Thursday, April 16 through the 19, at the Anaheim Convention Center was Star Wars Celebration VII. I went with two friends and my two teenage daughters on Saturday the 18th. My expectations were not running high after reading several complaints on a Facebook site about outrageous lines, terrible crowds, lack of souvenirs from the Celebration shop, and a general mismanagement of the entire affair. I had been to Celebration IV in Los Angeles and Celebrations V and VI in Orlando, so I was hopeful that this setting would be as enjoyable an affair as those were, regardless of the comments online.
Driving and parking: Having just been to WonderCon two weeks earlier, I felt pretty sure about where we would be parking–just a few blocks from the Convention Center. Imagine my surprise upon exiting the freeway and immediately being alerted to flashing signs stating that parking was full and that Celebration attendees were to park at the Anaheim Angels Stadium. It was only 8:30 and cars were being instructed to park far away from the Celebration. Reluctantly, we parked, but were pleased to discover that a free shuttle was taking people to Disneyland, where they could disembark right across the street from the Convention Center. This was much better than my second day at WonderCon. Plus, it was $5 cheaper to park. I was very happy with this savings and the shuttle.
Entrance: Convention goers were instructed to go to the far left of the Convention Center to wait in line to enter. Going in we passed several people in costume posing for pictures. There was a particularly funny stormtrooper who was very friendly while taking photos. Going in, I asked where I could pick up a lanyard, as I and my family weren’t sent ours in the mail. We were told we could pick one up after 10. Luckily, representatives from Think Geek were passing out lanyards promoting their site, and I’m grateful to them. We were then ushered into a large area, about a third of the space of the center, that held everyone waiting to get in. There were already several hundred people in line, and we ended up in about the middle, and that’s the photo I used for this article. People were very friendly and upbeat waiting, talking with their neighbors until 10 AM when each row, in the order they entered, was allowed in. Volunteers were yelling at people not to run, and no one did as far as I could see.
The Layout: The first section one encountered contained large dioramas such as the Jawa Sandcrawler’s wheels as well as other structures to take pictures. Continuing along the southern wall, one passed several dealers selling anything and everything Star Wars related. The middle section contained more vendors and alcohol stands. This was a first! I don’t remember beer or wine being sold at the previous Celebrations. One of my friends said this was a major improvement over the other Celebrations we had attended. Going to the final third of the hall we arrived at the Celebration Store. This is where the throngs had gone to, and it was as bad as the comments online had said. The line was completely full, spilling out two rows deep. Volunteers said it would be a few hours (!!!) before everyone in the line would make their way in. We decided to pass on this store, and look around. Above the Store was the tattoo area where all types of people were receiving all types of additions to their bodies to remember the event. Going back westward, we encountered the huge Lego display, featuring a big screen playing Star Wars Lego clips, more vendors, and several artists who were selling their limited edition prints. Unlike previous celebrations, the artists were not grouped in one area, and they were not given their own heading in the program’s booth index. This proved troublesome, as we had to remember the names of the individuals whose prints we wanted to purchase. Who knows whose work we missed out on because they weren’t listed as print sellers in the program? There were huge lines throughout the day to get pictures taken on the set recreations of the Millennium Falcon or the hospital bay on the medical frigate. Numbers were not clearly visible on booths, making finding specific dealers difficult. Because of this, we wandered like nomads, trying to take all in. We didn’t get any autographs, as I and one of my friends had gotten a majority of the celebrities’ signatures at previous Celebrations. Lines for this area were jaw dropping, and we avoided going into it.
Panels: We only attended one panel of the day, that being the Star Wars at Del Rey gathering. It was in a large room that we saw had a long line entering at 2:20, but we were able to enter the event, as there were plenty of seats. On this panel was Del Rey Editor Shelly Shapiro, Lucasfilm Sr. Editor Jen Heddle, and authors John Jackson Miller, Jim Luceno, Christie Golden, and unannounced panelist Alan Dean Foster. The moderator asked each guest what it was like to work in the revamped Star Wars universe, and all gave responses that they were happy to be doing so. Miller teased that there might be another Rebels book, while Golden revealed that her book would be based on unproduced Clone Wars episodes that features Asajj Ventress. When Foster took the stage it was stated that he would be writing the novelization of The Force Awakens. We left the panel fifteen minutes early as questions were being asked by the audience. The experience was what we expected, but wanted to get back to the floor to see if there things we had missed.
Cosplay: This was present on the floor, but the best venue for seeing cosplayers was just outside the main entrance, on a series of steps. This was a perfect setting for large groups, such as stormtroopers or Mandalorians, and there were many creative people. The best we saw was a group of Tusken Raiders who had miked their costumes to issue the Sandpeople’s iconic yell from the original film. They were accompanied by two people wearing a Bantha costume, and they looked terrific. There were several Slave Leias, and several topless men who were sporting the same garb, minus the tops. Several variations and incarnations of Darth Vader were available for photographs, as were Darth Mauls, and many little ones dressed as heroes and villains. One could have spent the entire day outside taking pictures.
Food: There were double the number of food trucks present than there were at WonderCon and this was a good thing. We went to get lunch at 12:30 and I felt stunned at the lines, as they were very long. However, the line I and my family was in moved very quickly, we received our orders even more quickly, and we found a stone bench to sit on, which had enough space for my two friends. The food was filling and we all left very satisfied.
The final line: We never got Celebration tee shirts–dealers bought multiples and one can find them online for $100. Having attended this event at the Anaheim Convention Center, I know for a fact that it is ill suited to handle an event the size of the San Diego Comic-Con. This was the most crowded experience I’ve had at a Celebration, but we had a decent time. I would attend another, but would hope to have more space and more Celebration souvenirs available. Improvements can be made.