It might be a little hubristic to critique a convention one didn’t go to but I’m going to anyway. My experience at past Celebrations has been that the highs can be like Mt. Everest and the lows can be down in the Mariana Trench. The good news with this con is bringing in people who either have never been to a Celebration or haven’t been in a long time generated excitement and pulled the seams of the saga in a little tighter. I thought the 40th anniversary panel was fantastic. I was very happy to see that Hayden Christensen was received so positively. I’ve watched Mark Hamill’s emotional tribute to Carrie Fisher.
The bad news is as a fan experience, one is arguably better off staying home and watching the proceedings over the internet.
This show attracted over 70,000 people, about 4000 more than the Anaheim con in 2015 and more than Celebration V (2010) and VI (2012) combined. I ascribe the increased attendance to two reasons: new movies mean more interest and more fans, and FOMO millennials love going to cons.
Celebration has never been that well-organized but the two most tolerable ones for me were IV and V when far fewer people attended. The problems with its organization became magnified a hundred-fold when those crowds got much bigger. A lot of the complaints I read about on Twitter and Facebook reflected problems I’d noticed when I went to SWCA two years ago, only they’d gotten worse. I wrote a letter to Reed Pop in 2015 with suggestions on how to make things more humane and improve the fan experience at future cons. They never answered my letter so it’s not surprising they didn’t take my advice either. Thus, thousands of Star Wars fans spent a lot of money on airfare, gas, food, hotels, and of course on admission only to be stuck in very long unmovable lines for hours.
People found themselves lining up practically at I-4 even though they got there at 6 a.m.. I saw complaints about missed photo op appointments because it took too long to get through the lines to enter the convention. Those who missed their time then had to go stand in another big line to get refunds. There were complaints about poor communication, lines to nowhere, and bad management of camp out lines for the big marquee panels. The rules stated no one was allowed to line up until 8:00 p.m. the previous night but from what I saw, people lined up hours before then. Rule breakers were rewarded while those who obeyed the rules slept rough for a spot in an overflow room. I saw complaints about those who “knew somebody” were able to skip lines and weasel their way into the hot panels.
The store situation appeared to be again a disaster of long lines and poor management. Merchandise ran out early and weren’t restocked until the next day.
The sexy panels that got live streamed were more or less the only ones worth attending in my humble opinion. Most of the rest seemed to me a hodgepodge of meh and political correctness. ReedPop apparently had giant signs with a huge list of potential harassment violations that will get you booted from the con yet an eyewitness on my Twitter feed said some in the regular line harassed a man with a cane in the medical line over shall we say a difference of political opinion. Did the harassers get kicked out? Nope. Meanwhile I’d read complaints people in the medical lines had huge posses with them, apparently taking advantage to get to the head of lines. Then I read complaints that there weren’t clearly delineated medical lines.
I still can’t understand why they didn’t bother screening the prequels. Poor Kenny Baker got hardly any acknowledgement and nobody mentioned AOTC’s 15th anniversary.
The grand prize winner so far of the worst SWCO horror story was a fan who witnessed a guy who’d peed his pants from you guessed it, waiting too long for something.
The inherent problem with a single interest convention is that many attendees are going to want to see and do the same things, especially E-ticket events like the 40th anniversary panel or the TLJ panel. I think they should do those events at a nearby arena or small stadium and use every room as overflow to see it live. The convention center in Orlando is massive. Why not use more of the space? Or have some of the actors appear more than once for Q&As? Do they ever listen to me though? Nope!
Every door to the con should be open at the time it’s supposed to be open. Forcing tens of thousands of people into two or three entrances is ridiculous. Disneyland or Universal Hollywood can absorb over 100,000 people even with security; you just need a lot of security at several gates like at a football game to keep crowds flowing.
If you ask me, it’s either time for Reed to majorly step up or for somebody else to run the con because apparently they can’t handle 70K fans. The other side of the coin however is that fans have to demand a better experience and start insisting that the guys who run these shows have more respect for customers. Unfortunately fans are bad at this, especially Star Wars fans. We’ve been conditioned since the first Celebration to believe that chaos and adversity are inherent parts of the experience and we should not only just accept it but find it all thrilling. We want the same people in charge because they’ve always been in charge. The fannier-than-thou people sneer at the rest of us who don’t want to sleep on the ground when we’ve paid for a hotel room and would rather eat hot food, take a shower, and use a proper toilet. They’re willing to sacrifice it all to make it into the big panels and if you’re not, you’re just not a big enough or a true fan. I know all about the adrenaline rush of “beating the system” and “winning” but the older I get the more I feel manipulated by the idea I should just shut up and be happy I’m there at the Acme Convention Center, spending hours of valuable time on a concrete floor or in a claustrophobia-inducing packed-like-sardines line. The con disorganizers aren’t trying to teach us a lesson about enduring hardship–who goes on vacation to experience hardship?–they’re covering up their own incompetence. It doesn’t help that after all of these cons, you get gooey retrospectives from mostly bloggers, podcasters, and other media types who sailed on in without missing something they really wanted to see or do. There’s no incentive to change anything. While no huge gathering is going to be flawless, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a lot better than what we’re getting.