Last weekend, AEISD contributors Mark Searby and Samantha Payne attended STAR WARS CELEBRATION EUROPE. Here they discuss their day at this massive event…
After a agonising nine year hiatus, Lucasfilms‘ legendary Star Wars Celebration event – run by master exhibitioneers ReedPOP – had finally returned to London. Taking place at the Docklands Excel centre over the weekend of 15-17th July, this European edition of the annual event brought tens of thousands of attendees from across the globe and united loyal, dedicated fans of that Galaxy, long ago and far, far away.
Having never been to a fan convention that exists solely for one brand, I did have to wonder what was in store for me – with just a Saturday badge purchased, off to Star Wars Celebration I went. Walking through the middle concourse, the first thing that’s noticeable is the size of the event. This is no small fry party and ReedPOP really had gone to town on it.
There were more sections opened than I had seen at other cons that use the Excel: models, statues, buildings all towered above attendees, making it feel like we were all Jawas, picking our way through the event.
Having checked the day’s panels and seeing none of them of personal interest, my Mission: Impossible became, should I chose to accept it: Get My Hands On Mark Hamill’s Signature!
Okay, maybe not impossible, but I knew this would be an uphill task – he’s a popular boy, don’tcha know. As soon as those shutters lifted at 10am and we were allowed into the hall, it was a sharp walk – no running, of course! – over to the Autograph Booths. After battling through the masses, a virtual ticket was provided me with a number of 247. Was there a (new) hope? Who knew! The current queue was 1-50. Maybe, just maybe, it could happen for this boy with a dream…
With a rough estimate of hitting the queue around 4pm, I’ll come back to this, I thought.
So, that was on my horizon – what next? My First Order of business was to check out the two sides of the Exhibit Hall, both afforded to the convention. This may be an obvious statement, but if you were attending this event and weren’t truly truly into STAR WARS, then both Exhibit Hall’s would hold zero interest for you – it really was wall-to-wall with no respite.
The entire floor was rammed with stalls selling SW merchandise, master builder groups, cosplayers and garrisons from across the globe, a massive display of Props and Costumes from the upcoming ROGUE ONE standalone film, and an small Artist Alley.
However, for me, covering both sides of the Exhibit Hall proved to pass less than an hour of my time. Whilst taking up a large area, there did seem to be a lot of merchandise space allocated and there was nothing to fully grab any attention, with most collectables were either available on every stall or requiring a special pass to purchase. Frustrating.
Wandering through the centre concourse, it was very obvious that cosplay was the big thing. So many incredible costumes, with production values that got better and better as the day went on, it was difficult not to simply stop and stare at the majority of them.
Taking a breather outside for lunch in the blazing sunshine, and then back into the thick of things. The Hamill signature quest continued as arriving at the booth – the virtual ticket numbers had risen to 200; I was so close to being tempted into that queue. However, word was spreading fast that he liked to talk and wasn’t a quick signer. Would the virtual queue make 250 for me to slip in? Or would it be a case of so-close-yet-so-far?
Feeling like we should at least watch a panel or two, myself and Samantha ventured into the Galaxy Stage to watch the panel on Madame Tussauds and how they created the Star Wars exhibition proved interesting to begin with – an entertaining story came from one of the Tussauds workers as they recalled going to Skywalker ranch for the first time and trying not to be too much of a fangirl about it all.
However, after the big reveal of the panel – the unveiling of the brand new (and, admittedly, very impressive) Rey waxwork – the presentation turned rather dull as the stories of how to make a waxwork became a tad tedious and far too in-depth. Us mere mortals who don’t understand the very detailed process of modelling, sculpting and finally rendering the statues were being pitched over our heads and left looking at the stills on screen, all of which were the same four or five shots on a loop and cropped smaller and smaller.
Hamill Signature Quest: continued. At just after 4pm the booth was still saying 1-200 for virtual tickets. Just as I’m thinking of throwing in the towel, the number gets upped to 250. Boom! A quick scuttle/dance into the Hamill queue and it meant it was finally happening for me!
Mark was hidden away behind a black felt wall, so a massive amount of the people in the line couldn’t see what was happening or even if he was there – so very much like THE FORCE AWAKENS, then, very much shrouded in mystery! All we knew was that the line was slowly moving towards the end goal…
One hour twenty minutes later and many, many, many, many, MANY pounds poorer, the time came to face Skywalker himself. Stills from all Star Wars film were available if you had not brought anything of your own to sign; I had turned up with a figure that caused quite a stir in the queue beforehand – a limited edition Cock-Knocker figure from the JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK movie (purchased at San Diego Comic-Con in 2014, it is numbered 31 of 400 pieces – a prized possession!)
Hamill beamed as he saw the figure and duly signed it, proceeding to tell a funny story about how he tells kids he thought his character was called “Clock-Knocker” rather than Cock-Knocker! A firm handshake and then out into the Exhibit Hall, realising my Hamill Signature Quest: Completed. It may have cost a lot of money and time but meeting Mark was a delight and one that, if possible, everybody should do once.
With that Achievement Unlocked, it meant my time at Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 had come to an end. It was an enjoyable experience and one that has sucked me back into that rich and deep STAR WARS universe much more than I thought it ever would.