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We're Back from the Big Show in Anaheim

Written By: Abel S. Pinedo

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We're back from Star Wars Celebration Anaheim. It was a party over two years in the making. The festivities started early Thursday morning when JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy provided pizza for the first several hundred die-hard fans waiting in line for the show. Free food is definitely a good way to start the long weekend. After what seemed like an endless evening of hanging out and making new friends, the doors were opened and it was on!

As you may know I'm a big fan of exclusive merchandise. I first made my way to the Hallmark booth to get my limited edition Ralph McQuarrie inspired ornament 2 pack. I did a quick spin of the exhibit floor to get my bearings and wound up at the Mattel booth to get my exclusive R2-KT Hot Wheels car.

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I swung by the autograph pavilion and picked up my tickets for Mark Hamill and Jeremy Bulloch. I wasn't scheduled to see Mark Hamill until later in the day, so I quickly made my way to Jeremy Bullock. After finally reaching the front of the line I had him sign my Boba Fett helmet. If you've never met Jeremy Bulloch, well all I can say is that you're missing out. He is an incredibly warm individual who is the definition of fan friendly. He will take his time and pose for pictures and he is incredibly gracious with his fans. It was an honor to meet him at the show.

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I made my way to the panel entitled “16 Years of Collectibles, Exclusives and Swag from a Celebration Far, Far Away”. This panel focused on the merchandising history of the Star Wars Celebration since the first event in 1999. Having only attended one Celebration previously, I wasn't aware of the dearth of merchandise that was created for previous shows. Every bit of merchandise was discussed at length. Of course, Celebration II saw the debut of the legendary Jorg Sacul action figure and Celebration III introduced the talking Darth Vader action figure. Throughout the years there have been many quirky items as well. This year was no exception, with the Salacious Crumb wall clock and the Admiral Ackbar sushi set!

Okay, I've been waiting for this moment for over a decade. This is when I finally get Mark Hamill to sign my Empire Strikes Back poster! Over the years, I've gotten most of the principal cast to sign it, aside from George Lucas and Harrison Ford. All I had to do now is wait in line, have him sign it, and this beauty gets framed and mounted on my wall!. Oh the wait seemed to take forever but finally it was my turn. Mark Hamill was delightful. I told him how much I enjoyed his performance in the “Gather Ye Acorns” episode of Amazing Stories and how he brought charm and sweetness to the role. He told me that originally Tim Hutton was cast but had to back out at the last minute and that's how he wound up with the role. It's available on Netflix. If you haven't seen it I highly recommend it.

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Next up I toured the exhibit hall to check out some of the vendors. Pretty much every collectible you can imagine was available for purchase, from the common to the super rare. This was a Star Wars collectors dream come true. I saw rare prototypes and Turkish Uzay carded figures, pristine vintage 12-backs, a carded Droids Vlix figure, and the rarest of Star Wars posters. Elsewhere on the show floor Sideshow Collectibles hosted the R2-ME2 exhibit which was a re-imagining of everyone's favorite astromech. Artists were given a blank R2-D2 1/6th scale figure and told to let their creative juices flow. The results were both humorous and impressive.

Okay, I wanted to close out the day with one more panel so I made my way to the panel about Plastic Galaxy. In case you don't know, Plastic Galaxy is a documentary about the history of Star Wars toys. We were treated to a fifteen minute clip as well as a brief summary about the development of the film. I highly recommend checking out this documentary. It is full of interviews and anecdotes from toy designers and former Kenner executives. It's available now on DVD.

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I ended the day waiting in a relatively short line to build my very own mini Lego Star Destroyer. Each day, Lego offered a different mini vehicle you could build and keep. I learned that if I waited till the end of the day, the lines were quite manageable. The other ships available throughout the weekend were an X-wing, a Tie-fighter and the Millennium Falcon.

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Sleep? Who needs that? I was too excited to sleep after an incredible first day and Friday proved to be just as awesome. First thing I wanted to check out were some of the life sized props on display. There was a full sized Bacta tank you could pose in, with FX-7 and 21-B standing by. There was an Endor bunker with a speeder bike for sitting on. Thirsty? There was a to scale cantina from A New Hope. The ever popular Roxy the Rancor returned to Celebration for some of the more comedic photo ops of the weekend. You could also pose with a bevy of droids in front of the treads of the Jawas sandcrawler.

I'll bet you didn't know that A New Hope is the first film to be fully dubbed into the Navajo language. My next panel began with a look at this process. Everything from translating and re-writing the original script into Navajo to the hiring of actors to record the dialogue. We were treated to footage of an upcoming documentary about this unique event and then it was time to settle in for a screening of the film itself. Right away I knew I was in for something special. Even the opening crawl was translated into Navajo. I guarantee that no matter how many times you've seen A New Hope, seeing it presented in this way is truly something unique to behold.

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If you're a fan of the hit animated series Rebels, then Saturday was a big day for you. The morning began with an exciting look at the upcoming second season of Rebels. With the majority of the cast present, we got our first look at the trailer for season two. The last shot of the trailer was shocking and it sent gasps throughout the audience. When Ashley Eckstein took the stage, I thought the roof was going to blow off. That was the loudest crowd since the premiere of the second Force Awakens trailer. The other highlight for me was the confirmation that yes, indeed, James Earl Jones himself will be returning as the voice of Darth Vader! Later in the afternoon was the world premiere of the two part second season opener, also with the cast in attendance.

I'm sure any Star Wars fan worth his salt knows the name Steve Sansweet and his Rancho Obi-Wan. Well, at Celebration, he brought a small portion of his massive collection to display in what was titled The Rancho Obi-Wan Experience. What made this unique was that instead of focusing on rare Star Wars artifacts and collectibles, this go around it focused on unique one of a kind and fan made Star Wars items. Ever want to see a three piece suit made out of the vintage Star Wars bedsheets? How about a most impressive Bantha pinata? Ever wonder what Beavis and Butthead would look like as stormtrooper action figures? Well wonder no more! Steve was on hand to autograph his latest book, 'Inspired by the Force: Star Wars Fan Artifacts & Art' which focuses on fan contributions to the Star Wars collecting hobby. Just when you thought you'd seen it all, here comes a Tauntaun rocking horse, Bossk bean art and a Chewbacca tissue box cover!

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I concluded my day by checking out The Vader Case Project. This consisted of artists taking the vintage Darth Vader action figure carrying case and re-imagining it in a unique way. These were on display through Sunday while also available for bidding via silent auction with the proceeds benefiting the Make-A-Wish foundation. While they were all out of my price range, there was some truly impressive talent on display. My personal favorite was made up to look like Vader from the cave sequence in The Empire Strikes Back with a vintage action figure Luke face coming out of the helmet.

Okay, one more day to go so let's do it! Sunday began with the news that I'm sure you've all heard by now. The first Star Wars stand-alone film, Rogue One, will be out by Christmas of 2016 but the real treat was a concept teaser that was shown. Hopefully, Lucasfilm and/or Disney will release a high quality HD version of it soon. Don't bother with the poor quality bootlegs that are floating around YouTube.

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One of the biggest surprises to come out of Celebration was obviously our first look at the trailer for The Force Awakens. Next to that though, was The Force Awakens exhibit! This was the first opportunity to view some of the props, models and costumes for the upcoming movie. We got a look at a model of the Millennium Falcon and the new design of the X-Wing. Also on display was Rylo Ken's lightsaber and costume as well as outfits worn by several of the main characters in the film. My favorite was the new Stormtrooper and the first look at the new Flametrooper. Essentially, it's a modified Stormtrooper with a flamethrower on its back but it still looks pretty awesome!

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An ongoing tradition at previous Celebrations is the Diorama workshop. At this Celebration, the theme was Bespin Cloud City. Over the course of the last several days, Frank D'iorio has been shepherding this massive project. He hosted discussions about how to built the most basic of dioramas with the goal of incorporating all the pieces made throughout the weekend into one massive diorama: Bespin Cloud City. To see the completed project on Sunday was astounding. With action figures and lights filling in here and there, it's impressive when you realize that it was primarily children who build the pieces. Frank and his team then assembled it prior to show opening on the last day.

Well as the day wound down, I had just enough time to stop by the official Celebration store and pick up a few items for myself. The time had come to say goodbye to Celebration. As I headed for the doors one last time, I paused for a brief moment, smiled and kept walking. It's impossible to see and do everything but I had an amazing time. At the end of the day, that's all that really matters.

About the Author: Abel S. Pinedo has worked in the entertainment industry for over a decade. He's also an annual visitor to such conventions as Comikaze, San Diego Comic Con, Wizard World and More. When he's not touring the convention circuit he can usually be found at his keyboard telling the World about his adventures.