Star Wars Celebration III: Day 2 — LINES!

The word for the day here at Celebration III is… LINES! The weather is cold and rainy today, the kind of day where if you spend much time in the rain you spend the rest of the day squidging everywhere because you just can’t seem to get dry. And spend time in the rain we did. We arrived at the Convention Center to find ourselves having to walk about a mile away, up long flights of stairs, down long flights of stairs, around buildings and even through the outer hallways of the RCA Dome next door to finally find the end of the line to get into the convention center. And yes, it was raining much of the time. Now, mind you, this was the “Fan Club” line, which was supposed to get you into the convention earlier than the poor Ugnaughts who didn’t pay the $40 or so to join the fan club. Can you say, “They oversold this event.” Can you say, “Greed is the path to the dark side?” I can. And I will say it loud with a letter to GenCon, carbon copied to Lucasfilm. We spent an hour and a half waiting to get into the event, which I think is ridiculous.

Natasha and I had heard when we first got here, they had sold something like 20,000 tickets to this event. Today, one of the local hotel employees told us there were more like 40,000 people in town for this event. We’ll never know the real number, but it was more than this event can handle. They had a seven-hour line for the convention store today. When Natasha and I wandered down to that side of the building to see what was up with that, we discovered the fire marshall ordering people to disperse because the store was booked for the day and they weren’t going to allow anyone else to line up for it. We dispersed the area, but it was very disappointing not to be able to purchase any souvenirs of the actual event. While we might be able to get to the store tomorrow, I doubt it, since George Lucas is going to be here.

All those bad things said, I do have to say the fans are putting up with it with Jedi patience. I really haven’t seen anyone being anything but polite and friendly. Star Wars fans are light-siders, I think. I also want to say that the volunteers who are running the events, from groups like the 501st Stormtrooper legion, have done an incredible job keeping order in a fun way, and keeping people entertained while we waited in line after line after line.

And we did get to see some very entertaining things today, despite all the lines all over the place. We went to a presentation by Nick Gillard, the stunt coordinator on the prequels. Nick gave a great talk with Jay Laga’aia (Captain Typho in the prequels who is hosting on one of the stages here) where he answered questions mostly about how the lightsaber duels in the prequels were put together. One of my favorite moments was when someone asked him what was easier — teaching the type of saber fighting used in the sword-to-sword duels or teaching the actors how they should move the sword to deflect blaster fire. Nick chuckled and said, “Oh, blaster blocking definitely, since all you need to teach the boys to do is wave and spin the sword in a pretty way. And they’ll do that all day long if you let them…especially Ewan.”

Someone also rode bravely into the geek area with a question about whether Nick came up with a different style for each of the “Seven Forms of Lightsaber Combat” that “we all know about now.” The lightsaber forms have been featured in some of the collateral material like the books and games. Nick gave him a quizzical look and said, “Well, you all may know about that, but I don’t. So, no.”

After that, I went and played the Ep3 video game soon to be released by LucasArts. Awesome game! I couldn’t put the controller down. It’s non-stop Jedi action — a sort of story/fighting game, and the game has a very deep combo system with some rpg elements, since you can develop your character in different ways as you go on. This is one I’m definitely going to have to play! And you can play a Jedi from episode III, Cyn Drallig (spell it backwards) who looked surprisingly like someone we saw a little earlier.

We also saw a presentation by sound designer (and voice of General Grievous in the prequels) Matt Wood, which featured footage from reel 4 of the film where the duel between Obi-Wan and Grievous starts. Matt took the audience through the duel several times with different layers of sound and showed how all the elements of sound added tremendous amounts to the total experience of the film. It was also great since we got to watch the duel over and over again.

Matt also offered some great advice to aspiring sound designers which was to go out, get the tools which are available for the PC nowadays and just get involved in it. Work on group projects at film school or even on fan films with friends. He said it was particularly important to both prove you knew how to use the tools AND show you knew how to work with a team on a big project.

We also visited with another Matt today, Matt Stover, who wrote the novelization of the movie. (I’ll be writing a review of that at some point, but as a quick note, it’s an AWESOME book — probably one of the best Star Wars books written to date. Pick it up to read before or after the film, it will add a LOT to your experience of the emotional journeys of the characters.) Matt talked about his experience authoring the book, and how it showed him that in learning what the story was about he would continually find what a great craftsman of story George Lucas really is. He would reach some points where he found something that didn’t quite work about a characterization he had built, go back and edit some of his earlier writing to make some motivations fit, and discover that a little editing would make everything else fit together. He said his experience was that George had always been there before him and really had the characters thought out. Interesting, considering George’s storytelling is sometimes maligned by the critics.

Matt got to meet with George to discuss the story, and he described it as being like talking to another fan, except one who knew EVERYHING. He did say George might answer a question about Anakin, by turning it into a story about Darth Sidious and then explaining something about the master who taught Sidious and then another person, which was cool but by the end of it George would say, “But we’re not going to tell them that so you can’t use it.

The session ended on a profound note, where a fan asked a question about fear and how Matt perceived it and it’s relationship to the Star Wars story. Matt said, “There’s a reason fear is the path to the dark side, as they say in the films.” It’s the most powerful thing that keeps people from being the best person they could be, fear of looking silly, fear of being hurt. He said something that I truly believe in right now, which is that the United States is a nation living in a culture of fear. Every day marketers push things on us by making us afraid we might smell bad, or look stupid, or just not have enough to be considered right. He said you have to be aware and suspicious of people who are trying to make you afraid. It was a great note to end on, and the audience really applauded the point that learning to be unafraid is the first chance to really achieve things.

The highlight of the day, though was the Rick McCallum spectacular. Rick brought a seven-minute movie of shots from the prequel and some making of footage showing the progress of some of the effects shots. It was INCREDIBLE. They were showing it in loops and people were going in and out again and again to see it. This is going to be probably the most visually exciting Star Wars movie of them all, I am now certain.

Got to hand it to Rick, too. He’s a hard worker for the fans. He was supposed to be there for a couple of sessions, but stayed the entire day looping through the footage for them. He’s definitely the hardest working producer in show business, and the nicest one to fans. Kudos to him!

More to come. Pics on the site. Keep those hailing frequencies open!