Star Wars Celebration is a lot of things — a rolling party, a launch pad for news and announcements, the collectibles mall of your dreams — but I think of it as a beloved temporary community, one that reminds me just how fun being a Star Wars fan is and how generous fans are in sharing their passion for it. Most of the time, Star Wars is a background buzz amid the noise of normal life — a pop-culture reference, a bit of news, the sight of a stranger’s T-shirt or tattoo. But when we all come together for five days, that’s stood on its head.
What would be an odd coincidence the rest of the year becomes, improbably and blissfully, the norm. You don’t bat an eye to find yourself waiting for the bathroom behind Imperial officers or Jedi Knights. An R2-D2 rolling by, tootling and beeping, just means it’s Friday. The intergalactic Benny Goodman bop of the cantina band plays on a loop and this time it’s not just in your head. And rather than having to seek out your fellow devotees, you get to geek out about Star Wars as often as you want to and with as many people as you want to.
Chicago will be my sixth Celebration, but I love that I always forget all this — because it’s so much fun to be reminded.
The reminders start in the airport in New York — a Rey T-shirt here, an R2-D2 carry-on there. At some point it occurs to me that I’m racking up more Star Wars sightings than on a typical day, and then I remember why: Oh, that’s right, we’re all off to Celebration! Then there are more sightings on the plane. Maybe there’s a Star Wars ringtone or two before the cabin door closes; certainly there’s a buzz of excited conversation all around me. (Author aside: this is the flight I remind myself not to do work on, lest an accidental glance at my laptop screen give away some secret that needs to be kept for a few more months.)
Then there’s the airport at our destination, and the hotel, and by then you’ve entered the outskirts of anti-Mos Eisley, a wonderous hive of scrums and vivacity. There are old friends to meet and new friends to make, and the unexpected will soon become part of the program.
I’ve got about a million memories, but here are a few. Towards the end of Celebration London in 2016, I heard a Wookiee roar nearby while checking my text messages and barely reacted, only to realize how strange it was to hear that distinctive bellow and not think it was a big deal. I looked up and saw the source of the noise was a cosplayer standing next to me, in a very impressive Wookiee costume, checking his messages. Presumably his texts weren’t in Shyriiwook, though at Celebration you should never assume.
Or there was a day in Anaheim in 2015 — at least I think it was Anaheim — where some friends and I decided to go for a walk and check out one of the giant ship props that had been constructed at one end of the exhibit hall. I was with my pal Chris Reiff, an amazing artist and talented droid builder, and he was controlling R2-D2, making everyone’s favorite astromech trundle alongside me. Without thinking about it — and entirely forgetting this was all Chris’s artistry — I fell into a conversation with R2-D2, who blooped and tweeted in response.
Celebration is where you can fall into conversation with R2-D2 like it’s no big thing — or with the fans around you in line for a panel or signing. (Maybe you’re not the best at small talk — I’m certainly not — but at Celebration it’s as easy as it ever will be. Start with “what Star Wars thing are you really excited about right now?” and go from there.) Celebration is where you can pose in the grip of a life-size rancor, making a goofy face, and then spot photos showing your favorite actor, filmmaker, or comic-book artist making that same goofy face — a great reminder that we’re all fans at heart.
In Orlando in 2017, I was sitting with Kemp Remillard, a friend and ace illustrator with whom I’ve written Cross-Sections books for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Kemp and I were waiting to be interviewed onstage, at the center of a big crowd. That didn’t make me nervous, but what did make me a bit nervous was where we were waiting: they’d parked us at a perfect reconstruction of the game table from the Millennium Falcon, and all I wanted to do was play with everything. I tried to be cool about it, failed, looked up to say something and saw the same look of giddy amazement on Kemp’s face.
But here’s my favorite memory of all. In Orlando in 2010, I finished a panel and fell into an animated conversation out in the hall with a gaggle of fans. Our topic: what was the original, non-Jedi-trainee purpose of the helmet aboard the Millennium Falcon? Luke notes that with the blast shield down he can’t even see, let alone fight, and you have to admit it’s a good point. I was working on The Essential Guide to Warfare at the time and had a hypothesis about the helmet, one I wanted to field-test.
After some lively conversation, I suggested we move our impromptu focus group to the nearby Hoth Bar, where a libation or two might spark creativity. Ten minutes later, we were pondering the likely mechanism of the helmet’s visor when a guy dressed as Episode IV Luke Skywalker walked in. That’s not uncommon at Celebration, but we all went quiet when we realized that under one arm he had…that exact same helmet. When we (somewhat breathlessly) explained we were up to, he was happy to hand over his headgear for closer scrutiny and offer some theories of his own.
And that’s the best part of Celebration — a generosity of fandom. Ask that cosplayer how she fabricated her perfect Baze Malbus ammo belt and I bet she’ll be happy to give you some tips. Same goes for the couple with the amazing porg tattoos that are exactly what you’ve imagined for your own arm. Or, as I discovered, for the guy with the mysterious blast helmet you really needed to see up close but thought you never would.
At Celebration, these encounters aren’t amazing once-in-a-lifetime coincidences, but hourly miracles. The sad part is knowing that all too soon they’ll be behind us; the happy part is remembering that before too long, we’ll get to gather again.
Star Wars Celebration Chicago will take place April 11-15 at McCormick Place. Visit StarWarsCelebration.com for tickets and more info!
Jason Fry is the author of more than 30 Star Wars books and short stories, including The Weapon of a Jedi, Rogue One: Rebel Dossier, The Essential Atlas, and the Star Wars: The Last Jedi novelization.