Ok this is a biggie! So what’s it about? With this year’s Star Wars Celebration – the world’s LARGEST Star Wars convention – due to take place at the Aneheim Convention Center in California on April 16-19, the powers that be (Lucasfilm!) have decided to treat us lucky Geeks in London to something truly special: the chance to attend a screening of a live web-feed of the opening of Star Wars Celebration at Empire Leicester Square’s IMAX hosted by Wicket the Ewok himself Warwick Davis! The live feed will feature a panel discussion with The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, and a host of special guests and other surprises. And word on the geekvine suggests that a second teaser trailer just might be unveiled! Beetchawawa!!
So how exactly does one attend? Simple: just register your name and email address, then cross your fingers and hope you get plucked out! That’s right, lucky attendees will be picked at random. The rest will be tossed into the Sarlacc. So after a couple of days waiting (I registered on the very last day!) I’m greeted with an email.......... I’ve been picked!!! “Utinni!”
Thursday 17 April: the big day arrives. Email in hand, I head down to Leicester Square at hyperspeed. Outside the Empire cinema, Star Wars music blasts from speakers. Geeks have already started to queue, many of them in costume – Stormtroopers, Boba Fett, Darth Maul, Chewbacca, and a rather confusing Elvis/Jedi. Leicester Square has been turned into a wretched hive of scum and villainy.
Security is tighter than a Death Star, I exchange my email for a wristband and I’m in! And before long we are all marched through the barriers and into the Empire IMAX like Stormtroopers being herded into a Star Destroyer.
I find a decent seat slap-bang in the middle, perfect position for the almighty IMAX screen. On each seat are goodies – a bag of popcorn, a bag of Star Wars-themed M&M chocolates, a bottle of water, and a glossy Star Wars Celebration A3 poster! Not bad Lucasfilm, cheers!
Then the show begins. Warwick Davis greets the audience. “Wow look at the size of that screen! Impressive isn’t it! Now you know how I feel when I stand next to my 42” TV at home!” He then announces that he’s placed a gold star under 10 random seats – every geek frantically searches around for a gold star. No luck for me this time. The 10 lucky ones go onto stage and participate in a fun quiz and win some very cool Star Wars prizes courtesy of Forbidden Planet. Rebel scum!
Warwick then invites onto stage the geeks who have come dressed as characters. His banter is hilarious, and the atmosphere is buzzing. A lucky 5 year old dressed as Darth Vader wins himself a framed Star Wars poster signed by J.J. Abrams!
Warwick wraps things up quickly as it’s time to go live to California and the opening of Star Wars Celebration 2015!
We’re greeted by J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy first. The first thing J.J. reveals is that the desert environment seen in the teaser trailer is NOT Tatooine, but new planet Jakku. Kathleen then talks about her first Star Wars Celebration experience at Celebration Europe II in Germany 2013. Apparently she was mightily impressed by some fan-built R2 units, and tracked down the builders – two blokes from London. She then did something that all geeks’ dreams are made of... she RECRUITED the two geezers to work on the R2 units for The Force Awakens! And then the first big surprise that generates a massive roar from both the Californian crowd and the Empire’s IMAX audience – new droid BB-8 wheels onto stage. A real-life working BB-8!! Confirming exactly what Mark Hamill had told the media back in December 2014 (“BB-8 is real, not CGI” – yeah, whatever Mark!), he playfully rolls around the stage, lapping up the attention. How the heck does it even WORK!! Welcome to the future.
Next up on stage are three of the new cast members – John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac. All three are clearly enjoying themselves and their sudden thrust to stardom. Boyega recounts his memory of being on set with Harrison Ford, a dream come true for any Star Wars fan. He tells us of how he plucked up the courage to ask Harrison to autograph a Han Solo figure, and imitates Ford’s accent perfectly with his reply – “This is weird. But I’ll do it for you anyway.” All three actors are clearly under strict instructions not to give anything away about their characters, but Boyega does buckle slightly when asked if Finn is a stormtrooper. Boyega looks at J.J. then gives a little silent nod. Ridley reveals that her character Rey lives on Jakku, and is a scavenger at a shipyard. “She crosses paths with another character and everything changes.” And then we come to Isaac. So who is Poe Dameron? “He’s the best freakin’ pilot in the galaxy! He’s been sent on a mission by a certain Princess and he ends up coming across Mr. John Boyega’s character, and their fates are forever intertwined.” Hmmm..... I still reckon Luke’s lightsaber (Anakin’s lightsaber that Obi-Wan gives to Luke in ANH) has something to do with all this!
When asked which Star Wars character she would most like to be, Kathleen Kennedy acknowledges the fact that the Star Wars movies lack strong female leads. She then hints at the fact that many more female characters will be showing up in future films. Next up is a parade of the re-designed Stormtroopers, and out walk Star Wars legends Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, and Peter Mayhew (who needs the assistance of Hamill to help him walk, bless him).
More light-hearted banter ensues, and the proceedings are drawn to a close. But wait, J.J. is back, and he asks if we want to see a new teaser trailer! No need to tell you what the response was! And so geeks around the world are treated to their second glimpse of The Force Awakens. And boy does it look good!!! “Chewie... We’re home!”
The screen then fades, and Warwick comes back onto our stage in the IMAX. “Wow!! How good was THAT!!” he exclaims. He then asks us if we want to see the trailer again. “YESSSSS!” And we’re treated to the trailer once more, in full-scale IMAX glory. At the end I notice it says ‘Coming soon in IMAX 3D’. Damn it J.J, take my money already!! Back out into the foyer and I spot Warwick being interviewed as two familiar droids look on.
I then make my way past an Imperial checkpoint and head through the exit doors and back out into bland reality!