One of the questions Tricia asked the panelists during the From A Certain Point of View panel was what we most enjoyed about Star Wars. Before Celebration Anaheim, I had a fairly stock answer: the movies, of course, especially IV, V, VI; some of the EU novels, especially Timothy Zahn’s; playing SW:TOR; and the interesting people I’ve met. What I realized at the convention was that really, truly, what I love most about Star Wars are the other fans.
I met quite a few interesting people at Celebration Anaheim, and in this series of posts I would like to share their stories with you.
Anaheim was my second Celebration, Orlando in 2012 being my first. Celebration VI was my second con and the biggest con I’d ever attended. It was completely overwhelming. Because I had a better idea of what to expect, and because I’ve been involved in the Star Wars community for longer now, Anaheim seemed more accessible to me, while at times still overwhelming. In particular, I was much more open to all the fascinating stories surrounding me.
Annalise is the first new friend I made going to Celebration. Like Dan Brooks, we met waiting for our flight to Anaheim when I complimented Annalise on her bags – one a Star Wars bag and another a kitty pattern bag. We were both staying at the Marriott so we shared a cab to the hotel and were fast friends from there on. Annalise is a generous, receptive listener, and an open-hearted and confidently authentic person. She can debate whether parsecs measure time or distance, drop “safe word” casually into conversation in the nonjudgmental way only a psychologist masters (and yes, she’s a psychologist). She even taught me my favorite new phrase, when she would say, “I don’t want to yuck anyone’s yum, but…” It means not ruin something that someone may enjoy, even if you disagree with. It’s the witty embodiment of Annalise’s tolerant spirit.
- Was this your first Celebration?
Yes. I’ve been to a couple Star Trek conventions, zombie conventions, WonderCon, so the whole sci fi/comic convention thing wasn’t new to me. But Star Wars Celebration Anaheim was definitely a different sort of experience.
- What made you decide you wanted to come to Celebration Anaheim?
My brother and I were making plans to go to WonderCon, which happened earlier in the month. As we were looking at flights and hotels and all that stuff, he mentioned that Celebration was just a couple of weeks later, and with the new films coming out it was sure to be a good time. So we decided to scrap WonderCon and save our resources for Celebration. I was familiar with the Celebrations, but honestly we made it out to this one on a bit of a whim.
- What did you enjoy the most at Celebration Anaheim? The least?
It’s hard to overstate how much I loved Celebration Anaheim. First, it was amazing to be in a space so singularly focused on the Star Wars universe. Practically every single panel and presentation was something I had genuine interest in. Also, the attendees were such fun. I’m used to men outnumbering women at geek conventions by 10 to 1, and that wasn’t different at Celebration Anaheim, but the guys I was in line with or sitting next to were so well behaved! I had all these great conversations with folks, and at any given time there was a passionate conversation happing within earshot. Of course Han shot first, and of course the prequels were a mess, there was broad consensus on this. But the level of detail in conversations about Mandalorian armor, or the correct use of “parsec,” or why Sebastian Shaw should have definitely stayed in the last scene of Jedi were all a hoot.
I also loved the Celebration Anaheim anti-harassment policy, which was clearly posted all over the con and on screens before the panels. As a queer woman with a transgender partner, it felt especially amazing to see things like “no bathroom policing” listed in the policy. Yeah, the Celebration was overwhelming white cisgender straight guys, but I really felt like the organizers had my back and took discrimination and mistreatment seriously.
The content of everything I saw was also amazing. My brother and I changed our original flight to get to Anaheim on Wednesday afternoon hoping to catch the J.J. Abrams panel that kicked off the Celebration, and when we arrived there were already people in line. We decided to sleep in a real bed and head down early Thursday morning, we got in line around 6am, and actually got into the Celebration Stage to watch the opening panel live. Seeing that many filmmakers, the original cast and the new folks, and especially seeing so many women in executive level positions, was really wonderful.
I think everyone would say they liked the lines the least. They were bananas. We waited on average three hours for everything we went to, but we got a good groove on in terms of sitting not standing, and taking turns fetching provisions. Lots of folks were very upset about the line situation, but they did make for good people watching.
- How did you get into Star Wars? The movies? An animated series? The books? Which is your favorite?
I saw the original trilogy when they were released in the theaters, and they were a hugely defining part of my growing up. I saw A New Hope ten times during the summer of 1979, dressed up as Princess Leia for Halloween, and collected all the action figures with my brother (who is four years younger than me). It was great to be at Celebration Anaheim with him, because our entry point was the same.
Empire is my favorite movie, it’s sort of a perfect movie, and episodes IV and VI really serve to buttress it.
- Do you participate in fandom in any other ways?
I do love a convention, and I’m an avid consumer of sci-fi movies and television shows. I’ve been known to make Star Wars models – most recently I’ve been making the Metal Earth models, which are really fun and don’t take up too much space in the house when they’re finished. I joke that my retirement plan is to have a spare room in which I can construct and display all the classic Star Wars vehicles in Legos, but my partner gives me a funny look about this. When it was first on the air I had a full set of Star Trek: The Next Generation trading cards, which again my partner gives me grief about but then I remind him he has a full set of Xena: Warrior Princess trading cards, which I think makes us even.
I’d love to do cosplay, particularly with Star Wars because there’s so many options for women that don’t involve having to be overly sexualized. I have a fantasy of constructing a totally authentic Han Solo costume, and I’m also very fond of Twi’leks. But honestly, the level of cosplay displayed at Celebration Anaheim was amazing and intimidating, I feel like I’d have to really be on my game!
- If you could be any Star Wars character, who would you be?
Does everyone answer Han Solo for this? Because yeah, Han Solo.
- Does Star Wars intersect with your activism?
I generally think Star Wars intersects with my self-care, which is about having these escapes into non-reality and tapping into something really joyful. And self care is so important when you’re trying to effect grassroots change, or working in vicariously traumatizing jobs. I don’t bring Star Wars into my activist circles so much, because I have a thing for Stormtroopers. I think they’re awesome. And of course, they’re the militarized fist of a fascist regime, and in prison abolitionist circles it simply doesn’t go over too well to be like “Yes, I want to end the prison industrial complex and de-militarize police, but when I get around a group of folks dressed up as Stormtroopers I get super shy and want to have my picture taken with them.” But you know, we’re all complex creatures, it’s part of what makes humans so interesting.
I was watching A New Hope for the zillionth time at Celebration, as they’re destroying the Death Star, and thinking about revolutionary movements and anti-colonialism, and how the story of Star Wars is really the story of an organized guerilla insurgence defeating imperialism. The prequels, as much as I dislike them, really hammered home the similarities between the fledgling Empire and the second Bush administration. So I can look at how Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood and how this notion of rebellion was instilled in me early on.
- What would you like to see in the future of Star Wars?
I’m incredibly excited about J.J. Abrams taking the helm on Episode VII, and listening to him and Kathleen Kennedy talk about their mutual love of practical props and sets, and the tangible, sort of dirty worn out world of the original trilogy made me incredibly hopeful for the next round of films. And I’m also happy that Lucasfilm is taking control of the canon, I know this has pissed off a lot of folks who really loved the expanded universe material but I love knowing exactly what books to read and what shows to watch, I find it very organizing!
With women like Kathleen Kennedy, who runs Lucasfilm, and Kiri Hart, who leads the story department, I’m really looking forward to some kickass female characters. And I’d love this to include more folks of color as protagonists and heroes. And let’s throw some same-gender loving and cross-gender-identified folks in there while we’re at it. Science fiction has always been the place where we can see radical representation that traditional storytelling can’t handle.
- What does being a Star Wars fan mean to you?
Honestly, I think I was a bit of a closet case about it until I went to Celebration Anaheim. I mean, it wasn’t a very successful closet, my friends have sung the Imperial March instead of the birthday song over more than one of my birthday cakes, and I get toy Stormtroopers as gifts a lot. But being connected to tens of thousands of other people who love this story as much as I do was really amazing.
For me, being a Star Wars fan is about connecting to a multi-generational media phenomenon that started in my childhood in the 1970s and has influenced the childhoods of every generation since then. While I clearly identify with the Rebels, I love the characters in the Empire, we all cheer for Boba Fett and I get a little weepy when I see Imperial Guards and big assemblages of Stormtroopers. And if you make Darth Vader’s respirator sounds in a crowd, everyone knows what you’re doing, and someone will shout out “I am your father!”
As a queer woman and as someone who works for social justice, there have been so many times when I’ve sought out community that shares my experience and mirrors me because it’s safe, but also because it’s nurturing. It’s so soothing not to have to explain myself, to feel connected in a struggle against injustice, to have a band of comrades who are working to effect serious change in the world, and who inspire me. We hold each other up. And in this strange way, Celebration Anaheim felt really similar. I was joking with my partner that it was so weird being among so many straight dudes and feeling really connected by our mutual love of R2-D2. I could just relax into my complete geekdom and be this 41-year-old fangirl clapping and yelling at a video game trailer. And in the Celebration Stage, when the lights would dim and all these folks held up their lightsabers, it was overwhelmingly wonderful.
- Will we see you at another Celebration?
My brother and I already have our tickets for Celebration 2016 in London!
Linda has been a Star Wars fan from the time she saw Episode IV in the theatre with her parents and insisted on being Han Solo while playing with the neighborhood kids. She’s now a fangirl who splits her time learning to twirl a bo staff like Ray Park, jumping horses, writing fanfic she dreams up on her commute to work, and spending time with her husband and their own feisty Padawan version of Ahsoka. She can be reached at Linda.HansenRaj@gmail.com and on Twitter.