Star Wars Celebration: Fans explore all corners of the convention universe

April 18, 2015 | 6:39 p.m.

The Mos Eisley Cantina theme played over loudspeakers on the Anaheim Convention Center’s second floor as 13-year-old Zachary Clayson, clad in Jedi robe and tunic, maneuvered a remote-controlled yellow robot to where a young woman was standing with an infant. The little robot — a replica of a “Star Wars” hangar deck scrubber droid — nudged the woman’s ankles. She smiled and bent down, giving the baby a closer look.

“My favorite part of Star Wars Celebration is probably just driving this thing around and seeing people’s reactions when they see it,” said Clayson, who traveled with his father from the San Francisco Bay Area to attend the fan expo.

At Celebration, the big panel presentations with the likes of J.J. Abrams, Carrie Fisher and Anthony Daniels may be generating the most buzz online, but for the estimated 60,000 “Star Wars” fans in attendance, there’s plenty of fun to be had elsewhere at the convention center.

The expo, which runs through Sunday, features a Lego X-Wing workshop and free-building area, droid races, a Princess Leia fashion show, a cosplay contest, a room devoted to family-friendly activities, a “Star Wars” tattoo competition and more. (Check out our overview in the video above, by Times photographer Allen J. Schaben.)

Zachary Clayson, 13, maneuvers his homemade scrubber droid, interacting with convention-goers at Star Wars Celebration 2015. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

Zachary Clayson, 13, maneuvers his homemade scrubber droid, interacting with convention-goers at Star Wars Celebration 2015. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

For Clayson, the convention offered an opportunity to show off the scrubber droid — which his father helped him build, based on the model in Naboo in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” — as well as his Jedi Padawan costume and custom-made lightsaber.

“He built it himself out of my parts bin,” said dad Mathew Clayson on Friday. “He picked out all the parts and put ’em together.”

It was the first fan convention for Zachary, but Michael Clayson has been attending similar events for 30 years, he said, and has been building science-fiction props since he was a teenager. Little robots like the scrubber droid are a hit on the convention floor, he said.

Zachary Clayson, left, and Mathew Clayson show off their hangar deck scrubber droid, which they built together. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

Zachary Clayson, left, and Mathew Clayson show off their hangar deck scrubber droid, which they built together. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

“What’s great is that the kids tend to relate more with the smaller droids,” he said. “Artoo, they love Artoo, but they’re afraid to get too close to him sometimes. But with the little scrubber droid, they get right down there because it acts like a little dog.”

Nearby was the Star Wars Celebration Family Room, which offered activities such as Ewok decorating, youngling lightsaber training, a children’s costume showcase, kid-friendly guest speakers and more. In the Family Room on Friday, Michael Baird, from Detroit, and his 6-year-old daughter Avery, and Jason Sywak and his children Logan, age 9, Tabitha, 8, and Natasha, 3, from Phoenix, took a break from the convention floor craziness. All of them were wearing Darth Vader T-shirts.

“We try to keep the kids rooting for the right group, but when it’s the adults nerding out, it’s like, go dark side,” Baird said.

For Sywak and Baird, who have been friends since college, “Star Wars” has been a lifelong passion. As a child, Sywak watched the films  at the home of his aunt, who had them on Betamax. Baird’s parents took him to see the first movie when it was in theaters.

“The moment that the crawl ends and the star destroyers fly overhead, in the movie theater as a young kid, it’s overwhelming,” Baird said. “You’ve never seen anything like that before, and you’re transported immediately.”

Jason Sywak, left, and his children Natasha (3, on his lap), Tabitha (8, second from right) and Logan (9, far right) are joined by Michael Baird, center, and his 6-year-old daughter Avery in the Family Room at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

Jason Sywak, left, and his children Natasha (3, on his lap), Tabitha (8, second from right) and Logan (9, far right) are joined by Michael Baird, center, and his 6-year-old daughter Avery in the Family Room at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

This year’s expo marks the friends’ third excursion to Star Wars Celebration, but the first time they’ve brought their families.

“The kids like ‘Star Wars.’ We grew up with it, and they’re growing up with it. And our wives let us bring them,” Sywak said, laughing.

Their wives were in line to purchase Star Wars Celebration limited edition Hot Wheels cars featuring the pink R2-KT droid, and their kids were playing in the Family Room. Tabitha and Avery worked on some “Star Wars”-themed coloring sheets, taking a page from their favorite “Star Wars Rebels” character, graffiti artist Sabine Wren.

“She dyes her hair, and she paints her walls and her bed,” Avery said.

“When she was trying to beat a bad guy, she painted on the ship,” Tabitha added.

“I like it because it’s good guys versus the bad guys,” Avery said. “I like people versing each other.”

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"Star Wars" fans Sharon Jackson, left, dressed as Mission Vao, of Las Vegas, and Kyle Jackson, dressed as a Wookiee, pose for pictures during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans from the 501st Legion costume organization show off their Stormtrooper gear during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Costumed "Star Wars" fans Corin Zinninger as Darth Reuan, Sharon Jackson as Mission Vao, Kyle Jackson as a Wookiee, and Brennan Zinninger as Carth Onasi, all of Las Vegas, pose for pictures during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Costumed "Star Wars" fans pose with toy lightsabers during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration held at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Dressed as "Star Wars" character Oola, Moe Hunt of Chicago poses with Roxy the Rancor during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A "Star Wars" fan dressed as Darth Vader leads a parade of characters from the 501st Legion costume organization as they make a dramatic entrance into the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans from the 501st Legion costume organization show off their Stormtrooper gear as they make a dramatic entrance into the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans from the 501st Legion costume organization show off their Stormtrooper gear as they make a dramatic entrance into the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A security guard inspects "Star Wars" fan and Modesto resident Steve Gwin, a member of the worldwide 501st Legion costume organization, during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Star Wars characters from the 501st Legion costume organization parade through the halls of the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Charlotte Davis, 2, of San Diego, plays with bubbles from a bubble-making R2-D2 during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Danielle Young of Salem, Mass., is dressed as Princess Leia during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Molly Ingham of South Carolina shows off her costume -- "Frozen's" Queen Elsa as a Sith -- during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Molly Ingham, right, of South Carolina shows off her costume -- "Frozen's" Queen Elsa as a Sith -- during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans Anthony Lopez, left, of Sacramento and Torri Robbins, right, of Denver show off their Shadow Trooper costumes during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fan Anthony Lopez of Sacramento shows off his Shadow Trooper costume during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jovan C. of Norco checks his phone while dressed as Luke Skywalker during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A man who goes by the name of "Hyper" poses as a beach-ready stormtrooper. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Actor, stuntman and performer Lucky McQueede of Santa Clarita performs as Darth Maul cyborg, right. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Youngsters learn how to use light sabers during a Jedi training seminar. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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The Hodge family: Kelly, Milo, 6, and Dave, of Nashville sport their homemade biker scouts outfits from "Return of the Jedi." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A Star Wars Celebration attendee enjoys an exhibit at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans view the Hot Wheels' Life-Size, 150-mph Darth Vader car, based on a C5 Chevrolet Corvette. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Dylan Stalker of Long Beach, dressed as a combination of a spartan and Boba Fett, stands next to a giant Jabba the Hutt model. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Stryder Brown of Los Angeles is the Hip Hop Trooper, whose pumping music gets him dancing at the Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Retired Sidious," otherwise known as Delyn Murie, 74, of Riverside, uses his imperial walker to get around at Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Excitement rises among fans waiting for "Date With The Princess: Carrie Fisher." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Participants in a Princess Leia look-alike contest compete before Carrie Fisher took the stage. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Contestants parade across the stage during the Princess Leia look-alike contest. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Carrie Fisher and her dog, Gary, onstage during the "Date With The Princess: Carrie Fisher" event. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Carrie Fisher onstage during the "Date With The Princess: Carrie Fisher" event. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A youngster is prepared for a lightsaber fight as he walks through the dark shadows at the Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans travel to their next destination at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jessica Odell of Lisburn, Ireland, is dressed as Maris Broud from "The Force Unleashed" video game. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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William Teague of Austin, Texas. views dozens of Star Wars figures lined up in a display by the Kotobukiya company. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley, artist Damian Cain of Britain shows off his Luke Skywalker tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley, Vinny Romanelli of New York City gives Angela Byrd of Modesto an angelic R2D2 tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley, David James of Arcadia shows off his Darth Nihilus work-in-progress tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Malcolm McNeil of Ventura takes part in the X-Wing Experience Star Wars Battlefront. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Robert Gomes of Walnut, Calif., is Darth Tannos in the Millennium Falcon scene. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Eric Cajiuat, of Fullerton, is Jedi Elvis in the Millennium Falcon scene. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Chandra Chang of Los Angeles poses as R2D2 Hello Kitty -- or R2Kitty -- in front of "The 20th Century Space Opera" oil on canvas by Robert Xavier Burden. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A fan takes photos of some of the extensive collection of Star Wars memorabilia in the Rancho Obi-Wan Star Wars collection booth. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jennifer Hobart, of Fullerton, creates her own Star Wars character with special contact lenses. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Calvin Heins, 12, of Los Angeles, wears a Jawa costume in front of a replica of the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A young girl readies her lightsaber as she walks though the shadows at the Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Members of the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment of the 501st Legion march in formation through the crowd during Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Members of the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment of the 501st Legion march in formation through the crowd during Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Members of the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment of the 501st Legion march in formation through the crowd during Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Not far from the Family Room was a hall devoted to the R2-D2 Builders Club, an international community of hobbyists who build replica robots from the “Star Wars” franchise. The room echoed with a chorus of Artoo’s hallmark beeps and chirps.

Among the many droids on display was R3-K2, a black-and-silver droid custom-designed by Michael Hawkins of Canoga Park.

“I’m trying to create kind of my own take on what an Imperial droid would look like,” Hawkins said. “It’s very new and not fully completed.”

Hawkins has been working on the robot for about a year during spare evenings and weekends, using acrylic, steel, resin and aircraft aluminum.

“Most of the parts that I’ve used are salvage, or some don’t meet the club’s specs,” Hawkins said. “If you want an Artoo, and you want it to look like the perfect version of an R2-D2, it has to look just like the one on screen, and that takes a little bit more accuracy. But here, I can kind of do things myself and play with things and customize things more.”

Eventually, the robot will sport additional acrylic details, lights and sound, though maybe not Artoo’s happy beeps.

“I might make it a little darker,” he said. “Less optimistic. Something that would be intrinsic to an Imperial droid.”

Michael Hawkins, of Canoga Park, Calif., poses with his custom-built R3-K2 droid. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

Michael Hawkins of Canoga Park poses with his custom-built R3-K2 droid. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

Hawkins joined the R2-D2 Builders Club when he was 15 years old, and credits the hobby with keeping him engaged and inspired.

“I didn’t get to go to college. I always wanted to, but the circumstances didn’t permit,” he said. “But it’s kind of weird, I feel like I got somewhat of an education, because you learn how to work with materials, you learn about electronics, about fiberglass, about resins, acrylics, threading, almost like engineering. … You just kind of take one part at a time. Every part is a different project, and it teaches you something new.”

For Hawkins, building “Star Wars” vehicles offers an outlet for creativity and imagination.

“You can kind of dream things and immerse yourself in ideas, play with thought,” he said. “I work in upholstery, so for me, my week is somewhat boring, but to be able to spend the weekends working on a robot, machining metal or laser cutting things, welding things, soldering things, and then to see it come to life, it’s exciting. What do we do with our free time? Most people go home and putz around on the Internet for a couple of hours, and then your night’s gone, and you don’t really have much to show for it after a year. But a little bit here, a little bit there, a couple of hours every night, and I get to see a robot come to life.”

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark |@LATHeroComplex

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Comments


2 Responses to Star Wars Celebration: Fans explore all corners of the convention universe

  1. woof woof says:

    Love the article. That R2-D2 Builders Club sounds awesome!

  2. Tom A. says:

    The R2-D2 Club is awesome! I've been a part of the group since 2010. Our kids love it as much as we do. It is so much fun to sit with my son and work on droids together! If you are looking at it more check out Astromech.net or the brother-club, Mouse Droid Builders on Yahoo Groups.

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