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CELEBRATION EUROPE: DAY ONE — A Guest Blog by Walt Fishon

Fours hours is not enough sleep, but one does what one must in order to get a SWCE2016-logo-1536x864-270563097437wristband to see the Rogue One panel at Star Wars Celebration Europe.

Unlike previous years, where people queued up an hour or so ahead of a panel and were seated on a first-come, first-served basis, access to Celebration Stage events is now based on receiving a colored bracelet handed out at 6 a.m. the day of the event. That meant waking up early and getting in line for an event that didn’t take place for at least 12 hours. People were permitted to line up at 8 p.m. the previous night, but papa needs sleep, so waking up at the crack of dawn – yes, there is some light at 4:15 a.m. in London – was the next best thing.

Not many people appeared to have taken up the offer to start queuing at 8 p.m.; at 4:30 a.m. only the third chute was beginning to form for Rogue One, while one chute was only three-quarters full for Mark Hamill and the cosplay parade and evening viewing of A New Hope remained empty. The promise of Rogue One footage was just too tantalizing and with a limitation of only two bracelets, the crowd made its choice for Panel of the Day pretty apparent.

Lining up for Celebration is like meeting up with old friends you didn’t know you had, and this new system nurtures this special quality of the event. There’s a shared language that doesn’t need a translator who can speak Bocce, even if you are from countries where different languages are spoken. England may have voted to leave the EU, but Europe was still well represented at the event – people from Spain, France, the Netherlands and a Chewbacca wannabee (who really looked like Lumpy!) from Moscow were all in attendance. All four corners of the earth were represented – Canada, Japan, Australia, Argentina. For a moment, the world wasn’t in crisis – the sad events in France, the turmoil in the new British government, and the topsy-turvy American election cycle didn’t exist. Instead the beauty and wonder of that galaxy far, far away brought these disparate souls together. This, perhaps, is the best result of the new wristband system.    

The ticketing system was quite simple and will probably be instituted at Celebration Orlando. About six people – three on each side of the chute – were ready to apply bands, but as this was the first time this was occurring at the event, the workers seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by the number of people who continuously flung their arm out for what was the Star Wars equivalent of the Golden Ticket.

After receiving a band, attendees clamored to another chute for their additional band. Mark Hamill’s popularity was definitely on the rise after the crowd received its Rogue One bands and bracelets for the other two were still available throughout the day. The BBC News covered the new ticketing system as part of its coverage of Celebration, so it is obviously something the crowd was buzzing about. Other than having to wake up at an ungodly hour, it’s nice to know that you have a secure seat for an event, as the number of bands handed out equal the number of seats at the venue – no more, no less – and every seat is utilized. Bracelets were event distributed for simultaneous digital screenings of the Rogue One panel.

While people had the option of queuing for entrance to Celebration, which didn’t officially open for several more hours, many made their way back to their hotels for breakfast or a few more hours rest (my choice!). Better to be refreshed for Rogue One which was one of the panels later in the day.

Returning about 10 am, a great line had formed in the public hall, a space full of eateries and seating areas (which two days before were still being built – kudos to the construction team that made them happen!). The line spilled out of the zig-zagging queue area, down the public hall to the entrance and wrapped back around. Despite the fracas, the crowd maintained its decorum. As a young British man standing behind me said “This is England, where queuing is a hobby!”

Once inside the venue, it was a mad dash for yet another line (Celebration is really about two things, Star Wars and waiting in line). An early stop to the Celebration Store was on the agenda for some and they were probably smart, as the line grew to a two-hour wait for most of the day. Another popular stop was “The Costumes and Props of Rogue One” exhibit, which also highlighted the new AT-ACTs and the TIE Strikers (which, it was revealed, are designed for better atmospheric aerial maneuvers). A reverence seen at the greatest museum was granted to this area despite it being in the midst of the dealers hall cacophony. Fans drank in every word of the descriptions accompanying the glass encased costumed hoping for some nuggets of information about the upcoming film, and cosplayers stretched their arms as close as humanly possible to the Death troopers in order to get detailed photos of the new, onyx soldiers in all their shimmering glory.

Since many of the major panels streamed on StarWars.com, perhaps it’s better to give highlights of the audience’s excitement. Consider these mission debriefings.

Ahsoka would have rocked the final Clone Wars episodes

The “Ahsoka’s Untold Tales” panel was an amazing examination into what was in store for the future of our beloved Snips. The audience’s desire for information was palpable as Supervising Director Dave Filoni shared major plot points in Ahsoka’s journey, including adventures on Mandalore, in Level 1313 and with Anakin and Obi-Wan one last time. It was an hour of laughter and tears, as Ashley Eckstein and people in the audience were truly moved by what would have been Anakin’s touching tribute to his former Padawan (see related story).

Highlight: Filoni, ever the entertaining showman, hemmed and hawed as the audience hung rapturously on his every word awaiting any tidbit of whether Ahsoka is alive or not after the heartbreaking Rebels Season Two finale. At the end of the panel, Filoni informed attendees that while he isn’t one to write based on the whims of the fans, he realizes Ahsoka has touched many people, so we may not have seen the last of her, although in what form that may be, he wouldn’t tell.

Gwendoline Christie: Hotter than the sizzle reel

The behind-the-scenes film of Rogue One was a hit with fans, giving some tantalizing information on characters and locations – the laughing alien firing a laser turret was an audience favorite – but it was Gwendoline Christie, aka Captain Phasma, who stole the show with her wit, grace and obvious love for what she was doing. Perhaps playing off the debate over whether Rogue One should begin in the same fashion as the saga films, the panel began with the now famous A New Hope crawl which soon began to tilt precariously, flicker and then shatter as the Rogue One logo appeared on the screen, stirring the audience into a frenzy, but it was the surprise appearance of Christie as moderator that sent the fans into hyperdrive. Christie naturally fed off the energy of the crowd, encouraging the audience to hoot and holler along with her effervescent “Woo!” when each actor or new tidbit of information was introduced. With just four words, “Start the pilgrimage now!” she revealed her appreciation for Star Wars fans desire to see Canary Wharf, a London Tube stop that has been used for Rogue One. It’s such a shame that the vivacious Christie was so under utilized in The Force Awakens. Sign this woman for Celebration Orlando now!

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 15: (L-R) Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Wen Jiang, Donnie Yen, Felicity Jones, Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn and Gwendoline Christie take a selfie on stage during the Rogue One Panel at the Star Wars Celebration 2016 at ExCel on July 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios)

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 15: (L-R) Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Wen Jiang, Donnie Yen, Felicity Jones, Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn and Gwendoline Christie take a selfie on stage during the Rogue One Panel at the Star Wars Celebration 2016 at ExCel on July 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios)

Highlight: Following a moment of silence for the 84 people who died the night before in an attack in Nice, France, a man in the audience began singing “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem. While that moment was caught by the Star Wars Live cameras, what wasn’t captured was the spontaneous ripple of voices who joined in from various spots throughout the venue. It was a truly moving and inspiring moment. Runner up #1: Ben Mendelson’s dramatic entrance, dressed in his full Director Krennic costume and flanked by his Death troopers. The man can rock a cape. Runner up #2: Christie lovingly pleading with Wen Jiang to stop talking after he had let slip a plot point of Rogue One: “I think you have to leave it there!”  

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