ORLANDO, Fla. — Forty years ago, in a galaxy far, far away with theaters that lacked stadium seating, the world was introduced to “Star Wars.”
Thousands of followers of that film — and the franchise’s seven subsequent films, TV series, merchandise and off-shoot properties — are gathering this week in Orlando for Star Wars Celebration. The activities cover the vast expanse between the 1977 film — now known with “A New Hope” subtitle — and the “Last Jedi” movie, which debuts in December.
“There are all kinds of new things to learn and see with new movies coming out, with the new season of the animated ‘Star Wars Rebels’ being teased, with new celebrities that we haven’t met before and celebrities we’ve known for 40 years,” said Steve Sansweet, an author, former head of Lucasfilm fan relations and head of Rancho Obi-Wan, a Star Wars memorabilia museum.
“It’s a great mixture of the new and old as we see the now third generation of ‘Star Wars’ fans growing up,” he said.
Among the Celebration activities are droid racing, live podcasting, classes on “Star Wars” origami and recipes, panels about vintage toys, autograph opportunities and a session called “LGBTQ+ in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.”
“This is like a 30-ring circus,” Sansweet said.
Star Wars Celebration has been held in several cities worldwide since it started in 1999. Orlando is the first to be the convention’s location three times. It was here at the Orange County Convention Center in 2010 and 2012.
“What surprised me was the sense of the community between the fans, the stars, the people selling merchandise. It was like a family,” said Michelle Humphrey, who attended to the 2012 event and will return with her husband Joe and 12-year-old son Jonathan this year.
“The last time we totally winged it, not knowing what to expect,” Michelle Humphrey said. “This time we’re following the website … And trying to stay up to date on what they’re announcing.”
A recent addition to Celebration’s star-powered lineup was Mark Hamill, the once and future Luke Skywalker. Other prominent names participating in the event include Felicity Jones and Riz Ahmen, who were in last year’s “Rogue One” movie; Billy Dee Williams (who played Lando Calrissian in the original trilogy and voiced the character in numerous animated projects); and husband-wife acting couple Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar, who have given voice to characters in the current “Star Wars Rebels” animated TV series.
Joe Humphrey’s visit to Celebration five years ago inspired him to join up with the 501st Legion, a group that makes public appearances in distinctive white, helmeted stormtrooper gear and works with charities such as Give Kids the World.
“I like everything,” he said. “I mean, it’s all ‘Star Wars’. No matter what you do, it’s going to be great to do.”
Daniel Germain of Orlando plans to attend every day of Celebration. A few months ago, he decided to take sewing lessons so he could make his own jedi costume with robes and layers of tunics.
“I’m looking forward to wearing that for the first time,” Germain said. “I’ve made costumes in the past, but I’ve always made armor-based costumes and I’ve never worked with fabric.”
(“The sweetest thing that can happen at a Star Wars convention is somebody saying ‘May I take your picture, please?’” Sansweet said.)
Germain also is drawn to the celebrity element of Celebration. He bought tickets to meet Hamill within hours of the announcement that he would be there. Germain prefers the autograph option to the photo sessions that are sold, he said.
“It gives you a little bit more one-on-one time with the celebrity,” he said.
Michelle Humphrey recalled her last Celebration experience included a random encounter with Dee Bradley Baker, a voice actor with several “Star Wars” credits. Baker told her young son about a secret development on the “Clone Wars” series.
“He told me that there’s going to be a rogue clone, and I watched that episode and what he said was right,” Jonathan Humphrey said. “I kept the secret for, like, two months.”
That’s part of the appeal of Celebration, Sansweet said.
“Anybody can find someplace to sit and just enjoy listening to an author or to an artist or to a costume maker,” he said. “There’s so many stories to be told and so many stories to hear at Celebration.”
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