Star Wars Celebration Anaheim 2022 was filled with surprises–the first was the change from August to May. That wasn’t so bad for people in Southern California, but for those who were traveling cross country or internationally, that might have presented a challenge, but it’s all a matter of whether you believe the Force is with you and the Sith Lords aren’t targeting you.
The first Star Wars Celebration was held from April 30 to May 2, 1999 in Denver, Colorado, celebrating the release of “Episode I–The Phantom Menace” (released May 16, 1999). I attended the litigious fourth celebration at the Los Angeles Convention Center in May 2007 (without a Han) solo. That was before the celebration came under Disney in 2013. I missed the 2015 Anaheim convention because of my “Best in Show” AKC championship ambitions had me in New Mexico. Celebration Anaheim II was originally scheduled for August 27-30, 2020, then in June 2020, reset for August 18-21, 2022. By May of 2021, it was changed to May 2022–Memorial Day weekend. Instead of three days, the celebration expanded to four–including a Thursday instead of Memorial Day Monday.
Although the timing of this event was right for the new Disney+ series, “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” which premiered May 27, Star Wars Celebration Anaheim II (SWCA) was really all about “The Mandalorian.”
Thursday featured the Lucasfilm Studio Showcase as the first panel at the Celebration Stage. Tickets for the first panel in the main hall (The Celebration Stage) were distributed by lottery as were seats there for two other live stream locations (The Galaxy Stage and The Twin Suns Stage). The Celebration Stage didn’t clear out between panels, but the other two locations did. While that showcase did tease about “Obi-Wan Kenobi” and “Andor, as well as “The Mandalorian,” it also covered other universes: the upcoming fifth Indiana Jones film and the return of “Willow.”
While I didn’t get into any of those locations for Thursday’s Lucasfilm Studio Showcase, many of the guests made their way to the exhibition hall’s StarWars.com stage. That’s where I saw “Willow” stars Warwick Davis and Whalley making an appearance. The sneak peeks for “Willow,” “Andor” and Season 3 of “The Mandaorian” were also screened there on Thursday. There were no chairs and fans were encouraged to stand and wave their lightsabers.
There’s probably no need to introduce Obi-Wan Kenobi, and some people will remember the late English actor Alec Guinness (1914-2000) who originated the role, but Scottish actor Ewan McGregor played the younger version in the prequel trilogy and returns as the title character of this miniseries. The series begins a decade after the events of the 2005 film “Star Wars: Episode III–Revenge of the Sith.” The Clone Protocol 66 was a behavioral biochip implanted into the brains of clone troopers that forced the clones to turn against their Jedi Generals, identifying the Jedi as traitors to the Galactic Republic and resulting in the death of the majority of Jedi. Anakin Skywalker is now the Sith Lord Darth Vader, but his children have secretly survived.
In “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the Jedi have gone underground and are being hunted. Kenobi is on Tatooine watching over the child, Luke Skywalker. However, Kenobi, is contacted by Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) when his adoptive daughter, Anakin’s other child, Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair), is kidnapped. Organa asks for Kenobi’s help.
I’ve seen the first two episodes of “Obi-Wan Kenobi” and am hoping it gets better. I have more hope for “Andor.” Cassian Andor was a Rebel captain and intelligence officer introduced in the 2016 film, “Rogue One.” That film (directed by Gareth Edwards) was a diversity jackpot. Although the focus was on Jyn Erso, who joins the Rebel Alliance and is played by English actress Felicity Jones, the film featured a Latino lead, Diego Luna as Cassian Andor as well as actors of Asian descent: Donnie Yen as a blind warrior, Jian Wen as his companion and Riz Ahmed as a defector to the Rebel side. Forest Whitaker also appears as does Jimmy Smits.
While it is disappointing that none of the actors of Asian descent are currently listed as appearing in the TV series, besides Luna, Latina actress Adria Arjona is in the main cast. The trailer looks promising and the series takes place five years before the events of “Rogue One.” The 12 initial episodes will move the story forward one year. When the cast and crew get together again this November, they will be shooting another 12 episodes that, according to creator Tony Gilroy, will span the next four years. The final scene will leave us at the beginning of “Rogue One.”
Luna noted that Andor’s character will change during the series which shows us why he joined the Rebel Alliance.
The series is currently set to be released 31 August on Disney+. with the first two episodes.
“Willow” was a 1988 dark fantasy film that had nothing to do with clones, Sith Lords or twin sun desert planets. In the original Ron Howard directed film, fate brings a child with a special rune birthmark to a village of Nelwyn (little people) and one of them, aspiring sorcerer Willow Ufgood and his family adopt her. When the Nelwyn decide she must be returned to her kind, Willow becomes involved in battles against an evil sorceress. The TV series will take place 20 years after the events of the original film, when a princess (Ruby Cruz) goes on a quest to rescue her twin brother. Davis returns as Willow and Joanne Whalley, who played, Sorsha, the daughter of the evil sorceress, returns as well. In the film, Sorsha turned against her mother when she fell in love with swordsman Madmartigan. Madmartigan was played by Val Kilmer who reportedly will be included in the series. “Willow” will premiere November 30, 2022, exclusively on Disney+.
The Season 3 teaser for “The Mandalorian” was also screened repeatedly at the StarWars.com stage. Although he is told, “Redemption is no longer possible” because he has willingly removed his helmet, Din Djarin intones, “I’m going to Mandalore so that I may be forgiven for my transgressions.”
While the StarWars.com stage was fun, only the attendees in the Celebration Stage got a wonderful surprise–tickets to view the first two episodes early that Thursday evening. I waited until the episodes hit Disney+, hitting the dance floor instead at the Anaheim House of Blues for a Star Wars Celebration D23 Galactic Disco Night. Star Wars is disco and a bit of Charleston swing, but we danced tango, swango and swing.
Friday, we got into The Galaxy Stage for a live-stream of “Light & Magic” panel. The DJs for The Show Before the Show entertained us by bringing volunteers from the audience to dance on stage. Eight audience members were chosen to participate, choosing a song from an unknown list 1-50. One of the eight was the only one without any Star Wars apparel, but a kind-hearted Luke loaned him his cloak and, just before the man started his dance, another iteration of cosplay Luke, loaned him his green lightsaber. It was a really touching moment of kindness because this wasn’t a dance contest so much as a time for celebrating our love for Star Wars. I’d have gone up, but then I wouldn’t be able to videotape. Visit my TikTok or YouTube channels to see these. More photos and videos will be posted this week and next. (Videotaping of the sneak peeks was prohibited.)
All aspiring filmmakers and film critics should watch the new six-part series “Light & Magic.” Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, the documentary goes into the history and working relationships of the people in Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic,the division that developed special visual effects, animation and virtual production. Academy Award-nominated director Kasdan, who due to illness appeared virtually, was joined by executive producer Ron Howard, and VFX pioneers Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Joe Johnston, Rose Duignan and Lynwen Brennan.
Kasdan wanted to explore not only how things were done, but also why and how the team got there, attempting to capture more personal stories by asking the members who they were and why they were there. What the audience learns was the inspiration for some of the ships came from everyday items like a stack of dirty dishes. Moreover, Johnston developed Colin Cantwell’s initial designs for the space ships by going back to Lucas’ “American Graffiti” film aesthetics. Lucas was very specific about the cars that each character drove. In Star Wars, the same concepts were used. The Empire were vehicles were pristine, but the Rebel Alliance were used cars, souped up to go faster.
Tippet recalled some of the characters in their initial states had more descriptive names, like Admiral Akbar was originally dubbed “calamari man.” Left alone, the ILM crew were more relaxed, but when Lucas showed up they tried to clean up their act. Duignan remembered that one time when a group were relaxing in a hot tub while John Dykstra was using a forklift to drop a refrigerator, Lucas arrived in a limo with a studio executive. After one look at this “country club,” Lucas and company got back in the car and left. Duignan thought they were in trouble, but they had been working hard and, at the time, sound effects engineer Ben Burtt was recording the refrigerator drop. In creating a modern myth for 12-year-olds about selflessness fighting selfishness, Lucas did set the tone for ILM. He wanted them to be without ego, and selflessly work together to get the work done.
The documentary “Light & Magic” premieres on July 27, exclusively on Disney+.
Saturday, we were lucky. We got into the Celebration Stage to see “Mando+: A Conversation with Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni” but in reality, Favreau and Filoni brought friends, including cast members from both “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett.” There were no spoilers, but whatever your feelings about the Boba Fett TV series, there’s no doubt that star Temuera Morrison knows how to make an entrance.
The panel was moderated by Ash Crossan, host of Screenrant and Favreau and Filoni were joined by Pedro Pascal (Din Djarin), Brendan Wayne, Lateef Crowder, Giancarlo Esposito (Moff Gideon), Emily Swallow (The Armorer), Carl Weathers (Greef Karga), Temuera Morrison (Boba Fett), Katee Sackhoff (Bo-Katan), executive producer Rick Famuyiwa, Rosario Dawson (Ahsoka) and Natasha Liu Bordizzo. Fan favorites Grogu from “The Mandalorian” and Chopper, a droid that will be featured in “Ahsoka” also made an appearance, their first at Star Wars Celebration.
The importance of creating such a cute Grogu can’t be overstated. Acting with such an adorable animatronic engaged his paternal feelings, Pascal admitted. “It’s the closest I’ve ever come to being a dad.” Later, when Grogu was on stage, Pascal stood up between Filoni and Favreau and Filoni joked, “Now our new show: ‘My Three Dads.'”
Fans were treated to early footage from the “Ahsoka” series, which stars Rosario Dawson.
Even though production has just started on “Ahsoka,” the audience was treated to a few scenes and an extended teaser for “The Mandalorian” Season 3 was screened. Both “Ahsoka” and “The Mandalorian,” Season 3 will stream exclusively on Disney+ in 2023.
One thing that can’t be seen anywhere else but Star Wars Celebration was “The Mandalorian Experience.” This was a surprise ticketed activation, basically the best museum exhibit you could wish for on “The Mandalorian.” Getting in the standby line early Sunday morning, I was able to get in and film and photograph some of this amazing exhibition.
If you’re not familiar with the virtual production of “The Mandalorian,” ILM has a 2020 behind-the-scene YouTube video about how the curved screen was used in Season One of “The Mandalorian.”
From the static models to the costumes to miniature sets to large scale props and animatronics, this is what one would want in a cinematic science fiction museum exhibition. One of the docents showed the miniature set that was used to help provide the in-camera imaging that goes beyond green screen, providing objects that the actors can see and move around. It’s an interesting process that was described during one of the panels.
Although people say you must choose either the panels or the merchandising tracks because of the long lines, you can try and do both. What is striking about Star Wars Celebration is how it celebrates the creativity of the people behind Star Wars and how it inspires attendees to be creative in their replication of Star Wars items or riffing off of Star Wars characters or creations, and that goes beyond costuming or art (including tattooing at the Ink Fusion Tattoo Empire at the exhibition hall)). With the droid racing on the exhibition hall floor and Droidbuilders room (and STEAM classes) on the second floor and a variety of crafts and technology on display in The Mandalorian Experience, Star Wars is both art and science wrapped in a fun, but stylish weekend.
Some notes from the Star Wars Celebration weekend and any convention at the Anaheim Convention Center:
- Reedpop, the company that runs the show, uses a cotton flat drawstring cord for the bracelet to show you’ve passed your COVID-19 check for the full weekend. It slides easily under gloves and takes the moisture of a shower easily. It also doesn’t snag on your silk, satin or gauze costuming. It’s a total win from my perspective.
- Masks were required, but readily available at the hotel where the initial health checks were given. Someone in the standby line for “The Mandalorian Experience” was told he couldn’t go in without a mask. He left, but I think if he had asked for someone to save his place, he could have procured a disposable mask from the hotel which is adjacent to the Convention Center.
- To get into the Anaheim Convention Center, we had to go through metal detectors. Separately bag things like eyeglasses and their cases, portable brick chargers and even umbrellas. These are the things that will set off the metal detectors.
- Reedpop uses Growtix event management software. The software allows you to enter a lottery for first panel seats in the main stage (Celebration Stage) which is great, but it didn’t always work. Entering by the Sunday deadline, we got two of our three choices, but our Friday win only came back with one seat. We had queried online about this and were told it would be handled in the line. At the convention center line, I was told that one seat allowed a plus one, but that was challenged farther down in the line. Because we got there early, and we spoke patiently and politely with the staff, we were able to both get in. Later, we spoke with other people who also had a fail, but didn’t try. Don’t give up; get up early and speak with the staff. On Saturday morning, not all the seats were filled.
- Reedpop’s staff were exceptionally helpful. I asked about where to line up and even the best way to get inside and get into the next line and the person handling the morning lineup (indoors) was very knowledgeable. The line for the main stage was in a different spot which I learned the day before we headed to that line.
- Bring a blanket or a pillow because you’ll likely be sitting in a line for many different things.
- Bring water and food. You’ll want to eat in line and hopefully, you have a friend there.
- Talk to the people you’re in line with. They may have tips for you.
- If you’re bringing your lightsaber, be mindful where it is pointed (one almost took out my husband’s eye) and bring extra batteries. While the exhibition floor people brought some, by Saturday morning, those triple A batteries were a scarce commodity.
- Have a sense of humor like the people who showed up as “Find Waldo” variants or Star Trek characters. Except for Thursday, when I went as Purple Ray (because it never rains in Southern California), we attended as Han Dynasty Solo and Princess Lei Aloha. Here’s our weekend in face masks.