us fans. And this screed is, I suppose, a thank you to my fellow fans, too. Thank you. I come from a small city. We have one comic book store; it’s a single 10x6ft room (3×1.8m) and only arrived within the last year or so. Before that the nearest comic book store was about thirty miles (48km) away. There aren’t many people I know personally who like Star Wars in my area. There’s the internet, of course, but, well, see above. Okay, that kerfuffle aside, the internet is great as a means of meeting like-minded people, but sometimes you just need another human being in front of you (and not just dress your dog up as a wampa). Celebration afforded me an opportunity that I’d never had, and will probably not have again*: to be among people who, irrespective of beliefs, race, gender, all love Star Wars and can come together, strike up a conversation by simply saying ‘so Thrawn, huh?’ or ‘So who’s the new Fulcrum?’** or ‘Just whose holocron is that, anyway?’*** and conversation would flow freely and easily and we’d share, if only for five minutes or an hour, a close and easy bond. So, thank you.
*Not dying, just poor – no matter how bad I look.
**Agent Muttonchop, and I’ll have no argument about that.
***Darth Traya, of course.
Also I totally met Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. Juuust sayin’.