It had been announced a few days prior that Hayden Christensen would be attending this year’s Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, Florida, the largest (and most hardcore) gathering of the franchise’s fans in the world. But, wait; aren’t people supposed to hate the prequels? Wouldn’t he be immediately, viciously booed offstage and chased out of the building?
Turns out, a fairly great testament to just how warm, welcoming, and open a place Celebration is lies in how readily embraced into the fold he was, like an old member of the family; no hint of judgment, or nerdly rage in sight. Somebody got him to sign a jar of sand; he laughed, everybody hugged, and the party continued.
There’s always an air of cynicism to be found in this kind of grand-scale, corporate-sponsored event, or even in the fervent dedication of Star Wars fans in general. The constant hero-worship of George Lucas, a man who made a movie about spaceships going ‘pew-pew’ at each other, or even the fact BB-8 seemed to receive a more enthusiastic reaction from the crowd than its human co-stars when it rolled onto stage at The Last Jedi panel, all while about five more BB-8s loitered in the lobby.
Fandom always has its weird excesses, its illogicalness, and I’ll admit I had a few moments of total bewilderment watching people freak out over somebody dressed as Chef Gormaanda from the Star Wars Holiday Special. But never, for a moment, did I ever feel like I didn’t belong there or wasn’t entirely welcome. Star Wars really does offer the kind of world that brings people together, simply because it believes in a world in which anyone can be the hero, and in which good always triumphs (eventually).
It’s that attitude you could see quietly filter its way down to the show floor; everywhere, you could see strangers connecting, even in the briefest of smiles and most casual of nods, and kids running gleefully around in their Leia and Finn outfits together, beaming from ear-to-ear because they’d come to the place where they were free to act out the heroics of the imaginations.
Certainly, those on stage blessed their audiences with as much praise as humanly possible. Sure, they were facing the crowds that probably paid for their house, but it was easy to feel the sincerity there, too. Rian Johnson, who directed The Last Jedi, turned up the night before his film’s panel to weave through the queue of people camping overnight; the next day, he sat there grinning like a child on Christmas Day, while snapping pictures of the audience on his trusty film camera.
Furthermore, Mark Hamill’s tribute to Carrie Fisher felt surprisingly candid and emotional for an actor so used to dealing in showmanship and humour, as he confessed to the audience that being there – working through his emotions with the people Fisher dedicated so much…