Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Yoda Project

At the start of the year I designed an alphabet for Oliver, the new little boy of some good friends of mine, and used the little 'blogalot' characters I drew for fellow bloggers to wear on their tee-shirts for Celebration IV and Celebration Europe.

With Oliver's first birthday fast approaching, I wanted to make him something special, and when I heard that he would be dressing as Yoda for Halloween then my decision was easy. I used the little blogalot Yoda as a starting point and started to make a soft toy version.

This cuddly Yoda was going to still retain the 2D qualities of the drawing, but be comfy enough to use as a pillow, so I began by making a template to create the two main halves - no side panels for this sewingly-challenged man!

The material I chose was a very soft, green blanket material which was strong enough to sew and not stretch like felt.

I then embroidered two small eyes, his mouth and his forehead winkles. I guess I should have used thicker thread, but as you will see, I was woefully ill-prepared for this project.
I then sewed the two panels together, leaving a gap on one arm for stuffing. Small, looping stitches did the trick.

When turned inside out (or back to how he should be), Yoda started to take shape, albeit a rather deflated shape.

I used polyfill to stuff him, carefully pushing the filler up into his extremities with a wooden spoon. I didn't over stuff him as I wanted him to retain his comfy pillow status.
"How you get so big, using filler of this kind?"

I used a simple brown cotton fabric to make a jerkin that would be under his cloak. He looks like a street gang member with his sleeveless shirt, but as his arms would be hidden by the cloak, no sleeves was one less kerfuffle to consider. I hemmed the neck line, crumpling it a bit to look like Yoda's, and then held everything in place with a strip of the same material for a belt. I also hemmed the bottom for a cleaner edge.

The outer cloak was made from a groovy, crimped material that gave it a great texture. I cut two arm holes in it, then sewed a couple of cylinders for his sleeves and attached them, cutting them to the desired shape and restitching them at the cuffs to keep them together. I folded the collar under itself, tacking it in place with some unsubtle black cotton dots (See? Totally unprepared. Brown cotton would have been much nicer). To keep the cloak in place I used a strip of the same material for another cheap and cheerful belt.

I used the same material for a hood, cutting a dart out of it and sewing it back together to give it some shape, then sewing it to the back of the collar.

Oliver loves playing with the tags that he gets on his toys, so I used photoshop to create one for his new cuddly Yoda.

And here's the finished Yoda, complete with brown felt 'gimer' stick for chewing on in times of deep thought and meditation.
And here's Oliver at his first birthday party, tired and emotional due to the fact that everyone wanted to take photos of him all night. His mom and dad, Stephanie and Greg, look on as Oliver contemplates the use for a homemade, cuddly Yoda. I'm sure he'll figure something out.

Thank you to Greg and Stephanie for letting me use their picture in this blog, and thanks to you for taking the time to read it! I hope you enjoyed my blow by blow account of one man's clumsy struggles with a soft toy.
Next week, a life-size, cuddly Death Star.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Celebration Reviews

Celebration Europe

Triumph in the face of Adversity – So Much for British Punctuality

Friday 13th July 2007

From the exterior of the ExCel Centre, a casual visitor would never have guessed that within its walls resided a Star Wars playground for ages 4 to 84. Actually I was a little disappointed when I arrived with my entourage on Thursday to pick up my Hyperspace lanyard, and the d├ęcor inside did little to alleviate my fears. A couple of markers and a half-mossed X-Wing – it almost seemed like the organisers were embarrassed to admit what would be happening that weekend. The heat in the hall was stifling, and the volunteers I chatted to told me that they had only just arrived that afternoon, and nobody knew what they were supposed to be doing. I didn’t need the Force to understand the sinking sensation I was feeling. When we asked for our lanyards the checking process seemed a bit complicated for our helper and then, when we heard that the friends and family coupons (as well as the other badges, the programs and the schedule guides) were on a train somewhere, more alarm bells went off. The kind of screeching, booming alarms that you normally only ever hear when two Star Destroyers are about to collide. On the plus side, due to the lack of family coupons, we were all given Hyperspace lanyards, and this would turn out to be a Godsend. I went home that evening with a sense of foreboding gnawing away at my insides.

Friday arrived, and we reached the centre at 7:30 AM – to find ourselves about 200 bodies back in the queue. Costumes started to appear and the presence of gruff, pot-bellied security guards did nothing to quell the palpable excitement brewing in the throng. When we were let in to the ‘holding area’, I was pleasantly surprised to see the giant inflatable Death Star from LA hovering overhead, but the darkness of the room, the black light, lasers and star field were a much better setting, and I began to perk up. A glimpse of a life-size Jabba through the door (different from the LA one) added fuel to my fanboy fire. A brief moment of excitement when a temporary wall collapsed on the opposite line up added to the drama of the moment. Thankfully nobody was hurt and the organisers should thank their lucky stars that this was taking place in England, where folks aren’t yet used to suing at every opportunity.

When the eager crowd was finally let in we went straight to the autograph voucher line, as acquiring Mark Hamill’s siggy was one of our priorities. The line was mercifully short, and we were told to return at 2:00 PM – little did we know we would be entering a world of hurt at that time… That done, we then hightailed it into the exhibition proper, and the first thing to strike me was the amount of space available – there was room to breathe! As I meandered over to the McQuarrie booth, I had a chance to take in the sights; an almost full size AT-AT made a marvellous meeting point in the centre of the hall, a full size snowspeeder sat parked on the carpet, its canopy open for visitors to get behind the harpoon gun, a snowtrooper manned an E-web mounted blaster and murky steam rose from the swamp of Dagobah, where younglings were being invited to take on the dark side. In terms of ambience and ‘Star Warsiness’ they had done a great job. We sat behind the chess table on the deck of the Falcon, pondering whether to have a go at the Tantive IV filming experience, or to try to find the Palitoy exhibition (we did, finally, on the last day).

The artist alley was just that, a narrow tunnel lined with the best illustrators in the galaxy, many familiar faces from C IV and a couple of new ones. I said my hellos to those that knew me, and sized up the prints I coveted – although the conversion bells kept going off in my head as I realised that the print I wanted was double the price in dollars. Trying to snap out of my currency woes I wandered into the seller’s area, which seemed less manic than LA, actually rather polite. I walked past small objects of desire, shielding my eyes from their plastic wondrousness, and breezed around the fan club area admiring the commitment of the organisers, their displays and their big hearts. There would be some happy charities at the end of this event.

By this time the ordinary ones (humans without fan club status) were starting to trickle in, but you wouldn’t know it, there was still plenty of space to run around and visit every booth, frantically scooping up freebies for the boys and girls back in the States. This was no unscrupulous act though, I only grabbed a few extra Hasbro coins, McQuarrie bookmarks and the such, just for my collecting buddies, and they won’t end up being sold! As an aside, that night, the freebie coins were already being sold on eBay for 5 quid…

As my entourage and I swanned around the main floor, we took in the delights of the Lucasarts stand, which was, not surprisingly, touting The Force Unleashed with great gusto. We then descended on the Lego display, oohing and ahhing at the sight of so many little plastic bricks being used in such a fantastic manner. The new Falcon was a sight to behold, and the Mos Eisley docking bay and surrounding area was a great way to show it off. Nearby stood a huge sandcrawler, with a competition to guess the number of bricks used. Judging from the entries on view, the answer is somewhere between four thousand bricks and one and half million bricks.

After the youngest member of our group (seven year old Bruce) received his stormtrooper tattoo, it was off to the giant inflatable obstacle course. This was provided by the Army, and along with the Navy’s climbing wall and display, these were the only two areas that left a bitter taste in my mouth. Ok, so a large event needs sponsors, and I have nothing against the fine men and women who serve our country, but what the hell are two branches of the military doing at a Star Wars celebration? The Royal Navy display showing clone troopers morphing into marines, an apache helicopter on Geonosis and tanks alongside AT-TEs made me really mad.

Next up was Jedi training – on Dagobah! The set that had been built for this event was fantastic, the twisted roots and smoke added to the general ambience, and the volunteer Jedi masters threw themselves into their roles with wild abandon. The Emperor made a scary entrance, then brought out his puppy, Vader, and you could see the kids cringe as he strode into their midst. The new younglings saw off the baddies with ease (helped by a collective force push from the audience) and took their bows – wonderful stuff.

A quick jaunt around the rest of the stands, grabbing freebies and buying long sought after items, and then it was time to join the queue for Mark Hamill. Just to be on the safe side, we returned at 1:30 – to be confronted by a mass of angry and confused punters laying into a bemused security guard, plus an abnormally long queue, which snaked around and out of the autograph hall with no apparent beginning or end. People in this mysterious line (a weekend-long phenomenon) were getting agitated and were also being disowned by the organisers, so tempers were simmering nicely.
Following some aggressive negotiations, my group was finally let into the main line, and we slowly made our way towards the front, catching glimpses of Mark along the way.

Suddenly, the security chaps began forming a couple of new lines, and staggering the people who were sent forward to the table of the Skywalker.
To say this caused a kerfuffle is an understatement, and as shouts were exchanged between the lines, a shaven-headed thug with a neck like a Reek finally boiled over, turning the line into battlefield as he screamed expletives and threats at a guy next to him, both men reddening like angry lobsters and balling their fists ready to bring the quaint old tradition of British hooliganism to a Star Wars celebration. As people stepped out of the line of fire, and we shielded the children with us, a couple of sensible types stepped in between the idiots and calmed the situation down. The irony of all this was that the British Bulldog who was ready to punch several colours of poodoo out of the other chap was holding his beloved Star Wars annual under his arm, a remnant of happier times I guessed. Excitement over, we finally reached Mark, and suddenly all tension was gone. He was extremely friendly, chatty and more than happy to pose for pictures, despite the protestations of his entourage. What a thrill. This was Mark Hamill, hero of the saga that I have loved for 30 years, and now my day was complete. Was it worth 85 quid? Hell, yeah!

As the first day drew to a close, and we all assembled outside for the opening ceremonies, I suddenly realized that I had achieved all of my goals in one fell swoop. I had got my autographs, picked up my McQuarrie prints, bought stuff I didn’t need, shown little Bruce a good time and met up with fellow bloggers and other celebs. Now I could kick back and relax for the next two days, and just soak up the atmosphere without any panicky running around! The opening ceremonies were fun, Steve Sansweet looked a bit windswept, Mark looked like he needed a Guinness, and Ian McDiarmid was a joy to watch as he squirmed under the weight of public speaking and bad puns (what a guy!) As the Tantive IV was boarded and a bunch of Rebels in costume ran across the bottom of the screen, I reflected on a great day, and went home tired but happy. Little did I know what the Dark Side had in store for tomorrow…

Into the Alley of Darth, Strode the Five Thousand.


Due to an extraordinarily successful first day, I had no pressing requirements, and I therefore decided I would take it easy on Saturday. However, this idea didn’t stop me from turning up at 7:30 am again – perhaps it was the lure of a breakfast panini that drew me in so early. As I munched on my artery-hardening delight, I got chatting to a chap sitting opposite me doing the very same thing. After some amiable banter I learned that he was Rich from Weston, and he had drawn a caricature of Steve Sansweet that he was hoping to present to him that afternoon. Not only was Rich a nice guy, but he also gave me a copy of the very same drawing – the day had begun well!

My entourage turned up a little while later, with some special guests in tow – my mum, and my seven-year-old nephew, Sean. Mum was there at my behest to see how much cash we could be wallowing in if she hadn’t sold my entire vintage Star Wars collection for £16 when I was at University, and Sean was there because he had rather alarmingly told me that his favourite film was Grease, and I knew he had to restart his training…

Judging by the crowds already forming at the ticket booth, it was going to be a busy day, but we consoled ourselves with the thought that we would at least be able to enjoy an hour inside before the public swamped us – how wrong we were. I suppose the organisers, in their infinite wisdom, thought the line was getting a bit long, and so decided to open the flood gates at 9:30 AM – so much for an hour for the fans. The day then turned into the complete opposite of Friday. Where Friday had been a leisurely frolic through the exhibits, Saturday quickly became a fight for survival and an event only a queue-lover could enjoy. Compounding this was Sean’s sudden revelation that he didn’t want to line up for anything, and right then I knew my nuna was cooked.

Our first stop was at the artist alley. Sean had used Bonnie’s book, You Can Draw Star Wars, to attempt a drawing of Luke Skywalker, and he proudly showed it to Matt Busch. Matt, to his credit, was fantastic, heaping praise upon Sean’s drawing and signing some sketchpads for him – Sean is now enamoured with Matt, and has decided that if he fails to become a football player he would like to be an artist. I was really happy to see all the artists interacting so wonderfully with their fans and the kids, and it was a pleasure to introduce my little group to Joe Corroney, who continues to be a diamond geezer, showering the children with stickers and encouragement.

Next up was the Clone Wars trailer. Although I had been in the first lucky group in LA to see this, I wanted my gang to experience the big screen, 5.1 sound version and so dragged them all in. The little ones got a bit bored during the introduction (but it’s Dave Filoni! How can you be bored??), but when Steve Sansweet introduced the trailer, their mouths hung open in awe. Meanwhile, I got the same tingly, weepy feeling I had in LA, and I have concluded that I am either really excited about the new series, or I am having a mental breakdown.

Hunger and emotions swayed the next decision, and instead to going to see Charlie Ross, we hunkered down to an early lunch. It’s interesting how eating always seems to be the highlight of any small child’s day. After lunch I let my entourage wander off to check out the Vader project, while Kuldip and I went to Rick McCallum’s talk. Rick didn’t disappoint. His banter with Warwick was priceless and he was relaxed and forthcoming about everything, including the Young Indiana Jones DVDs and the web-busting notion of 400 live action episodes (an aside he may live to regret). The measure of the man’s generosity can be evaluated when a couple of the audience members who got to ask him questions did the usual thing that makes everyone groan. The first one was a chap who asked about the writers who would be working on the new TV show, then promptly waved his own spec script around and asked Rick if he would take a look at it. Rick actually said OK, and allowed the guy to bring the script to him – very cool. Then another fan stood up, waving his fan film around and asking how he could get either George or Rick to watch it. Without hesitation, Rick invited him to the stage and took the disk, vowing to watch it later that day. I have reliable sources that tell me that he did indeed take it straight back to the hotel to watch it. That just about sums Rick up – he is truly a man for the fans!

Immediately after Rick’s talk, we wanted to get back in line for the costume pageant, but we were called over by a couple from Austria we had met earlier in the day who were at the head of the line, and we joined them. What a nice couple! Kuldip spotted Warwick waiting for the next show and told me to get him to sign a child’s pass we had picked up that featured Wicket. I grabbed my Star Wars novel (which is filling up nicely) and trotted over to Mr. Davis. When I asked for his autograph on both items he scolded me, saying I being a bit cheeky, but signed them anyway. When I got back in line I told Kuldip she should have asked him, as her Canadian accent and saucy smile would have won him over a lot easier than my cockney bulk.

While seated for the costume pageant, my entourage caught up with us and we settled in for an hour of homemade fun. The costumes were great – ranging from the intricate, to the hysterical, to the downright too cute. Jedi Iain put on a good show (surely the tallest Jedi in the temple), and Warwick had a meltdown as he tried to unscramble the notes he had been given. All in all a fun time was had, and though we didn’t agree with the judges’ decisions, we had a lot of fun. Also my mind was made up – and you will be able to cheer me on when I enter the pageant in LA in 2009. Not telling you what I’m wearing though!

By this time of day, the crowds were starting to thin out and we took the opportunity to peruse the autograph hall and merchandise stands. I introduced Sean to the fine folks on the McQuarrie table, and taught him the fine art of bookmark collecting. We had a great chat with Paul, Athena and Stan who were running the McQuarrie table, and formed some remarkable new friendships (Kuldip and I met Paul and Athena for lunch in Greenwich a week after the event, and I felt like I had known them for years – great company). Saying our goodbyes to them, we then strolled back down the artist alley so that Sean could gaze at Matt once more, and then performed a final sweep of the main hall before saying our goodbyes and going our separate ways.

Had my mission been successful? Had Sean been turned away from the Grease Side, and back to the light? Well, a few days later, I received a call from my sister telling me that Sean had just made his own clone trooper armour completely out of white paper, and rustled around the house all day. Then, a few days later, Sean and I sat down to build a Dagobah diorama for his newly acquired X-wing – so yes, maybe there was hope for the youngling after all…

Evacuate? In our moment of triumph?


Once again my pitiful little band arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the ExCel Centre nice and early, ready for a full day’s shopping. Yep – today was the day when the plastic would come out and, ultimately, return to the wallet several hours later, whimpering.

We started with a sweeping tour of the stalls, eyeing several desirables, and hoping they would still be there when we returned at the end of the day ready for some intense bartering – ah, the thrill of the chase. While we waited for the kick off, my lovely wife and I decided to head to the Vader Project.

I had seen many of the designs in previous reports from C IV, but I was delighted to see that they had been added to by a gaggle of insane European artists, and I enjoyed checking them out. The ‘Illustrated Trooper’ was a hoot, and I hope this idea can be repeated for future conventions, perhaps with different characters – I for one would pay money to see a full-size Jabba tattooed by industry professionals! The skills and imagination on display in the Vader Project highlighted one of the key differences between the US and Euro celebrations. It really felt like there was an undercurrent of outlandishness and danger in the European artwork on show, which made it much more interesting. It’s the cultural mix that provides this, and possibly a touch of bias on my part. Hey, nobody said my report was to be impartial…

One of the great mysteries of Celebration Europe was why several rooms were hidden away in a hard to access upper corridor, and it didn’t surprise me that many fans couldn’t find either the fan lounge, the Palitoy display or the collector panels. Thankfully, I found all three on this last day, and went up to check them out.

The Palitoy display was awesome, and brought back many happy memories. The collection was incredibly comprehensive and complete, and I found myself re-reading old adverts that I had read as a child, even feeling a pang of sadness when I saw the ‘design a droid’ competition and remembering how my own design was foolishly ignored by the judges. The toys were in superb condition, many mint in package, and I recalled how I removed the ridiculous lightsabers from Luke, Darth and Ben’s arms, and replaced them with painted cocktail sticks.

I poked my head briefly into the fan lounge, and saw a bunch of fans lounging around, and then we headed to our first (and only) collecting panel – ‘Hilarious Star Wars Collectibles’. During an extremely entertaining lecture, I discovered that a great deal of my favourite items currently sitting on my shelves at home, are considered ‘hilarious’. I guess I am inclined to agree – that’s probably why I bought them in the first place. If you know anything about inappropriate Star Wars collectibles, you’ll understand what I mean when I say I now covet the C-3PO tape dispenser…
The lecture concluded with the almost religious ceremony of the collector coin delivery. It’s nice to get one (for the record, the Polish coin with Vader on it), and it’s also nice to know I have something of value to leave to my children, LOL.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the grounds, hoping to see the Vader balloon inflate (it didn’t), watching the Rebel Scum photo shoot with Peter Mayhew and chatting with other fans. I was delighted to discover that I had won a prize on the 501st Droid Hunt, and picked up a Spanish PotF Princess Leia figure. I have to say; meeting the various garrisons of the 501st was another highlight. A German Trooper gave my droid hunt badge to me, my badge was then surrendered to a Dutch Trooper, and I helped a French Trooper get his cigarettes out of his gun holster – naughty French Trooper. I mentioned this to one of the UK Storm Troopers, and he told me that if any of the UK Troops were seen smoking or buying stuff, they would be expelled from the garrison – makes you proud to be British! The 501st then went outside for their own photo shoot, and I don’t know about you, but I can never get enough of watching those amazing costumers marching in unison, as precise as real troops. One of my friends was disappointed that they didn’t get a cheer from the crowds, and went to thank the garrisons personally for their hard work during the celebration. I would have gone with her, but I was busy running around the merchandise at this point.

And so this was how the celebration was to end; a last minute dash for bargains and posters. Indeed I did pick up some desirables, and artist’s alley had become a feeding frenzy. Most of the artists there were quite bemused that they still had over two hundred of their two hundred and fifty run prints left, and this was another indicator of the difference between the US and Euro conventions. In Europe, folks don’t really go in for buying prints, in fact one artist told me that he had many people walk by his work and ask him questions about the artist, thinking he was just the seller. I guess the concept of artists selling limited editions of their own work hasn’t really caught on yet. Any way, this benefited shady characters like me, who revelled in the knock down prices and two for one offers, swelling my print collection quite nicely.

Another quick wander around the exterior of the building led to a chance encounter with Bonnie Burton and we had a great little chat about the two conventions. She was tired but happy – a reflection of the way most of us felt!

And so, another celebration came to an end. We said our goodbyes to friends old and new, and took one last look at the emptying events hall as we made our way to the car park. I was a bag of mixed feelings - sadness, joy, exhaustion, and anticipation. The buzz on the air was of the next Celebration in LA, expected to take place in May 2009. The Clone Wars will be running on TV, the live action series will be on the horizon, and my love for Star Wars will be just as robust as always, only next time, I will be dressed in costume.

See you there!

Celebration Four - LA

Fat Man Running – One Fan’s Perspective of Celebration IV

I was ten years old in the summer of 1977, and I was running breathlessly from my Junior School in Romford, Essex, all the way to the Odeon Cinema downtown to see the film that everyone was talking about.
Fast forward 30 years, and I am running breathlessly through the corridors of the LA Staples Convention Center in a futile attempt to get to the Ralph McQuarrie table before the scalpers – to no avail.
I might be older, fatter and balder than that little kid all those years ago, but the excitement is equally exhilarating, an all-consuming wave of giddy joy and anticipation.

Star Wars does this to a person.

Celebration IV was to be my first Star Wars convention, having moved to America in 2005. I was looking forward to it for many reasons, but mostly to relish the opportunity to surround myself with like-minded fans in an environment purely devoted to the films that have shaped my life for three decades.

Waiting in line to get in each day was never a chore. There were always costumed fans walking the lines, stopping for photos and chatting with us, and often it took just one word or phrase to initiate an engaging conversation with the stranger in the ‘Han shot first’ tee shirt behind me. I soon learned to wait a while before getting in line, as it would snake around and beneath an overpass, which would afford us some shade, and prevent me entering the halls looking like an over-boiled Mon Calamari.

Once inside the convention center, I was blown away by the scale of everything; the hanging banners, an enormous inflatable Death Star looming ominously overhead, Vader’s surgical table emanating painful memories of a young man’s transformation. Fellow fans milled about, some looking around in awe, others rushing straight for the buyer’s room.

And what a buyer’s room.

The chaos was at once nerve-wracking and enticing. Everywhere I looked there would be a huge display of merchandise that seemed even more desirable under the glare of the overhead lights. Gentle Giant rubbed shoulders with Sideshow Collectables, who faced Hasbro who jostled for space with Lego who funneled us towards LucasArts, and the list goes on. Everywhere I looked there were nervous collectors joining lines that spiraled around company displays, teasing them with glimpses of the exclusive items that would be sold out before they reached the front of the queue.

Occasionally it was necessary to come up for air, and it was a relief to squeeze out from between the concept figures and glowing Yodas and enter the artists’ alley. More than two dozen artists from all arms of the galaxy spread their creations on their booth tables and pinned them to the walls, creating a kaleidoscope of colors and familiar faces. It was a joy to wander around, checking out the imagination and skills of these folks, chatting to one or two, and buying several prints that simply could not be ignored. Thankfully I was prepared and had the foresight to bring a large poster tube; all those years of dubious leg slapping in the boy scouts finally paid off.

Next to the artwork was the autograph area, filled to the brim with celebrities from all six films; all of them friendly and approachable. I took this opportunity to add more names to my beaten up copy of Star Wars, a first edition that has been with me through thick and thin, and I scored many that I thought I would never get. Curiously, I was most in awe of Julian Glover, and he was the only actor I didn’t call by his first name. I was also particularly stoked to get Paul Blake’s (Greedo) siggy in the book – I have a bit of a thing for Rodian underdogs I guess.
As a side note, how cool is it to get home to an email from Mary Oyaya (Luminara Unduli) thanking me for coming to see her?

That’s what I’m talking about – the feeling of belonging to one, enormous, family.

Next to the central buyers’ hall was the fan activities hall, a quiet oasis of tranquility in comparison to its noisy neighbour. Here I found many fine, fan-run groups peddling their wares and inviting new members. A full-scale x-wing sat front and center; perpetually smothered with eager children and enthusiastically plump adults in orange jumpsuits. The 501st legion patrolled around their own booth, gently recruiting rather than forcibly subscribing, and in the middle of the hall, a giant Forest Moon of Endor diorama slowly took shape as fans young and old built trees complete with huts and walkways. At fifteen-minute intervals, a bunch of tiny speeder bikes would race through the giant paper redwoods, complete with screaming sound effects and Luke shouting at everyone – wonderful stuff!
Every so often, the atmosphere in the hall would be pierced by the sounds of scores of tiny lightsabers as padawan learners squared off against Vader and his troops, while beautifully constructed astromechs navigated a tricky course and stormtroopers fell over each other in the Imperial Olympics.

A trip to the west wing of the center took me to the Celebration Store, and with careful planning I didn’t wait for one second to get in. It was huge, and full of more desirable stuff, some of it selling out on the first day (badges anyone?). It was a bit of a pain when I saw everything I had purchased being sold on the last day at 50% off – but that was a lesson I shall remember for future Celebrations…

There were so many events and panels going on that it was a foregone conclusion that I would miss many of the things I wanted to see, but I did manage to get to many great events, including:

Slave Leia Belly Dancing Lessons – with respect for my fellow man I chose not to get up on stage, but Amira was fabulous and it was an entertaining hour. I was also lucky enough to interview Amira as part of an up and coming documentary I am shooting in the summer called A Place in the Galaxy.

Date with a Princess – Carrie Fisher lit up the stage with her good nature and hysterical anecdotes, what a treat. Later I managed to get several items autographed – hello ebay! (I kid)

A Hour with Jay Laga’aia – Jay is the consummate presenter and entertainer, and he kept us all enthralled with his stories and singing - man, he can belt out a tune with the best of them!

Opening Ceremonies – Free stamps! Cake! Bomb scares! Eardrum popping, rocket pack launched Boba Fett! Steve Sansweet in an ewok costume! Lots of adverts for stuff we already knew about! The lack of any Georges, Ricks or anyone else… meh.

A conversation with Robert Watts, Richard Edlund, Ken Raylston, Ben Burtt, Norman Reynolds and Phil Tippet – These are some of the visionaries that helped create the saga in the first place. Imagine what would have happened if the visual effects had been sub-par, if the sound effects sounded, well, dodgy… Robert Watts stole the show – what a character. Possibly alcohol fueled – but a character all the same.

The Clone Wars – Oh my giddy aunt. I was in the first group to see this preview of the new animated TV show, and they teased us like kittens with a feather on a thread. Dave Filoni is quite possibly the nicest guy I have ever met, and the fact that he is the supervising director of the series gives cause for celebration. Of course, by now you might know that they did indeed show us a giant, high def, thunderously loud preview of the show, and then promptly rewound it and showed it again. What you don’t know is how extraordinary the reception was from the fans. The cheers, the applause, the standing ovations were all well deserved, and I left the auditorium with tears in my eyes. In one fell swoop; Dave, Catherine (the producer) and the crew had shaved thirty years off my life.

One Man Star Wars Trilogy – Charlie Ross is a genius that much is already known, and his show had me rolling around with laughter. What I was not expecting however was the way his final words, “Celebrate the Love”, turned on my waterworks once again… what an emotional day.

As I reflected upon my spontaneous bursts of blubbing, I began to realize how important Star Wars really was to me. Indeed, the first trilogy shaped my early career choices, prompting me to attend art school so that I might emulate Joe Johnston, Harrison Ellenshaw and Ralph McQuarrie. Later, the saga would lead me to a kindred spirit in my beautiful wife, Kuldip, and now I am a filmmaker, nestled in a group of hills just one hour south of Skywalker Ranch.

As the doors finally closed on Celebration IV, and I hugged my new friends goodbye, I was a raging maelstrom of emotions, of sadness, of exhilaration and ultimately, of optimism.

It was then that Kuldip chose to wave a pair of tickets to Celebration Europe in my face. We certainly can’t afford it, the airfare alone will financially cripple us, and I can’t wait to see everyone there…

If you attend, you won’t be able to miss me. I’ll be the overweight guy in the Slave Leia tee shirt, running breathlessly from hall to hall, with the biggest grin in the galaxy on my face.