It's been a little over a week since Celebration VII ended at the Orange County Convention Center, which is barely been enough time to recover from the biggest Star Wars convention Orlando has ever seen. In over two decades of attending major events at OCCC, including countless Megacons and IAAPAs, I've never experienced anything close to the insanity of 2017's Star Wars Celebration Orlando, which supposedly sold more than 50,000 tickets.
Fans from around the world started camping out for coveted panel wristbands a day before the event was scheduled to start, and the queuing throngs were impressively peaceful considering the rampant disorganization demonstrated by convention organizers ReedPOP. After a full day of being misdirected by ill-informed Celebration representatives, I learned that I could get a far better view of the all-important discussion panels by staying home and watching live YouTube streams from my couch.
Even so, there was something undeniably inspiring about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of fellow Star Wars fanatics as George Lucas, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford appeared on stage together ... even if we were just watching a Jumbotron simulcast hundreds of yards outside the actual hall. Aside from literally bumping into Ian "Emperor Palpatine" McDiarmid as he strolled to an autograph session, my only close encounters with famous characters came courtesy of the cosplaying attendees.
As usual, the fan-made costumes – ranging from screen-accurate likenesses of Sith and Jedi to a bling-encrusted Crystal Stormtrooper, and clever crossovers like "Garth Vader," wandering the halls searching for "Obi Wayne Kenobi" – were the highlight of the con. With each successive Celebration I've attended, the massive main show floor has become increasingly overrun with slick marketing displays pushing the latest lines of officially licensed Star Wars products, such as Hasbro's new "Forces of Destiny" female-focused action figures (which are sadly still proportioned more like fashion models than the actual actresses, despite the pro-woman advertising). But it's the less corporate components – like mom-and-pop vendors trading in vintage lunchboxes and board games from my youth, or a collection of customized cars inspired by characters like BB-8 and Darth Vader – that keep sci-fi fan conventions worth coming to, if only to admire the labors of love that these movies motivate fans to undertake.
Trying to see any of Star Wars Celebration's headliner events in person, such as the debut of the new teaser trailer for Episode VIII or Hamill's touching tribute to Carrie Fisher, was an exercise in frustration if you weren't willing to wait in line overnight. The one panel I did squeeze into – a Q&A with a laconic Billy Dee Williams – was notable mostly for Warwick Davis' exuberant emceeing, while others I followed online offered scant solid details about upcoming Star Wars adventures. But there was one Celebration session that actually lived up to expectations, unveiling previously unknown information about the Star Wars attractions currently under construction at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Celebration's Disney Parks-produced discussion panel, which featured Imagineering's Scott Trowbridge alongside Lucasfilm's Pablo Hidalgo and Doug Chiang, provided our most detailed preview yet of the new lands opening in 2019 at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. While the name of the location guests will visit is still a secret, it was confirmed that the new area represents a previously unseen planet on the galaxy's Outer Rim, and is set in the post-Endor era of the Resistance and First Order. As previously rumored, we know that the land's headliner rides will be a Millennium Falcon simulator, which will give each guest a job in crewing the iconic craft, and an indoor thrill ride through a battle featuring life-sized AT-AT walkers.
NEW DISNEY DETAILS
What was new, and potentially game-changing, was the suggestion that the entire Star Wars area will be interactive to an unprecedented degree. Details are currently fuzzier than a Wookiee's chin, but Disney implies that every action guests take will impact their reputation and influence how the aliens and droids autonomously roaming the region react to them. Bang up the bird during your flight on the Falcon, and characters elsewhere will remember it later. Essentially, the entire Star Wars section of the park will resemble an immersive live action role-playing game where secret missions and Force-fueled stunts fill the streets, instead of being restricted to inside show buildings; watch the alleyways and rooftops for in-your-face fisticuffs between Stormtroopers and the citizens.
How Mickey will manage the sure-to-be-overwhelming demand for such an experience, and what kind of expensive upcharges may be involved, remain the million-dollar questions. Disney has even surveyed guests about a proposed boutique Star Wars hotel where the story will surround you while you sleep; if you have to ask "how much?," you definitely won't be able to afford it. However, if the Mouse can make this innovative concept fly (along with others, like their recent patent for laser-deflecting lightsabers), Disney could finally leapfrog Universal's Wizarding World, making Potter's magic wands look like outmoded pieces of plastic.