After five days at Disney World, our anniversary vacation continued in a galaxy far, far away as we attended the world's largest Star Wars fan convention, Star Wars Celebration VI, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.
On Thursday the 23rd, Duncan, Derek, Bruce, & I arrived at the convention center around 9:30am & immediately started taking in the sights. From the parking lot pillars decorated to look like R2-D2, to the giant inflatable Death Star over the escalator, to the hundreds of costumed fans in attendance, there was a lot to see! Once in the building, we were directed to a big hall where we were given lanyards for our passes & schedule guides for the weekend, & got into the LARGE line to get in to the main hall. A woman dressed as Princess Leia (Empire Strikes Back era) was in line in front of us & posed for pictures. Convention Center workers were pushing a coffee cart up & down the lines. We were cordoned off in rows, they let us in one row at a time when the hall opened. Each row cheered as they got let in - although many of us in the other rows cheered for them as well!
We started out in the dealers hall looking at all the many fascinating booths filled with cool stuff, & made a brief detour to the food court for a midmorning snack. Then it was back to browsing & taking pictures of all the cool costumes & nifty things we saw. Most of the costumed characters we encountered were fellow attendees who had gone to great effort & produced some of the most spectacular, interesting, creative, & often-times incredibly accurate outfits you'ver ever seen - plus they were also, to a person, the nicest, friendliest people you'll ever meet, all of them graciously agreeing to pose for photos, just glad to share their enjoyment of the event. In addition to all the expected characters - Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, & so on - we also saw the 11th Doctor, several Star Fleet officers, & Bender from Futurama, & many others. Just one big, happy universe!
We also stopped in the R2-D2 Builders Club room. It was fascinating! They had tons of astromechs either exactly like or at least based on the famous droid! Most were complete, but some were open so you could see the workings, & some were even being worked on right there in the room. We posed for pictures with R2-D2 in front of an Endor landscape as well as in his get-up as a waiter on Jabba's Pleasure Barge. There was also a replica of Han Solo in Carbonite - I took Bruce's picture by it! Bruce was really intrigued by the concept of building a droid, too - he picked up a lot of flyers.
Our main event for the first day was the Bounty Hunt. Duncan, Bruce, & I were signed up as a 3-man team with Derek as our "special consultant." We checked in at the Bounty Hunt Muster with all the other hunters. The teams were given packets containing Star Wars-themed puzzles. The solution to each puzzle was either the name of or a clue about a Star Wars character on whom there was a bounty. Also in the packet was a guide that told us where to find each of those characters - they could be anywhere in the convention center! We hunters had to collect at least 4 bounties from the first packet to get the second packet with the higher-value bounties in it. To collect a bounty, we had to go to the locations the guidebook gave for our quarries, then we had to look for the person with a red "bounty hunt" ribbon on their convention badge - trickier than it sounds in a convention center full of people! - when we found them, we had to call them by their Star Wars character's name, & sometimes even complete a challenge (like answer trivia questions) before they'd stamp our book to prove we'd claimed our bounty.
When we'd collected 4 from the first packet, we went back for the second - these were not only higher value bounties, they were harder puzzles. We split them up like we'd done with the first packet, trying to solve them as quickly as possible. It was during this round that we remembered we'd brought Bruce's laptop for just this reason! We happened to be sitting near an outlet & the convention center had free wifi, so he booted up & we kept working to crack the puzzles. We were relying heavily on Duncan's Star Wars knowledge to figure out the ones where the answers were clues rather than names & he came through big time - from the first three letters of one clue he deduced that the bounty had to be Lando Calrissian! The guide said that Lando could be found outside one of the theaters, we knew exactly where it was & hustled that way. We found the lady playing "Lando" & she said we were the first team to find her, plus she was super impressed that we got it from just 3 letters.
We had to hike a long way past "Lando" to locate our hardest-to-get bounty. I don't remember which character he was, but he was way out down by some conference room that was over the mezzanine, through a set of doors, & then around the corner because it was a divided hallway at that point with even numbered rooms on one side & odds on the other &, of course, we'd come out on the wrong side! This was also the guy who made us answer trivia questions to get our bounty. We did it, but at this point we were getting pretty nervous because we had 2 hours to complete the hunt & there were only 20 minutes left, plus we still had to hike all the way back to Bounty Hunt HQ to check in! We really hustled it & checked in with 16 minutes to spare. While I was guzzling down cold water & playing Legos with Derek, Bruce & Duncan went back over the remaining puzzles. They solved one more & the bounty was nearby! We sprinted down the hall to find the person & get our book stamped - Derek was really worried that we wouldn't make it back in time, I tried to console him with the reminder that we were already checked in & these were just bonus points - we got back with 42 seconds to spare! More importantly, when the points were tallied we took THIRD PLACE! We got a trophy & several rare action figures as our prizes - & we probably have to discard our presumption that we were the least geeky people in attendance.
On Friday, Derek went back to Disney World with Debbe while Bruce, Duncan, & I returned to the con. We met up with Duncan's friend Phil - who is not only a Star Wars afficiando, but also the vice admiral of our fleet in Star Trek Online - Phil was in uniform as a clone trooper with the 501st Legion. We had a great time watching them gather the group for their Rebel Unit photo - you wouldn't believe how many people were there in amazing costumes! After the photo, one of the unit members (dressed as Luke) proposed to his girlfriend (dressed as Leia) - she said yes. It was also fascinating to see all the R2 units milling about the convention. The R2-D2 Builders had many life-size radio controlled models & were steering them about the convention center - they beeped & interacted with people just like the famous droid does.
After we met Phil, we split up to attend different panels. Bruce & I went to see Anthony Daniels - he plays C3PO - who had actually shown up earlier that morning & crashed the queue line waiting to enter the convention center, posing for pictures & signing autographs for fans. His show was hilarious! He pulled people from the audience to serve as his "panel of experts" & then he took questions from the audience. Any he couldn't answer, he pitched to his panel - when one panelist answered one question with "because George Lucas hadn't thought of it," the entire audience booed! Mr. Daniels was outgoing & funny, he shared a couple personal & touching memories from filming, & we got to see some behind-the-scenes footage. I was also really impressed with the sign language interpreter for the show - she had the very nuances of C3PO's personality down, she moved like him & her very expressions conveyed the depths of the dialogue when they showed scenes from the movies.
Next we went to the Costume Masquerade. If you thought the general attendees were impressive in costume, you should have seen those competing for prizes! We had seen one of the competitors - Darth Maul - in line that morning. His costume was incredible! There were also two ladies who had made a Bantha costume (think "wooly mammoth") that they wore like a horse costume - one lady as the back legs & the other as the front - they danced across the stage, so cool! James Arnold Taylor, who voices Obi-Wan Kenobi on The Clone Wars cartoon, was the emcee for this event & he would come out & pose with or otherwise cheer on anyone dressed as Obi-Wan. One Asian girl had a spot-on perfect costume representation of him. One girl came dressed as Jedi Tinkerbell & her "bio" said that Obi-Wan was her mentor - it was funny & cool at the same time to hear James read "faith, trust, & pixie dust" in his Obi-Wan voice! The cutest moments were a little boy, probably about 2 years old, dressed as young Luke Skywalker in a perfect, child-size replica of his Tatooine outfit, competing in the Younglings category, followed by the same boy coming back in the Galactic Apparel category with his parents dressed as Uncle Owen & Aunt Beru.
We wrapped up day 2 at the con with a performance of Star Wars in 60. Convention officials came through the audience warning us that, if we attended this show, we would most likely not be able to get into Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker)'s panel later on the same stage since it would probably fill up before we got out. We chose to stay & we're really glad we did! The troupe of about 12 actors performs ALL SIX Star Wars films & the little-seen Wookie Christmas Special with minimal props & costumes in just about one hour - it's hilarious! They run around with folding chairs on their necks when they're flying X-Wings - one guy held two window screens beside his head to be a Tie-Fighter - they use squirt guns & shout "choo-choo" when they're supposed to be shooting blasters, & they put all sorts of over-the-top nuances & innuendo into the well-known dialogue. When they finished, they did it all over again in 60 SECONDS! Plus, this was the same stage where we'd seen Anthony Daniels earlier, & once again the sign language interpreters were great & almost as funny as the show itself. A fantastic choice of show, we had a blast!
Saturday, we returned for day 3. First thing we noticed was that it being a weekend day definitely made a difference - attendance had to have at least doubled, it was crowded! We did a little browsing in the dealers hall & then split up again. Duncan went to a costuming panel while Bruce & I went to the Super Secret Panel With Seth, Todd, & Matt (the guys who make Robot Chicken). This was the second running of this panel so the "super secret" part was already out: they've got a new show coming out, this one backed by Lucasfilm, called Star Wars Detours. They ran a lot of clips, it looks super cute, plus the guys themselves are pretty clever & funny & they told some great stories. But the best part was the surprise guest who crashed the panel: George Lucas!! Yes, Master George himself! Everyone - all 2500 people in attendance - stood & applauded raucously. Master George talked about the great job the guys were doing on the new show. It was SO AWESOME! Really glad we attended this second session because Master George was only at the con on Saturday, & I believe he only crashed one other panel, so we really lucked out.
(Duncan had texted me that George was spotted at The Clone Wars panel & might be on his way to our panel, but I didn't see the message until The Master had already walked out on stage & I had grabbed my phone to text him. I wrote back, "He IS!! You missed it bro!")
Next we took in the Star Wars & NASA panel. It was pretty packed, they asked us to cram together to make room for last-minute arrivals. The folks next to us were very gracious & made room for Duncan when he joined us because the panel he had wanted to attend was full. This session had four NASA scientists talking about how Star Wars had inspired their careers & spurred some creativity on NASA projects. They also talked about how desperately NASA needs funding & urged people to write their congressmen. Then they took questions from the audience. This was actually the best part of the session because the topic became a lot more relatable, but they'd waited until there were only 10 minutes left to open the floor. So, sadly, this panel was not as good as it could have been. I also heard later that the panel organizers didn't know until they got there that they would have a room with a projection screen & a computer, so they had not brought any videos or presentations. Getting to see footage from the Mars rover or something would have been cool.
Then we went to get in line for the evening panel we wanted to attend. We got sodas on our way & sat playing a couple rounds of Edition Wars while snacking on nuts & granola bars. Fun!
The evening panel we went to was Smuggler's Gambit. It was the debut live performance of a Star Wars radio drama like the ones that used to run on NPR back in the late 70's. The story centered on Han Solo & Chewbacca, hence the title, & took place after Star Wars but before The Empire Strikes Back. The actors were all voice talent from many projects including The Clone Wars. They received the script at 5:30pm & took the stage at 6 to do the show! They also had a master sound effects guy adding Star Wars sounds (like lightsabers). It was amazing! They were so good & were all obviously having a blast, it was great! After the show, they took questions from the audience, & there was some discussion about whether the performance would be available for purchase - which, hopefully, it will! There was strong support for a return of Star Wars radio dramas & many of the actors as well as the writer said they'd totally be up for it. One little girl asked why there were so few roles for girls in the show & the writer told her he'd write a role just for her to read in the one they want to do at the next Star Wars con, & that he'd let her read it herself if she came!
Sunday was the last day of the convention. Derek decided that he wanted to spend the day with daddy, so he came, too. This was our wrap-up day, the day to get everything done that we still wanted to do. I bought a couple t-shirts & Duncan got some figures for his collection. We also posed for pictures in several iconic settings: on a speeder bike in Endor, in a snow-speeder on Hoth - we had done the interior the Millennium Falcon & the Hoth Sick Bay the day before.
Then Bruce & I went to get in line for the Closing Ceremonies. It was crazy full! We were glad we got there earlier to ensure we'd get to get in! Convention officials came by & announced that we were at capacity & if anyone left, like to go to the bathroom, they had to show their unopened pack of 3-D glasses to prove they'd been in line before we reached capacity. Then they decided to escort us to the bathrooms in groups, like in elementary school. Good thing since we'd been sitting there for almost 2 hours! We got into a couple conversations with the folks around us - one about continuity & what's canon & not canon in the saga with the girl in front of us, & one about media covering the con with the guy behind us (who was media, covering the con for a tech blog in Arizona). A couple Jedi also started dueling alongside the line at one point - it was cool.
The Closing Ceremonies, on the other hand, were not. Of the five panels I chose for us to attend, this was the lamest. When we first got into the theater, the DJ's who had been warming up the crowds for one of the other stages all weekend were now in this theater warming up the crowd. They pulled 4 people from the audience to represent the rebels & 4 to represent the Empire & had them compete in a dance-off. The Empire ended up winning & it was actually fairly cool because they had this little kid who couldn't have been more than 5 & was dressed up like a Sith lord & man could he really dance! But after that, all that happened was the guys who had been the hosts for the three stages came together & briefly reminisced about all the fun they'd had all weekend. They showed a video montage that was actually pretty cool & then they announced that Attack of the Clones & Revenge of the Sith are coming out in 3-D just two weeks apart next fall. We got to watch the 3-D trailers, which were fun. Then they brought out the woman in charge of organizing the whole convention. She announced that the next Celebration will be held next summer in Germany. An oom-pah band came out wearing liederhosen & playing the Star Wars theme & marched around the room. Then the hosts told everybody to grab beer & pretzels on their way out. That was it. Lame.
We closed the day with a quick walk around the 501st Legion's room where they had many of their awesome costumes & sets on display. Duncan had paid to get his picture taken with Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine) & had to go pick it up, so he & Bruce made one last run through the dealers hall while I waited in an alcove with Derek. Then we headed back to Coronado Springs Resort, picking up dinner on the way.
After a nice rest break at the hotel (during which time, I started packing), we regrouped as a family & went to the Magic Kingdom to get some Sorcerers' Quest cards for Derek & watch the fireworks one more time. We got a great spot right in the plaza in front of the Cinderella Castle, bought some popcorn, & settled in for a wonderful time. There is something magical about the fireworks every night, but your last night in the park it seems even more special.
The next morning we checked out of our hotel, left our bags with the Magical Express people, & went to the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast at the Grand Floridian. This was our last character meal & our last planned meal in the parks. It was amazing - such tremendous, yummy fare - plus visits with our hostess, Mary Poppins, as well as Pooh, Tigger, Alice, & the Mad Hatter. After breakfast, we went into the Magic Kingdom long enough to get one more set of Sorcerers' Quest cards, & then Duncan went to return the rental car while the rest of us headed to Disney's Hollywood Studios. We rode Toy Story Midway Mania & then headed to Star Tours. Derek wasn't feeling up to riding that, so he & Debbe waited for us, then when we were done we sat with Derek while Debbe & Duncan (who had caught up to us) went on the ride.
Then Bruce & I headed back to the hotel to meet our Magical Express. As it turned out, even though we had an earlier flight than they did, Debbe & family caught back up with us not too much later. Then, one of the bus drivers offered to take us all on an even earlier shuttle, since he had room, so we all ended up with some nice family time at the airport. That sounds like a joke, but it isn't. We did some last-minute Disney pin trading in the Disney shop, then had a great time looking at Harry Potter stuff in the Universal Studios store, & nerding out in the NASA shop. Finally, we just chilled on some benches in the food court, wrapping up our great vacation with a spiffy bow.
It was the perfect way to celebrate our milestone anniversary - we had a wonderful time!