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