By Scott C.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
The period of Celebration has come and gone. Fans from all over visited the Anaheim Convention Center for Star Wars Celebration Anaheim (SWCA) 2022. This was the second time the Lucasfilm/ReedPop event had visited Anaheim, and that year was 2015. During May 26-29, fans managed to hurt their wallets, meet new and old friends, enjoy the entertainment, and meet their favorite stars. The COVID-19 pandemic had delayed this Celebration from its original 2020 schedule. Yet fans were eager to restore fun to the galaxy. But was this period of Celebration strong in the Force?…
“This is the way.” – The Mandalorian
One of the best parts of SWCA 2022 was the morning panels at the Celebration Stage, which were inside the convention center’s Arena building. I will say the programming almost matched what San Diego Comic-Con and D23 can present as both offer more top-tier panels, yet it was good enough at SWCA, as you will see soon. The overflow Twin Suns and Galaxy stages streamed the first panel of the day, which I thought were decent options for fans to experience the fun at the event. Like they always say, something is better than nothing, right?
Lucasfilm brought the goods with several fan favorites popping up throughout the weekend to say, “Hello there!” For example, Thursday’s Lucasfilm Studio Showcase panel presented fans a taste of things to come for Disney Plus, such as new footage for season 3 of The Mandalorian, Andor, Willow, and more. Legendary composer John Williams conducted 3 themes with a live orchestra (the new Obi-Wan theme for the Disney+ series, the Indiana Jones theme for Indy 5, and “The Imperial March”). Harrison Ford also discussed the next chapter of Indiana Jones. Yet Seeing both legends on stage together was so amazing!
Saturday’s Mando+ panel was no slouch either. Star Wars fans saw more season 3 footage of The Mandalorian and a sneak peek of the upcoming Ahsoka series. Overall, Dave Filoni, Jon Favreau, and more guests electrified the Arena throughout the morning. Sunday saw The Bad Batch panel gifting fans of that animated series with a sneak peek of season 2 and guests to discuss the show. Friday was about the Light & Magic documentary series, and it included Ron Howard, Lawrence Kaiden, and more. Fans also got free posters throughout SWCA only if they attended the morning panels or the Obi-Wan Kenobi screening, which was a nice touch for this event.
The majority of the programming was great as well. For instance, there were several panels from Hasbro, Lego, Disney, and the Attack of the Clones 20th Anniversary panel. Plus, an Obi-Wan Kenobi screening of episodes 1 and 2 late Thursday to only those who attended the Lucasfilm panel, and, of course, more exciting content from Lucasfilm itself. The schedule felt like something we would see pre-COVID-19, so I welcomed the feel of some normalcy mightily. Overall, Master Yoda himself would have been pleased with this type of good programming.
The show floor (mainly Hall B and C) did not disappoint, as the walkways were crowded with fans. Funko, Loungefly, Lego, Hasbro, and Sideshow Collectibles showed up, as well as Kotobukiya, Bandai Namco, LG, Her Universe, Box Lunch, FiGPin, Electronic Arts, Mattel, and many more booths “buying” for attention. A few exhibitors also sold some Star Wars themed-pins via buying a certain amount of items or just the pins themselves. I found the hunt for particular pins fun and pin trading to be cool to watch.
An Art Show area in Hall B showcased many artists and their works, although it was nowhere near something like Artist Alley at San Diego Comic-Con. For instance, you have way more artists to meet during the summer show. But this Art Show got the job done for those at SWCA 2022 as I saw attendees buying prints and talking to the artists.
Hall D had the Starwars.com Main Stage that streamed the event online for those that could not make it. It was one (good!) option to see the guests that visited the Celebration Stage each day if one couldn’t make it into the morning panels. I wish more shows would do something like this to have fans from all over the world be part of the action. San Diego Comic-Con had this with G4 when that network visited the pop-culture convention long ago. IGN has its own Comic-Con coverage, and hopefully, that should continue this year, although IGN’s base of operations are usually located outside of the San Diego Convention Center. Not inside where the fun is at.
Also, in Hall D, one giant Tie Fighter, multiple photo-op areas, fan booths, specialty Star Wars-themed cars, and the autographing/photo-ops area where fans can meet celebrities via payment. The guest list was good and was led by Ewan McGregor, but seeing no Mark Hamill listed was a disappointment, to be sure. Sadly, he could not make it due to a busy work schedule.
Hall A had the Celebration Stage queueing and a giant food court with some okay food. Hall E was for queueing for…as you guessed it, for everything else SWCA 2022 had to offer. I found the queueing to be fine there, but I heard many complaints from others. (Little bit more on this in a bit.)
The cosplay turnout was outstanding, and the stunning craftsmanship was eye-popping, too. The fountain area in front of the Anaheim Convention Center (as expected) was the popular cosplay/photo-op area, as seen in many other pop-culture conventions at Anaheim. I found it good seeing everyone enjoying themselves, and the food truck options were breathtaking! I did enjoy seeing several kids smiling each day as they saw their favorite Star Wars characters walking past them.
SWCA 2022 also had The Mandalorian Experience in the North building. This breathtaking experience had many props, costumes, and more from the Disney+ series. Yet this experience definitely had that feel of an off-site event, which was only strengthened by the presence of many Disney Cast Members working there. (This experience will be discussed further in detail in another article, so stay tuned!)
The SWCA 2022 merchandise was plentiful and well made. Some of the items did use particular online Star Wars memes like Anakin hating sand, which I thought was very funny to see. The Celebration Store had most of the event’s merchandise, but not easy to visit: you had to fight a lottery system to get a reservation, or deal with a long standby line unless one had VIP which allowed special access. (But I must say, it sure felt like the everlasting know-it-all Yogurt from Spaceballs helped with the merchandise. He understood the basics of merchandising a franchise if you did not know. *Wink* The use of certain Star Wars memes for some items was a brilliant idea.)
Sadly, I did not have enough time to visit the Rancho Obi-Wan exhibit, which had tons of Star Wars stuff to see. Yet from what I heard from many that saw it, all I heard were good things about the exhibit. In 2015, I got to see the exhibit firsthand, but it would have been nice to see it again in 2022.
“We were on the verge of greatness.” – Orson Krennic
Although there were great things at SWCA 2022, the event had several problems that need mentioning. For instance, the mask policy was almost nonexistent as I saw at best 50/50 mask use and non-enforcement. Thus, what was the point in having any COVID-19 policies if they become pointless later? By the way, many attendees got COVID-19 after the show after reading several online posts and talking to a few people via phone. So, it might be best to revisit the drawing board event organizers. All these COVID-19 event rules for any event feel like…well, for show. But at least the event’s COVID-19 policies, or lack thereof, did not bring down this event nor its fun atmosphere, in my opinion.
The LIGHTSPEED Lane system worked as promised. Fans were placed in a random spot automatically online once 9 am Pacific struck, or 8:30 am for the Mandalorian Experience, to get some reservation times. On day 1, the LIGHTSPEED Lane pages refreshed (automatically) if visited early. For some of the days, though, that was not so. For instance, on day 2, a manual refresh on the lottery page was needed to enter a queue. For sure a minor issue, but why the sudden change? There was no answer that I could find.
Standby operations of each morning panel for the Celebration Stage had some issues. The staff in Hall A would give you not-so-great answers on how things would go, like one’s odds at getting into the Arena. Yet I would see a healthy amount of standby folks getting in for the major panels, so the odds were alright going with standby. On Thursday, I noticed no staff members were scanning the QR codes from lottery winners for the morning Lucasfilm panel at the Celebration Stage, which I found odd. But that was quickly fixed the very next day by the staff.
The lottery process was okay in what it did. I mean, it was needed to visit Funko and Loungefly, as well as for basic badge holders to try for the easier way to see the morning panels (VIP had reserved seating). Yet the panel signup part closed unexpectedly before the 11:59 pm Pacific time deadline on May 22nd. I saw nowhere online that this could be possible. It left the procrastinators with no way to signup. This brings me to another issue, information would be updated out-of-nowhere or late. For instance, the show floor map did not drop until the same week of the show. It left many casual attendees scrambling how to attack the show floor before the official release. Lining up for certain things would change, too, as well as hearing some attendees cutting in line. The SWCA 2022’s mobile app also had bugs that plagued it from the beginning before any fix.
Then the paid photo-op area in Hall D was not organized for the big names guests, and their lines would clash with those just walking by to see what is going on. It also did not help that it was near the Starwars.com Main Stage. Now, the 2015 SWCA show was better handled here, as the photo-op lines had their own queue area away from the action. This also made the lining up better organized. Yet the group number system was nice to see in 2022, as the 2015 show did not have that. There was no need to line up early, though, it did nothing to prevent a traffic jam as described earlier. The autograph lines for the major stars were also long and slow, like in 2015, unless one had the Jedi Master VIP badge to skip the main line. But it was cool seeing the stars meeting with the fans. I was able to meet Ewan McGregor, as well as a few guests, and it was fantastic! Of course, the staff handling everything were doing the best with what they could do, so I do not blame them for the issues at all, because when tons of people show up for one thing, issues will happen.
I thought the Galactic Starcruiser booth did not do enough to promote the Walt Disney World “immersive hotel”. Sure, it had some items on display, tables to rest and talk with the staff, and some informational things, but that was about it from what I could see. Perhaps I missed something? Absolutely. But there should have been more things to promote this Walt Disney World experience. Yet there was a giant screen showing ads of the Galactic Starcruiser experience. The booth did give out a free poster late Sunday.
The Celebration Store was located on the North building’s second floor. Yet I thought it was too far from the main action and thus created a “long walk” to get to the store from the show floor. To me, Hall D had lots of space available near the front entrance of the hall, which could have supported the store, and its long lines. No one was bumping into me due to so much space being available, even for this sold-out show. Speaking of which, I say the attendance felt like 60,000 plus like 2015 Celebration got. Saturday and Sunday, though, for sure felt full!
Lastly, but not unexpectedly, exhibitors were able to line up for some booths before the VIP/general attendees could hit the show floor. It was not a great look since a VIP badge cost $900 plus to enter 30 minutes sooner, among the other perks VIP gave a fan.
“The Force is strong with this one.” – Darth Vader
SWCA 2022 had its many problems, yet the show was still mightily fun. Those who attended were thrilled to be celebrating all things Star Wars with friends and family. I had a blast visiting a galaxy far, far away with many after doing no conventions the last couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I got to see old friends, meet new ones, and see many cool things. I also became poorer, which means I got the whole Celebration experience. So, yes, this event was strong in the Force. Yet I’m curious to see what the next Celebration will bring next year (April 7-10) in London. Until then, may the Force be with you all…always!
Did you go to Star Wars Celebration 2022? Let us know by joining the conversation on the FoCC forum!