In a galaxy all their own

For fans at Ana­heim expo, ‘Star Wars’ is big­ger than just a film. It’s ‘a way of life’ and a gen­er­a­tional bridge.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Todd Martens todd.martens@la­times.com Twit­ter: @lath­e­ro­com­plex

I know a bit about fandom. Not too long ago, when a date first set foot in my apart­ment, she took a look around the place and said, “Jeez. Were you on the ‘Mickey Mouse Club’?”

No, although that would have been awe­some. I had to set­tle for buy­ing into Dis­ney’s D23 fan club and deck­ing out my place in Dis­ney para­pher­na­lia. I like Dis­ney. I can list the rea­sons why — Dis­ney’s re­liance on imag­i­na­tion for tran­scen­dence, pirate rides, the power of a kiss — but out­siders aren’t go­ing to get it. That’s OK.

So I wasn’t to­tally sur­prised when I sat down for din­ner on the eve of the Star Wars Cel­e­bra­tion at the Ana­heim Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, which runs through Sun­day, and heard a man, ap­par­ently equat­ing my look with geek­dom, shout­ing across the bar, “Hey, is what’s-his-name from the plane crash go­ing to be here?”

That ref­er­ence to Har­ri­son Ford was of­fen­sive, and I shrugged and laughed awk­wardly. I was also slightly taken aback. “Star Wars,” af­ter all, is main­stream, the New York Yan­kees of fandom. Yet as big as “Star Wars” may be, the per­son in a Mickey Man­tle jer­sey is still out of place out­side of Yan­kee Sta­dium, that par­tic­u­lar group’s tem­ple.

For “Star Wars” diehards, ground zero is this week­end’s Star Wars Cel­e­bra­tion fan expo, four days of all things re­lated to the galaxy far, far away and a long time ago. That means “Star Wars” speed dat­ing, “Star Wars” video games, “Star Wars” col­lectibles and “Star Wars” per­son­al­i­ties like Car­rie Fisher and Mark Hamill, not to men­tion a glimpse of the com­ing J.J. Abrams-di­rected film se­quel, “Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens.”

But the peo­ple who live and breathe this stuff aren’t ar­riv­ing VIP-style. By 8:30 p.m. Wed­nes­day, nearly all 2,700 peo­ple al­lowed to see Abrams and Lu­cas­film Pres­i­dent Kath­leen Kennedy in the flesh Thurs­day morn­ing were al­ready in line. They were sleep­ing in bags on con­crete floors or play­ing vin­tage “Star Wars” board games.

One thing was cer­tain: They were not go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed. First, there was the free pizza that Abrams and Kennedy had de­liv­ered to ev­ery­one in line.

Nor­man Smith, 37, of Cor­pus Christi, Texas, was among the first 10 peo­ple wait­ing to see Abrams and Kennedy. Was there any way he could be let down?

“An earth­quake,” Smith said. “I don’t know any­thing about earth­quakes. I can deal with Jar Jar Binks, but an earth­quake would ruin it for me.”

For nearly ev­ery­one in line — and no doubt the es­ti­mated 40,000-plus ar­riv­ing this week­end — “Star Wars” is big­ger than any one film. It’s not a Ge­orge Lu­cas vi­sion or an Abrams rein­ven­tion, it’s an en­trance to a com­mu­nity or a gen­er­a­tional bridge.

To­day, “Star Wars” doesn’t be­long to a film­maker or a stu­dio. De­spite the brand­ing claims to the con­trary, “Star Wars” is ours.

Josh Grim­s­ley, 37, of Den­ver stood in line with his young sons. “I camped out for ‘Em­pire Strikes Back.’ I was so lit­tle, but I re­mem­ber it. They never have. It’s time for them to ex­pe­ri­ence it,” he said.

Emma Stech­e­son, 23, was in line with her mother, Mary, 63. Emma, who has a tat­too of the Jedi Or­der sym­bol, be­came hooked when her mother took her to see the spe­cial-edi­tion re­leases in the late ’90s. She’s a fan of the ini­tial trailer for “The Force Awak­ens” and fos­ters high hopes for any ad­di­tional glimpses of the film.

“It would dis­ap­point me if I was too tired, like if I don’t sleep well and just have to watch it on­line,” she said. “It would dis­ap­point me if there was a fire.”

“Star Wars,” how­ever, extends far be­yond the suc­cess or fail­ure of a new trailer.

Kari Rus­sell, first in line to see Abrams and Kennedy, said the expo was all about the chance to connect with like-minded peers, new movies or not.

“We’re not just geeks,” said Rus­sell, 39, of North Carolina. “Th­ese are my peo­ple. ‘Star Wars’ is my life. When­ever I get to come to th­ese things, I get to be with my peo­ple.”

Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

A SE­CU­RITY GUARD in­spects Darth Vader (Steve Gwin of Modesto) at the Star Wars Cel­e­bra­tion.

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