GUEST CORRESPONDENT: TONY DITERLIZZI
Star Wars Celebration V drew thousands of Jedi faithful from around the world to Orlando over the weekend, and among them was Tony DiTerlizzi, the bestselling author and artist best know as co-creator of “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” DiTerlizzi (whose new illustrated novel, “The Search for WondLa,“ hits stores in the fall) brought his notebook to Florida and sent back a guest essay, photos and drawings for Hero Complex readers.
After cavorting through the crowds at last month’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, one thing was apparent as I eyed the gaggles of costumed Darth Vaders, Stormtroopers and enslaved Princess Leias: “Star Wars” is still alive and well in our pop culture.
Some of us came to the film when it was simply titled “Star Wars” in 1977; others arrived during the 1981 re-release when it was “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope“ — still more came in the home-video era, when the tale of the Death Star was just the fourth movie you watched in a six-movie series. The George Lucas mythology has endured through decades of great (and not-so-great) films, toys, books, costumes, toys, lunch boxes, bed sheets, toys … and did I mention toys? How about books about toys? “Lego Star Wars” has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 33 weeks. Thirty-three weeks!
So, what if one could condense all of the movie stuff, merchandise, actors and serious fandom into one docking bay? I tell you what you’d get: Star Wars Celebration V, held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando this past weekend. Yes, young Anakin, it is a convention of all things “Star Wars.”
I know, I know, this is the fifth celebration of its kind, the first occurring back in 1999 when “Episode I: The Phantom Menace“ had just hit theaters, but it was the first time I had been to this Mos Eisley wonderland, which turned this 40-year-old back into a kid again. I’ve been to my share of nerd-cons before, so I knew what was in store for me: photo ops out the wazoo, discovering treasures I didn’t even know existed, discovering treasures I knew existed but couldn’t afford, rediscovering treasures I once owned (but still could not afford) and (of course) meeting some of the flesh-and-blood heroes of my youth.
So, if you’ve never been to a con like this, here is what you will find: aisle upon aisle of “stuff” relating to Lucas’ empire. Yoda would chide you for obtaining such material things, but who doesn’t want a vintage mint-condition 1977 Luke Skywalker action figure? Or an actual, life-sized, working R2D2? Perhaps you’re finally ready to sweat like a clone in that perfect replica of a Stormtrooper’s armor? Maybe you want to own a piece of movie history and purchase a segment of the Death Star model? Too rich for your midi-chlorian blood, you say? How about those old Topps trading cards? That 12-inch Sideshow Collectibles Darth Maul doll? You name it, put any character (I mean any) on it, and geeks like me will consider whether our child really needs an actual college education or might be fine with some online tech courses.
But that is part of the fun. You can be nostalgic and hunt for lost icons of your past. You and your pals can get a photo sitting at the holo-chessboard playing against R2 on board the Millennium Falcon. You can work on a diorama of Death Star proportions, re-creating the Battle of Hoth with your kids. You can even meet the true heroes themselves — actors Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Anthony Daniels were friendly to chat with and available all day to sign whatever bit of paraphernalia you brought, bought or scavenged from your parent’s attic.
I wondered what Lucas thought of this as he strolled the aisles of the show Saturday morning before the convention opened. He was about to be interviewed by Jon Stewart, where Lucas was to reveal that his beloved films will, at last, be released in high-definition on Blu-ray discs. He also revealed that deleted scenes — like the few minutes from the beginning of “Return of the Jedi” when Luke tinkered with his new lightsaber — would be included. Through all of it, he was awash in the deafening applause of joyous fans.
I wondered: Had he thought about how far he had come from his humble start in a modest galactic outpost, the less-dusty Tatooine of Modesto, Calif.?
A notion, like a whisper of Obi-Wan’s voice, tickled the back of my mind as I entered the Ralph McQuarrie art exhibition. For those who don’t know, Ralph was the artist who visualized the far, far away galaxy of long ago. With Lucas, Ralph sketched out images of the Death Star, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewie and Lord Vader. The first panel in the show revealed two sketches of starfighters, about the size of that old Topps chewing gum. They were the first-ever drawings done for George’s fantastic film. That’s when I realized that, despite all the retail, this celebration was really about something else: imagination.
However you feel about the films, or all of the merch, one thing is undeniable — George Lucas has a rich imagination paired with a driving vision to make his dreams a reality. He surrounds himself with a team of unmatched talent to bring his imaginings to life for all to enjoy. If you think about it, there are not many storytellers like that. Walt Disney, Jim Henson and Steven Spielberg come to mind. If you ask me, we need more visionaries. We need to keep our imaginations thriving and growing. We need to explore worlds beyond our own. Come on, young Padawans, hone that imagination and share it — I’ll bet my Millennium Falcon that we will come to celebrate.
— Tony DiTerlizzi
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