Film Convention: Star Wars Celebration 2016

 

16th & 17th July 2016 | ExCel Centre, London

A long time ago (well, 2007 actually) in a Galaxy far, far away (alright, London then)... Yes, this was when British shores last welcomed Lucasfilm's official Star Wars con: Star Wars Celebration! And A LOT has happened since then! Banished to the Sarlaac are memories of the announced live-action TV series back in 2007. What ever happened to that, I hear you ask. Well the project was picked up again when Disney acquired Lucas's empire and have decided to develop the concept into a feature length film instead. Enter: Rogue One. Hooray! So with Episode VII done and dusted, sights are now set for the very first Star Wars spin-off, and Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 will certainly have some tasty surprises in store for us. Many Bothans died to bring us this information...

 

Hit the buttons to jump to each section at lightspeed:

Arriving...

I've opted to attend the Friday, as judging by last year's Celebration in California, the opening day is the day to grace Celebration - last year's opening day of course saw the grand unveiling of BB-8, First Order Stormtroopers, and the new cast of The Force Awakens. This year's main event will be the Rogue One panel, and wristbands to attend will be like Kyber Crystal-dust. Geeks will be camping overnight to secure their position in the queue, but with two thousand available, I'm as confident as Han Solo flying through asteroids that if I get to the ExCel Centre early enough, I'll be able to get my grubby mitts on a coveted wristband. With Friday passes in hand, myself and my trusty partner 'Nien Nunb' make our way to London's ExCel Centre. It's an early start (6am!) to ensure we get our hands on those Rogue One panel wristbands!

Arriving at the station, I see they've plastered some fantastic Star Wars artwork everywhere!

No time to admire the scenery for too long, we need those wristbands! Aaaaand....... wristbands acquired!! We're in the Rogue One panel, and as a bonus also the 'An Hour with Mark Hamill' panel! Just in time too, as the wristbands were all gone soon after. Phew! And as extra luck would have it, Nien Nunb has made friends with a fellow geek, Amanda, who has travelled all the way from Canada to be here, and will tag along with us on our Celebration adventure. As a thank you, she kindly lets me have her spare pass for Saturday. Yes, I have a FREE PASS for Saturday too!! Wowzers!! This proves that Star Wars does have the best fans!

And we're in! The queue is longer than a Star Destroyer, but it's moving quick. The excitement levels are building as we enter into the world of Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016!

(The rest of my Celebration blog will merge my Friday and Saturday experience together)

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Celebration Floor...

I took plenty of photos from every possible angle to cover all of the awesomeness I witnessed at Celebration. The con took over almost the entirety of the ExCel Centre, spanning across two halls and two floors! Here's a selection of randoms from the convention floor:

Love those signed model ANA aeroplanes! Wandering around the venue were various R2 units, whirring and whistling away, courtesy of the 'UK R2-D2 Builder's Club' (more of them later)...

Ireland location tours and Star Wars Lego...

The life-sized lego sculptures are amazing. Whoever built them must have the patience of Yoda! Next up is that fantastic looking Star Wars Live Show stage. This is the area where Celebration guests will be interviewed and panels will be shown and streamed live across the globe. The stage itself is decked out like the interior of the Falcon and looks absolutely gorgeous. The attention to detail would make even Chewbacca proud! And if you look closely, you can even spy a certain Mr Warwick Davis perched by the space chess table. I catch an interview with Darth Maul himself Ray Park, plus watch a panel led by Photoshop creator and ILM guru John Knoll.

Another cool area is the Game Zone, featuring rows of Playstations and PCs where gaming geeks can sample the latest video games...

The Celebration halls are filled with gorgeous Star Wars display pieces of all kinds, including some costumes that were actually worn by the actors of both trilogies...

There are also plenty of cool vehicles and models dotted around the place...

In the far corner of Hall 2, I can hear a loud constant buzzing sound. Going over to investigate, I discover Celebration's Star Wars Tattoo Zone! Geeks are getting inked up, and sport some absolutely fabulous looking Star Wars tattoo designs...

On my travels around the event, I bump into Steve Sansweet, the president of Rancho Obi-Wan, a museum that houses the world's largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia (closely followed by my attic!). Steve used to be Director of Content Management and head of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm, and his collection is estimated to be around 300,000 items! He's a lovely guy and kindly snapped a selfie with me. Wandering back to the Star Wars Live Show Stage, where they're broadcasting the 'Without Protocol' panel with Threepio himself Anthony Daniels and Celebration host Warwick Davis, and an interview with the Fetts Jeremy Bulloch and Daniel Loga. I also snap some other random delights, including geeks playing role-play-games and a quiz hosted by Empire Magazine!

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Cosplayers...

What would a Star Wars convention be without the Cosplayers? And there were some absolutely fantastic costumes being worn by the fans, some of them worthy of being used in the movies themselves. My personal favourites were the original quirky takes on characters, which just showed the imagination and effort that goes into the wonderful world of cosplay.

There were, of course, plenty of Imperial Troopers of various types patroling the ExCel Centre...

There were some delightful original designs, including a superb 'Zombie' Stormtrooper, a 'Predator' AT-AT Pilot, a 'Fred Durst' Stormtrooper ("I did it all for the Wookie!"), a 'Dead Space' Clone Trooper, and a trio of sparkly Stormtrooper gals...

Darth Vader also graced Celebration with his presence of course, as did Emperor Palpatine and his Royal Guards. Vader even reveals his true identity... it's Planet of the Apes' Doctor Zeus!!

Bounty Hunters were also hunting for targets during Celebration, with Boba Fetts aplenty, including an outstanding 'Picachu Pokemon' fusion, a 'Prototype' Boba Fett, and a marvelous 'Predator' Fett...

The Force Awakens was represented of course, with legions of Kylo Rens everywhere and other soon-to-become-classic characters...

I also spotted a great in-joke cosplay from Adam Driver's 'Undercover Boss' SNL skit: Yes, it's 'Matt the radar technician'...

 

Plenty of Sith presence at ExCel too, including some very scary Darth Mauls...

And to bring balance to the Force were several Jedi...

The Expanded Universe also got some representation, including Star Wars Rebels, Mara Jade, and Grand Admiral Thrawn...

...as did Imperial Officers and Imperial spies.

Cosplay of the day has to go to these two.. I absolutely loved these Statler and Waldorf Imperial Officers!!

There were Twi'lek's galore (but no Bib Fortuna)...

And here are the best of the rest...

I think special mention needs to be giving for these original and rather, er, unusual Star Wars cosplays!

And lastly, I bumped into George Lucas himself (!) complete with attached neck waddle! The cosplayer invited me to touch the waddle and make a wish, and I pleaded that Episode VII does not suck, much to George's amusement! "Meesa bombad Jedi!"

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Rogue One Costumes...

With the focus of this year's Celebration being the upcoming stand-alone film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, one of the highlights was the amazing costume display featuring the actual clothing worn by the actors in Rogue One. With each costume was displayed a short description of each character, containing mild spoilery titbits, so be warned! The display was gorgeously presented with lovely lighting, and the geeks were able to get fairly close to each costume for closer scrutiny.

The big centre piece was Director Krennic's Imperial garb, featuring that lovely long white cape reminiscent of Grand Admiral Thrawn...

And another big crowd pleaser was the Death Trooper armour...

It's not all sleek and shiny though, and these new Shore Troopers perfectly demonstrate how Rogue One has mantained that Original Trilogy classic grubby look.

Rogue One will of course also feature those classic Stormtroopers we all know and love...

And the more shabby 'Earthy' costumes as worn by the Rebels, including Felicity Jones, Riz Ahmed, and Donnie Yen...

Now there's only the small matter of the Rogue One Panel to attend!

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Rogue One Panel...

*SPOILERS!* The were some 'for-the-audience-only' reveals which I will divulge here, so be warned!

And here is the moment we've all been waiting for! Up until now, the only thing of Rogue One we've seen so far has been the amazing teaser trailer:

 

The next hour and a half should give geeks an exclusive glimpse of what's to come this December. Those of us lucky enough to have wristbands start filing into the waiting area. Before long, we're led into the enourmous room that houses the Celebration Stage. The first thing I notice is the long line of empty chairs assembled on the stage. Officially, we know that Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and director Gareth Edwards will be talking about Rogue One, so all other guests are surprises. There are thirteen empty seats up there. The anticipation is killing me! I also love the Celebration art work being projected onto the big screen that looms above the stage. The lights dim a little and an announcement is made: "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome your host Gwendoline Christie!" Yes it;s only bloody Captain Phasma herself!

She obviously managed to escape the trash compactor of Starkiller Base and made her way to the ExCel Centre to oversee the Rogue One Panel proceedings! She announces the first of her guests: Rogue One producer Kiri Hart, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, ILM Chief and Rogue One's co-writer John Knoll, and director Gareth Edwards. The first thing they reveal is a teaser poster for the film, which looks absolutely stunning. It's a significant departure to anything we've seen before Star Wars poster-wise, and is sure to become a fan favourite. As an added bonus, Kathleen Kennedy announces that every single audience member will receive an exclusive free poster! (And on returning home, I find many posters have made their way onto eBay where people are buying them for £50-£100!! Mine will not be for sale, thank you very much!)

Gareth talks a little about his experiences with Mark Hamill visiting the set, and John shows off some concept artwork. Rogue One was essentially John's creation, taking inspiration from a sentence in A New Hope's opening scroll and expanding it into a full movie.

We're then treated to more exclusive reveals - Gareth confirms that Darth Vader will feature in the film, and will once again be voiced by James Earl Jones! Geek out!! We're also given the names of the new planets that will be seen in Rogue One. The desert-like planet we've glimpsed in the trailers is Jedha, a sort of holy-land Mecca for Jedi and Force-sensitives. Hmmm intruiging. The second planet reveal is the exotic beach location where we've seen Stormtroopers wading in knee-high blue seas. This place is called Scarif (that name sounds strangely familiar - at last I am almost a Star Wars planet!)

Gwendoline is ready to bring out some guests. One by one, she introduces the entire main cast of Rogue One! Yesss! Onto the stage steps Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Felicity Jones, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alan Tudyk, Mads Mikkelsen, and Forest Whitaker! And if that wasn't enough, the big baddie himself Ben Mendelsohn - in full 'Director Krennic' gear - strides past the audience and onto the stage, flanked by his black Death Troopers and flourishing his white cape. What an entrance!

Gwendoline then speaks to each cast member in turn, as they all reveal little details about the film and their characters. Here are some of the main things that we learn:

Mads Mikkelsen confirms that his character Galen Erso is Jyn’s (Felicity Jones) father. This was something he had accidentally let slip a few weeks prior to Celebration during an interview with Sky News. The only other titbit he offers is that "My character is a person of interest...He's a scientist...He invented something so beautiful and so fantastic that it might change the universe." Oh Mads you teaser!

Felicity Jones talks a little about the filmaking process, and is awarded her first ever action figure by Christie. Of her character Jyn Erso, she says “She’s not a character who’s asking, ‘who am I and where have I come from?’ We know that about her and that fact is what propels the story and the beginning of Jyn’s journey.”

Diego Luna reveals his character to be Captain Cassian Andor, who looks after the droid K-2SO. K-2SO is played by Alan Tudyk, who is in a great mood, cracking jokes and clearly enjoying his Star Wars experience. K-2SO was an Imperial droid who was reprogrammed by Cassian. Riz Ahmed reveals an interesting fact about his character Bodhi Rock. He's a pilot who begrudgingly “Works for the Empire to earn a living”. What's he doing with the Rebels then, I wonder? Donnie Yen confirms that his character Chirrut Îmwe is blind, but uses the Force to guide him. He's not a Jedi, but resides on the planet Jedha. Then Chinese actor Jiang Wen drops a slight clanger when discussing his character Baze Malbus. Luckily his heavy accent was lost on many audience members, but he does reveal that Donnie Yen's character will die. The spoiler is not received well by Donnie, who looks visibly pissed off, and Alan Tudyk can barely contain his frustration. Maybe the actors were on a pay-penalty system if they revealed things they weren't supposed to?

Although, to be fair, I think it's safe to say that we're not expecting the majority of the cast to survive this film. The events of Rogue One are supposed to lead up to the very beginning scene of A New Hope, in which Vader is pursuing Leia's ship after learning the Death Star plans were transmitted to her. I can only assume Jyn's crew managed to transmit the plans before being vapourised by the Star Destroyer in pursuit. We'll find out soon enough!

Forest Whitaker has one of the most surprising reveals. We learn that his character Saw Gerrera is in fact the same Gerrera as seen in the excellent Clone Wars animated TV series! So this will mark the first time that an Expanded Universe character will directly appear in a Star Wars movie.

Gareth Edwards talks again about filming, and confirms that Canary Wharf tube station was indeed used for some scenes! He also discusses George Lucas visit to the set (apparently he wasn't too enthusiastic about the whole concept or was he just joking?). And then Ben Mendelsohn took the stage again, this time sans constume. The only thing he can offer about his character Director Orson Krennic is that "He's smarter, I think, than most of his predecessors, he’s more inventive." Not a lot to go on, but I suppose that's better than nothing.

We're then treated to a 'sizzle reel' - a three minute long featurette showing new footage and a glimpse behind-the-scenes. Behold...

 

How fantastic was that!!! And it doesn't end there. The cast and crew thanks the audience and say goodbye, but Kathleen Kennedy does have one last thing to show us. She walks back onto stage, and reveals that we're about to shown a brand new for-our-eyes-only TRAILER!! We're instructed to put away all recording devices and suited security guards start to patrol the audience areas.

And boy what a trailer it was! As of writing this, it is still yet to be shown outside of the room. The trailer's big reveal is towards the end, where we see Vader's silhouette accompanied by his familiar breathing. And that's a wrap!

Here is the panel in full:

 

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Mark Hamill Panel 'An Hour With Mark Hamill'...

Absolutely buzzing at the prospect of seeing Luke Skywalker himself take the stage for an hour of anecdotes and a Q&A session. Here is the panel in full, it is a thoroughly entertaining watch...

 

Highlights include Mark reading dialogue as The Joker from Batman: The Killing Joke, discussing his minor appearance in The Force Awakens, and almost getting tricked by a fan into revealing Rey's surname! Plus skip to 18:38 to see my friend Amanda asking Mark a question!

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UK R2-D2 Builders Club...

The UK R2-D2 Builders Club is always a delightful addition to Celebration. We all know the famous legend that was Star Wars Celebration 2013 in Germany. It was Kathleen Kennedy's first con as new Lucasfilm President, and during her tour of the Celebration floor she was astounding with the talent displayed by the droid builders. Two builders, Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples, jokingly said that they were available for the upcoming The Force Awakens. And lo and behold, Kathleen recruited the British duo to build R2-D2 for the film! Now that is a fan's dream come true!

This years's R2-D2 Builders area had some cracking R2 units on display. Each unit is fully functioning, and many have customised designs. Which are your favourites?

As well as the many R2 units, the droid builders are also contructing a life-sized fully functional BB-8! It's still work in progress as the logistics are more complicated, but I'm sure the boys will have BB-8 rolling and ready to go at next year's Celebration.

There's also a fun photo oppurtunity to be had with a model BB-8 and some The Force Awakens props, which Nien Nunb reluctantly participates in...

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The Force Awakens Props...

There was a very special exhibition present at Celebration this year that displayed actual props used in The Force Awakens, including many replica's created from original moulds. It was great to see these iconic items so up close, the detail was truly staggering.

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Art Gallery...

This area is always a favourite of mine at these cons. Fan art is a huge part of the Star Wars universe, and the imagination and talent that goes into the art pieces are just breathtaking. This year's Celebration had some absolute beauties...

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The Biker Scout Helmet Project...

Back at Star Wars Celebration Europe 2007, there was a cool display of Vader helmets that had been interpreted and personalised by contemporary artists. This year, the project has been brought back, this time using the classy Biker Scout Trooper helmets. There were many wacky and weird designs on display!

I absolutely love this Batman-inspired helmet...

This Predator inspired piece was another standout. Just look at the detail...

And here's the best of the rest...

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Merchandise...

Star Wars just wouldn't be Star Wars without the merchandise. Everthing and anything is available with the Star Wars logo slapped on it, from action figures to toothbrushes. Celebration had plenty of higher end stuff on offer, and it was a joy to wander from stall to stall, browsing the latest Star Wars merch.

The ever popular Funko Pops were represented, and I simply loved this oversized Funko Chewie...

There were some amazing Samurai interpretations of Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers. The original armour designs always had a certain 'feudal Japan' look to them, so this style fits them perfectly...

Sideshow Toys are simply breathatking with their sculpture detail and character poses. I love the size of these figures, they really are something special. The Sideshow display was easily one of the merchandising highlights. Just look at Vader, helmet in hand, reflecting the fire around him. Stunning!

The official Celebration store was pretty cool and had some unique souvenir t-shirt designs...

I also really liked the Hot Wheels stand. The dislays looked amazing, and the design work that goes into each car is truly remarkable...

Some of the more wacky merch that I saw at Celebration, including a personalised action figure. Yes that's right, for the mere sum of £1500, you can have yourself turned into a Stormtrooper figure! A computer scans your head and you are moulded into a replica figure to be displayed proudly on your shelf next to Boba Fett and Princess Leia!

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Well that's it! A thoroughly enjoyable experience, Celebration 2016 lived up to expecations and then some! Next year's Star Wars Celebration will take place in Orlando, Florida, where all the focus will be on Episode VIII.