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A long time ago, in a New Jersey suburb far, far away ... a pre-preschool mini-me gazed at a newspaper and pointed at the picture of the metal man and his trash-can companion. That moment, one of my earliest clear memories, marked my initiation into lifelong Star Wars fandom. From standing in line on opening day of Return of the Jedi, to standing in line on opening day of The Phantom Menace, the holy trilogy has defined the depths of my pop-cultural OCD. Since the start of this column, I have shared every scrap of Star Wars ephemera I come across – from costume contests to classical concerts and any form of fanboy fun in between.
But after Celebration V, I think I’m over Star Wars.
After attending dozens of geek conventions over the years, what made last weekend’s officially sanctioned orgy at the Orange County Convention Center my personal Wookiee Waterloo? For one, sheer size: Nothing could compete for claustrophobia with the nearly 30,000 reported attendees, except perhaps the purgatory of the annual San Diego Comic-Con.
Further, I fear that no fan-show celebrity panel in the future will hold a candle (or lightsaber) to Celebration V’s main event. On Aug. 14, some 4,000 sunstroked superfans squeezed into OCCC’s Chapin Theater to witness a showdown of galactic proportions: Stewart versus Lucas. The host of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (and self-confessed giant nerd) gleefully welcomed “the reason you’re not all at a Star Trek convention right now” to the stage, as George Lucas (in signature plaid shirt) emerged to the crowd’s shrieks.
The hour conversation centered on questions culled from audience submissions and covered ultra-geeky subjects such as C-3P0’s landspeeder piloting skills (Lucas: “R2 was the one with the GPS”), character name origins (“Darth Vader” is “Dutch-ish” for “Dark Father”) and the ubiquity of the name “Skywalker” (“You should see the phone book”). Asked to reveal Obi-Wan’s home planet, Lucas prankishly proclaimed it “Stujon” (“I just make up [the back story] when you ask the questions,” Lucas said) and presented the host with a custom Hasbro action figure of himself, including interchangeable heads – with and without goatee.
Between the jokes there were a few serious (if stilted) moments when Lucas encouraged an aspiring filmmaker to go to film school and prepare to “go down with the ship if necessary.” He was remarkably candid discussing the critically crapped-upon prequel films, alternately apologizing (“The first chapter of a story is always boring”) and justifying (“If the studio owned the property it would have been Episodes VII, VIII, IX’ ... the exact same movie over and over again.”). Lucas asserted that a “generation gap” made older-than-30 fans love the original films, while those under-30 prefer the prequels; the vocal disagreement from young Jar Jar-haters in the crowd made the famously insulated filmmaker look genuinely surprised.
The most remarkable thing about Celebration V, obvious scripting aside, is how comfortable Lucas appeared. I’ve seen countless interviews with him over the years, from Bill Moyers to Duff Goldman (Ace of Cakes), and he always appears socially awkward. Here he appeared to be enjoying himself and was a good sport when Stewart unearthed a humiliating Japanese Panasonic commercial Lucas made during his “dark years” when he needed cash.
For the finale, Lucas launched a merchandising bombshell, announcing a feature-laded Blu-ray release in 2011, and he screened a fabled lost scene of Luke building his green lightsaber. Better yet, he brought out Mark Hamill, who quipped that he barely remembered filming the recovered footage, and a saucy Carrie Fisher, who asked if they were restoring her Leia and Jabba “porn scene.” (“That’s what got me into drugs!”)
While the main event was the high-water mark of the convention, it was also emblematic of the unavoidable dark side. I wasn’t about to camp overnight to see the show in person, but I foolishly thought arriving an hour early would be sufficient to watch the closed-circuit simulcast. After being herded like cattle in the wrong direction by crowds of uninformed staffers, even the Media Center couldn’t direct me to an open overflow room. I sprinted down hallways until discovering a theater that was still seating, but I feel sorry for anyone who dropped $145 on a weekend pass only to be unnecessarily locked out.
The main convention hall was an equally dispiriting mall, packed with a mix of major-manufacturer trade booths hawking the latest overpriced plastic; a couple vintage resellers were asking three figures for the Yak Face my mom garage-sold for cents. Absent were any underground bootlegs or obscure knockoffs that make sci-fi cons such fun; the only subversive things I saw were a Sith Ewok and a single DVD copy of the infamous The Star Wars Holiday Special. I wish I’d stayed long enough to hear what Gary Kurtz, Lucas’ embittered ex-producer, had to say about the surreal scene he’d shockingly been invited to. But by then my midichlorians were mush: Time for this Padawan to pack it in.