Flashback Friday: My First Ever SDCC 10 Years Ago

Next week is the Davos of nerdiness, the Coachella of geekhood, the Burning Man of couch potatoes, San Diego Comic Con. Your humble web miss will be attending. Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the first time I went to San Diego Comic Con. To keep it brief, I moved to San Diego in July 2004, about 10 days before the con. I bought my pass by mail in June and got my confirmation in the mail just before moving away from Virginia (even then you only got a confirmation, not an actual pass). I only went one day (July 24) but I picked the right day to go…the day they announced the title for ROTS.

What I’m about to describe is completely impossible today. There’s no way in hell you can just waltz into Hall H an hour before a program. There are hundreds of thousands at the con now instead of tens of thousands, and far more media. And in 2014, Star Wars doesn’t have that big of a presence in terms of programming though I expect that to change next year for obvious reasons.

But what a day it was! There hasn’t been a SDCC like it since as far as I’m concerned.

If there was a time to come to [San Diego] Comic Con in sunny SD, this was it and yours truly was not disappointed.

This was the largest convention I’ve ever attended, with at least double the number of people at Celebration II. You had your Goths, Klingons, Jedi, a Spiderman or two, lots of anime fans, a Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth, and a fabulous stormtrooper costumed done samurai-warrior style. There were plenty of other stormies about too. It was just a plethora of humanity, tattooed, pierced, or not.

I got to the convention center at 10:30, hoping to make the Star Wars Spectacular scheduled in Hall H at noon. My heart sank at the huge line combining pre-registered attendees AND those who had to purchase a pass. What the hell was the point of pre-registering then? But the line moved quickly, even more so when the pre-registered folks were separated from everyone else. I brought up my pass via computer and waited in a chaotic mess to hear one of four volunteers shout out my name. By now it was almost 11, so I booked it to Hall H, pausing for a stop at the little girls’ room.

They were already seating people for the Spectacular. Since I was alone, I was able to worm my way up front and after asking if there were any open seats, I found one in the 7th row with what must’ve been the bored fanboy section. I noticed the hardcores were seated closer and in the center. Ah well. The guy next to me was a husky fella so I had to distort myself to fit into the seat, [note: I was kind of husky back then myself] but at least he and his pals made room for me.

There were lots of folks in SW costumes: Jedi, stormies, TIE pilots, snowtroopers, Boba Fett, Imperial guards, Count Dooku, Mara Jade, punk rock “Dark Jedi,” Isard (EU character), and Darth Vader. Pablo Hidalgo was out and about, taking his own photos of attendees. Later on I saw a Naboo Celebration Amidala, a Queen Jamillia, two (count ’em, two) picnic dress Padmés walking together, a clone trooper, some Emperors, and a couple of Slave Leias (including the girl working the LEGO pen booth…dozens of fanboys displayed more interest in her than in the pens). I even saw the Elvis stormtrooper.

Before the show they played a mix of SW music done in all kinds of styles. They warned us repeatedly we couldn’t take pictures or record anything during the presentation. It didn’t matter since I had the WORST time operating my digital camera. I couldn’t tell if I was photographing or recording. Bloody hell.

The huge hall was almost packed by 11:30 and pretty much standing-room only by the time it got started. Steve Sansweet walked out with a Sith 77 baseball jersey, which you can buy at ShopStarWars.com for $120. He joked about “Episode III: Birth of the Empire,” which he quickly shot down as a title and said, “You never know though what scoop there will be at the end.” Hint, hint.

First up, the news that the Droids and Ewoks cartoons as well as the two made-for-t.v. Ewok movies from the 1980s will be released on DVD around Christmastime.

Then, an all-new trailer for the OT DVD set. I may be trippin’ here, but I could’ve sworn the lightsabers in the Obi-Wan/Vader duel from ANH were enhanced. But I could’ve been hallucinating. Anyway, I couldn’t help but feel excited…I just love those damn movies. Jim Ward, VP of marketing from Lucasfilm came out to chat. He showed a few clips from the “Empire of Dreams” documentary, a 2.5 hour extravaganza featuring interviews with 40 people involved with the OT. It looks REALLY good and you’ll catch a preview special of it on A&E (cable channel) in September. Ward also said there’s part of the SW Battleground video game encoded on the bonus features DVD, so you can play it on your X-Box. The game looks awesome, even if I’m not a video game junkie. Fanboys cheered at the ability to shoot Ewoks in this game.

I’d been jotting down the important stuff, when I dropped and lost my only frickin’ pen. I looked around everywhere, but I couldn’t find the damn thing. So from here on out, you’ll have my rotting memory to deal with.

Next was a surprise cameo appearance from Carrie Fisher, who was at the con to sign autographs. She and Sansweet chatted for a few minutes, when she talked about doing commentary for the DVDs, among other things. She looked pretty good. At the beginning, some guy shouted out, “I love you!” and someone else yelled out at another point, “You’re beautiful!” I guess the princess still has it ;).

After that, Sansweet went on to chat about the DVD release of THX-1138 and had updates on several LucasArts video games. He talked about a new season for the awesome Clone Wars cartoon series [the micro series, not the Dave Filoni one], but didn’t have anything new to show. There was also talk about Celebration III with some footage from II, but no news on precisely when tickets go on sale. Just in September.

Now we’re getting to the very sexy stuff. They revealed the new packaging for the Episode III toy line. It’s been on a few collectors’ sites, actually, but this confirms it. It’s Vader’s scowling visage with the Obi-Ani duel reflected on the “dome”, overlooking a whole lotta lava.

Conceptual artist Ryan Church came out to show some slides of their Kashyyyk conceptual art. It looks gorgeous! I think this will be very, very cool onscreen. Interestingly, there was a slide of another planet that “snuck” in there. All I can remember was seeing some structure with a lot of bubble-like windows. Church said something like, “Oops, you weren’t supposed to see that.” [I can’t think of what this could possibly be.]

Then Rick McCallum comes out. He said he was about to go to London to prepare for additional shooting, which is coming up soon. Sansweet asked him if he had anything to show, and they rolled some footage from what I think is the “Return of Darth Vader” feature from the OT DVDs. Folks, we got to see absolute confirmation that Hayden Christensen wears The Suit in the film. As the video showed the costume folks placing Vader’s helmet over Hayden’s head, the crowd went wild.

After that, Sansweet said something about how exciting it must have been for Hayden. Then he said (I’m paraphrasing here) we can ask him ourselves. Hayden Christensen walks out to cheers and a standing ovation from a very surprised audience. I was about ready to lay an egg! I was whooping like a crazed fangirlie, which I’m sure annoyed the bored fanboys in my section. Nyah nyah. Hayden was dressed very casually in jeans, a dark shirt, black boots, and a San Diego Padres baseball cap. He was smiling the whole time, looking adorable as hell. [pardon the fangirl drooling]

At this point they opened the floor to questions. Of course I had a brain freeze and couldn’t think of a damn thing to ask. Among the things he talked about:

*He’s not bulking up for additional filming since he won’t be doing any fight scenes. He said he had a hard time bulking up before because he has a high metabolism.

*He enjoyed doing his fight scenes and claims he could beat Ewan in a real sword fight with one arm tied behind his back (facetiously, of course).

*When asked if the dark side is stronger, Rick said, “You ought to see him (Hayden) in a bar!”

*The Vader costume was hot and he wore lifts to make him taller that were difficult to walk in, but it helped him get into character and feel like a badass.

*He spoke respectfully of the films, its fans, and how he’ll miss the people he worked with. Rick McCallum said it’s the end of his career and the beginning of Hayden’s.

*One guy said to Hayden, “I dragged my wife here this morning and your appearance just made it worth her while!”

*Hayden got some love for his performance in “Shattered Glass” and “Life as a House” from the audience.

One guy stepped up to the mike dressed in an amazingly accurate Episode III Anakin costume, down to the hair. Hayden was quite amazed; you should’ve seen the expression on his face.

As an aside, they showed a clip from the Making of the Episode III Game, also from the OT DVD set. Hayden not only “modelled” for the guys at LucasArts so they could accurately capture his movements, he practically directed his own “scenes” using video game biz terminology! Part of the reason why they wanted his participation was that they knew he was a big video game fan. It was cool seeing the animation in action. Anakin flings his saber in a boomerang, taking out some battle droids.

Of course, no Q&A session was complete without some total gits getting in their two-cents’ worth. It just kills me that real SW fans like my friends aren’t at these things but the twits always find a way to show up. Complainer #1 asked about Anakin’s conception, saying “I never bought that he came out of nowhere.” Rick’s answer though was interesting. He said, “You won’t have to worry about that.” Hmmm. Could there be a twist to Anakin’s origins after all or is Rick predicting this woman will get hit by a truck by next May? [I think it was option #2] Git #2 asked about Jar Jar, saying, “He ruined the whole series!” Rick said, “Don’t worry about Jar Jar.” Git #3 asked, “Is there going to be more of the romance between Amidala and Anakin…I hope not.” She must have been an Obidala fan or something. Hayden diplomatically answered, “Anakin’s relationship with Obi-Wan is the focus of the film.” Then someone asked about Hayden being placed in the ROTJ blue ghostie scene. Hayden kept mum. Rick at first didn’t know what the guy was talking about, then Sansweet said, “You’ll see when the DVDs are out.” I take that as a “yes” (and I just saw a bootleg clip of it online), so did the audience. Thus the fanboys booed and moaned. I felt bad Hayden had to sit there and listen to that rudeness. Geez, you don’t do that with the actor sitting right there! But he took it like a man. At least when he left, he got another standing ovation.

Hayden was definitely more comfortable with a large audience and self-assured than when I saw him at Celebration II, but he’s still 100% a class act, a doll, a mensch. He didn’t have to show up, but he did. I think he genuinely cares about the fans.

If that wasn’t enough, we were finally getting that “scoop” promised to us at the beginning of the program. A tremor in the Force told me the title would be announced at this presentation (seriously…I had nothing but my gut instinct telling me that). The way they did it was kind of cool. They ran a video showing clips from then the title for each SW film beginning with ANH. Then they showed behind-the-scenes, in-progress scenes from Eppy III and then the big moment…the title “Revenge of the Sith.” Heretofore known as ROTS. Everyone cheered. While you can say it is fanboyish and perhaps a tad obvious, it’s probably the first time in a long time the rabble will for the most part go away happy. Frankly, they could’ve called it “Rat Fink A Boo Boo” or “I Dismember Mace” and it wouldn’t have mattered to me. But not only do I think this title perfectly nails the story (I mean, what else is it gonna be about) it’s a great symmetry to the end of the OT, Return of the Jedi. As Sansweet said, George decided to keep Revenge in it this time.

Sansweet removed his Sith baseball shirt (in retrospect a Big Fat Clue) and revealed a t-shirt with the ROTS logo, done up in ROTJ retro-style. He announced, “This shirt will be on sale in five minutes!” Everyone literally got up out of their seats and hustled out of there, all the while telling their buds on their cellphones, “Dude, it’s ‘Revenge of the Sith!'”

I fought my way down to Hall D, home of the small but very cool-looking “Star Wars Pavilion.” [It’s now huge] Of course there was a huuuuge line to buy the hottest t-shirt of the moment. But I hear a voice call out my name and it’s none other than someone I knew from Washington, D.C.. She let me butt in line with her and after about a half hour, I got my limit of two shirts. (Sorry, both are spoken for but you can buy ’em at ShopStarWars.com.)

After my sumptuous meal of a big pretzel and the most expensive can of Diet Coke ever, I went back to the SW Pavilion. I went on a freebies grab, catching a glimpse of the celebs brought in by C2 Ventures [now Official Pix] to sign autographs. I saw Mark Hamill, Ray Park, Carrie Fisher, Jeremy Bullock, Peter Mayhew, and young Jake Lloyd, now a teenager. Jake has darker hair and looks like a teenager instead of a little boy, but he was instantly recognizable. I caught a cute moment when Carrie was leaving; she stopped to chat with Jake, saying goodbye I suppose. It seems like they’ve bonded. In fact it was a veritable Skywalker reunion with Mark, Carrie, Jake, and Hayden appearing at the con. All you needed were Pernilla August and Natalie Portman and you can put ’em all on Family Feud.

After getting what freebies I could–the guy at Hasbro generously gave me an Aayla Secura Unleashed proof card even though they were running low and he was told to stop giving them out for a while–I went in search of some of the comics I’d missed while moving from Northern VA. I got the Clone Wars cartoon-style digest and the most recent Empire, but no one had the new Jedi: Yoda one shot. In fact most of the dealers either sold trade paperbacks or old comics. Few had brand new ones. [This is when I learned that the last thing Comic Con is about is comics.]

I went back by the pavilion and found the opportunity to talk with Sansweet. He’d been a subscriber to my fanzine Blue Harvest years ago, so this was the first time I’d been able to talk to him in person. A real nice, accessible guy, though I was careful not to overstay my welcome. Then I went by the MBNA credit card booth. They were offering free “character shots” (i.e. they put your noggin on a SW character’s body in a picture) for those signing up for their card. I already have one, but no dice for the freebie. They tried to get me to consider getting a Darth Vader SW card since I have Yoda, but like heck I’m going to open more credit when I’m job hunting. So I had to shell out $20. Ah well. I paid more than that for a similar ROTJ pic (Slave Leia natch) I had done at Universal Studios in 1997. This time I chose white outfit AOTC Padmé. It looks pretty good actually. I wish I had a scanner to show you guys.

After that, I was done. What a crazy day, but I thank the good Lord I had the opportunity to be there.

Here’s the video I saw in Hall H:

Episode III Title Reveal on Star Wars Video

Here’s the t-shirt I ran out to buy:

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11 Responses to “Flashback Friday: My First Ever SDCC 10 Years Ago”

  1. Keith Palmer Says:

    It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I recall seeing this report right around when I at last happened on the old Anakin Skywalker Home Page Forum and reacted giddily to the thought other people were willing to be positive about TPM and AotC too, which definitely helped in that third lead-up. It is something to be told that SDCC was “big” ten years ago, but is that much huger now… With one of the “since then” comments, though, I did have the troubling feeling Rick McCallum was actually trying to allude to the “Anakin was created, all right–by the Sith!” theories that flared up right after the movie, given certain excerpts from early drafts in “The Making of Revenge of the Sith.”

  2. Adam D. Bram (The Nilbog) Says:

    That sounded like a cool experience. If I ever get enough money to go to any kind of con, I’m going to test out security’s ability’s by dressing in Jar Jar duds.

    That shirt is awesome, though, and I love how they not only did that for the Vintage packaging, but also dolled up Clones to look like Empire.

  3. lovelucas Says:

    LP – Thank you thank you thank YOU!!! Awesome write-up and I am thrilled that Hayden received standing ovations despite the inevitable jerkboys making their collective snark appearance. Hayden is a class act even though it doesn’t seem to be in his nature to sparkle and shine during public displays. Have I mentioned how much I miss Rick McCallum?? Will we ever have a chance to hear him speak to Star Wars peeps again? I would always want him on my team – he is so positive and enthusiastic and obviously loves Star Wars and its players. I know he and Hayden seemed to have a connection as Hayden did with Nick. Nick and I email very rarely but he did say that at one point any time Hayden was in London Nick had a place for him at his home. He also said Hayden was the best at lightsaber training/duels thus backing up what Hayden joked about. Both he and Ewan put so much of themselves into making the the duel reflect top of line Jedi skills plus showing the loss of something real – a brotherhood, a friendship. In some ways, I’m still living in 2005. The anticipation was just the best ever.

    • PrinceOfNaboo Says:

      Nick Gillard once said he had “Darth Vader [Hayden C.] in his basement” 😉 . That was probably the same occasion.

      Personally, I do appreciate Rick McCallum, but I kind of disliked his apologetic behaviour towards haters. Seriously Rick, there’s was no need to cater to them. Each prequel film was tremendously succesful. Tons of people loved them. If some haters didn’t like it, they could have left. Yet even when he was talking about the ultimately never realized “live-action TV series”, Rick cartered to the haters by promising it will be “better” than the Prequels.

      Sorry, @ Lazypadawan, if I just broke the rules (won’t happen again).

      • madmediaman Says:

        Rick was just being a diplomatic producer. Hey at the end of the day he has his opinions. In his final video interview for Lucasfilm he even says that he and George often differed on ideas, and he would make his opinions known, but at the end of the day his job was to put George’s vision on screen.

        But he also made it a point to say that whatever their creative differences he was extremely proud about what they did together and he believes the three Star Wars films he produced are strong entries.

    • lazypadawan Says:

      It was obvious Rick McCallum really liked Hayden. I think everybody did.

  4. M. Marshall Says:

    [This is when I learned that the last thing Comic Con is about is comics.]
    Wow. That’s quite an oxymoron isn’t it?

    • lazypadawan Says:

      It is. Some of the original organizers of Comic Con have started a comics-centric convention that’s in October. SDCC is focused on t.v., movies, video games, and merchandise. A lot of it does originate from comic books and graphic novels but you’re not going to get 8000 people jammed into Hall H to see some Marvel writers yap about making Thor a Thorette. They want to see Robert Downey Jr., Joss Whedon, and Tom Hiddleston.

      SDCC used to be THE place for fans to meet creators, writers, artists, and editors. It was THE place for people hoping to break into the industry to network, make connections, and have their portfolios reviewed. That stuff still happens but it’s very much out of the public eye. It’s about gawking at movie stars and seeing sneak peeks of the next season of whatever t.v. show. I joke that it’s the Cannes Film Festival on the San Diego Bay.

  5. lovelucas Says:

    Yo Prince – I had never heard that about Rick…ever. I’ve never heard him “apologize” for the prequels nor cater to the haters. The most I heard – and it was in person at his Spectacular / Celebration III was this: before he ran the reel/tape he almost unintentionally said – in a prayer like way – “Please like this, guys”. He has always shown awe, respect, reverence to all who contributed to the prequels, often hosting panels and deliberately leading the interviews to a path that showcased the sometimes shy behind the scenes people. He was majorly cool the 3 times I saw him and one of those times was in Las Vegas for ShoWest where both Hayden and George were receiving awards. Dumb me – camera w/o battery.

    • PrinceOfNaboo Says:

      Lovelucas. After I’ve just double-checked McCallum’s quote, I have to apologize. I fell into the trap of anti-Prequel propaganda. I had an article in mind that quoted Rick as saying each script of the live-action series was “better” than the Prequels, however in reality Rick said they were “BIGGER” than the Prequels.

      I’m kind of glad my opinion on Rick McCallum can be un-tarnished again. Thanks 🙂

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