- The biggest day of the con was Saturday, leaving the crowded afternoon an ideal choice for “The Main Event,” an hour-long conversation between beloved comedian Jon Stewart and not-really-all-that-funny George Lucas. Having King George sit down in front of fans and answer their questions is not an everyday occasion, leaving organizers fearful of the astronomical turnout. The solution? Fill the main auditorium with devotees willing to camp out for hours just for the opportunity to breathe the same air as Baron Papanoida, while the rest of the halls are serviced via big screens, giving every last warm body a shot at viewing this clash of the titans. Obviously, I couldn’t sneak into the big house, but I found a spot in the next best room, joining an electrified audience giddy for a chance to stare at George.
Stewart’s a hilarious fellow, and his role here was one of jester, to help pry Lucas away from his habitual long-windedness. Opening the show by comparing Orlando in August to Dagobah, Stewart knew exactly how to play to this tough crowd, riding that line between silly and geeky. Sadly, despite Stewart’s gift of improvisation, it was apparent from the get-go this wasn’t going to be a spontaneous grilling the fans might’ve hoped for, but a polished chat, crammed with rehearsed bits and handpicked questions. Ah, well.
Even with a predetermined path of engagement, Lucas managed to reveal significant bits of his personality. What struck me so clearly was the man’s awareness of all the prequel hate, which he swept aside as a generational thing, but still addressed the ripples those three pictures caused in the overall peacefulness of “Star Wars” fandom. Lucas is no fool, and despite his world of yes-men and bottomless bank accounts, the supreme leader is well aware of franchise discontent. I just don’t think he cares, or at least stopped trying to please anyone but himself after “Star Wars” proved its muscle at the box office. It’s not an ideal situation, but to hear Lucas vaguely explain his creative decisions was fascinating. And, for the record, there wasn’t a single question concerning the preservation of the initial OT cuts. I think Lucas will be avoiding that sticky query for the rest of his life.
Lucas and Stewart provided fun banter, though I could slap the comic for even bringing up the term “mythology,” which always gives the filmmaker a chance to ramble on for 10 minutes about crap that’s already well-established (take a shot whenever he brings up Joseph Campbell).
Outside of a few rough patches, the “Main Event” went smoothly, even taking time to present Stewart with his very own action figure and semi-announce the “Star Wars” Blu-ray set, due out next year. To help with this reveal, Mark Hamill strolled out for a few jokes before introducing a deleted scene on the “Return of the Jedi” disc -- a brief introductory moment for Luke that led to gasps and cheers from audiences all over the con. Carrie Fisher also made an appearance, showing up to make jokes about porn in front of a visibly uncomfortable Lucas. Oh, boozy, inappropriate Princess Leia, what won’t you say!
- Attending the “Star Wars Store Displays” panel was an opportunity to catch the flipside of the con, taking a chance on the average guy with something to share about the highs and lows of collecting franchise minutiae. Boy, was this ever a mistake. Hosted by gurus Todd Chamberlain and Will Grief, the panel was an utter bore, with the pair glacially working through a static PowerPoint presentation exploring the nomenclature of the display collecting game, followed by a few examples of “Star Wars” toy displays found throughout the years.
For some reason, I thought this would be a high-flying event that would scratch nostalgic itches while passing along interesting information on a fringe pastime. Instead, the men robotically lurched through the colorless show, almost afraid to slap it awake. Couple the dry panel with a sweltering room, and there’s a recipe for drowsy agony. Even worse, most people were on the hunt for these little faux cereal boxes, handed out to attendees after every collecting panel as a way of guaranteeing packed rooms. It was a sneaky move to prey upon the fanatic mindset, but also a lousy way to treat the panels, with roughly 70% of the space filled with folks just there for a box -- a fact Chamberlain and Grief acknowledged repeatedly as they quickly lost confidence in their own presentation. With the room boiling, the hosts droning on, the guy on my left texting rabidly, and the guy on my right assembling a “He-Man” toy he purchased at the con…let’s just say the panel was the low point of the weekend. I was ready for a nap afterwards. But I did get a cereal box. A useless cereal box.
- Day Three closed out with an assembly of the available 501st Legion, chaotically gathered to take a group picture. Of course, the community picked the busiest area in the Convention Center to achieve such a complex shot, hoping to employ the inflatable Death Star as an ornament to beautify the photo. Sensing an opportunity to capture the moment on my camera as well, I positioned myself carefully, respectfully on a staircase nearby the “pro” hired to take the photo. Instead of a jolly atmosphere where a costumed community pulled together to document a special moment, I witnessed the 501st “guards” screaming at attendees to clear the area, pushing their weight around to secure their interests. I was personally growled at by a few of these lunatics, which soured the con some, revealing a distasteful sense of entitlement from the 501st collective.
There was no need for such rude, deafening behavior, especially from individuals getting their rocks off on a false sense of power (a Death Star commander outfit doesn’t make you an actual commander). I would like to believe the 501st is primarily an organization of kindness and generosity, but this display of childish behavior was ridiculous, especially when there were scores of alternative locations around the Convention Center to carry out the massive task with some sense of privacy and space -- it’s tough to bake a cake in the middle of a freeway is all I’m saying. To scream at people for getting in the way is just absurd. Their Sith Lords would be proud.