On Easter Monday, we took our younglings to the Star Wars Celebration at the ExCel in London. Our first time at a convention of any kind, we left on a high that we really hadn’t expected – especially as three of us are not the dedicated Star Wars fans that our littlest is! Here’s our newbie experience, what astonished us, and how we fell in love with it…
We booked tickets as our younger boy’s Christmas present last year. He is a True Fan. He’s watched all the films avidly, and has granted some of them (but not all) repeated rewatches. In spite of knowing some far better than others, he still has the characters, plots and canon all mapped out comprehensively in his head, and loves nothing more than a good trivia quiz to test his knowledge.
I think this is pretty standard stuff for Star Wars fans, and I feel the same about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – but he’s the only one in our little family who feels so deeply about the Jedi Order, and we thought a day out at a local convention would be a big present win. The rest of us could probably pass a basic SW test, and appreciate a good franchise, but weren’t expecting as much from the day as he would get. How wrong we were! After a day of full immersion in a galaxy far, far away, here are four things we learned to love about attending a convention.
When I was looking for something Star Wars-ish for his gift, I stumbled upon this four-day event. I had no idea that the Star Wars Celebration 2023 was, in fact, the top SW event in the fandom’s calendar. It’s held every few years at venues across the world, and this year it just happened to be in London. We were totally unaware of the years of anticipation and build-up it had, with devoted delegates planning their trip and activities for months and months in advance.
I joined the Facebook info group – along with 28,000 other members! I learned that some were there for the full four days, and had planned different outfits and activities for each day. There’s a huge network of fans who swap ideas and plans, and pool resources for photo opps and panel appearances with the stars. The buzz of anticipation beforehand was incredible – and when we became just four of the thousands flooding towards the gates at 10am, it really crystalised how absolutely massive this event is for devoted fans, and the atmosphere was fantastic.
Something for Everyone
There is just so much going on wherever you look at a convention, and there really is something to interest everyone, even if you don’t know as much about the universe (or galaxy) as the most committed fan. Absolutely everyone is welcome, and this was particularly true with the children’s activities. They held a name draw to allocate places for the kids’ Lightsaber Academy – one of the most oversubscribed events there – and we were lucky enough to get places for both boys. The adults leading the session were on the same level as the Cast Members at Disneyland for their dedication to the role they played, their investment in the characters, and how magical they made the whole thing for young Jedis.
There were other diversions – incredible artworks that were marvels in themselves, droid building and racing, stamps for the children to find and collect, a Lego shop, and many smaller events and stands which were scattered around the venue. We could easily have filled another day with everythign that was going on.
This was one of the most impressive parts of the whole experience – and it was all from the creativity and dedication of the ticket holders. Cosplays, for the uninitiated, is the word to describe adults dressing up as their favourite characters – but when I say dressing up, I really mean something much more than just putting on an outfit from Amazon. It’s a real art form, and you can see how much love and effort has gone into creating exact replicas of costumes and makeup from the films – and the results are stunning, without exception.
They don’t just stick to the original film costume design, either. Cosplayers will combine a couple of themes to create an imaginative spin on a theme, such as a ballgown in the style of R2D2. There was so much fun to be had in just watching people go by. We would ask our True Fan to identify the characters for us and give us a little background (he LOVED this part).
Cosplays were definitely part of the day that gave us most delight, and our own little Luke Skywalker was so glad he’d come in his very own look – especially when he met someone dressed as Old Luke from the final Trilogy! Mark Hamill wasn’t supposed to be there, officially, but did we meet the real deal in disguise, undercover? He was very convincing…but maybe that is just the typical dedication of cosplayers!
The Joy and Kindness
Our biggest take from the whole event was how the air around the whole place was buzzing – with a shared love of the whole Star Wars phenomenon, and a common intention to have a brilliant time together celebrating it. This manifested everywhere you looked, from the cosplayers who would happily pose with anyone for photos, to the complete strangers striking up conversation over a sandwich on the concourse floor, knowing that just by being here they would have so much in common. We learned that “swag” is a thing – fans make up little bags of keepsakes like stickers and badges and sweets, and swap them with other fans’ offerings. Many of them will just give them away to passing children, and ours gathered quite a haul!
There is something very special about a huge group of human beings, all gathered together because of a shared love. Of course it happens up and down the country every day, for sporting occasions, performances and events just like this. But I think attending this event resonated so much with me for a couple of reasons – first, that we were so suddenly deprived of it in 2020, for such a long time; and second, that we’ve found a shared love we fit with: sci-fi, film and comics.
So what have we learned?
Conventions are a place of true joy, delight and celebration, and we want more. So we’re booked on the MK Film and Comic Con in just a few weeks – and now we need to sort out some cosplays to be proud of…