Friday, April 29, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS — The ultimate homage to the mighty Skywalker Clan occurred last week as “Star Wars” Celebration III bombarded the Hoosier capital with more than 30,000 devoted fans.

They were looking to reflect upon a film legacy, reminisce with those who made it happen and hand over huge wads of cash to licensers selling an obscene amount of stuff.

Spread out over four days, from April 21 through 24, the massive event, developed by the Official “Star Wars” Fan Club, was sponsored by such mega-corporations as Burger King, Target and Cingular. It featured artwork, game rooms, panels, film screenings, a prop museum and plenty of guys dressed as Darth Vader.

Heck, even Jar Jar Binks and an Ewok managed to sneak in.

Zadzooks transformed himself into one of the doe-eyed, giggling fans to offer some observations on an insane event that will be remembered as 2005’s most intense popular-culture extravaganza.

• Fans standing around became a common sight for the entire four days; it appears coordinators had little clue that this many people would show up. Although organized lines were further organized into more lines, the only thing quelling a riot was the pleasant attitude of attendees, who spent time chatting about everything “Star Wars.”

Still, the lines to get to the official Celebration Store at the center of the massive Indiana Convention Center were the worst. Each day, attendees arrived early to stand in lines (which took many hours to navigate), reach a cashier and have runners pull from boxed piles such conspicuously consumable merchandise as a framed pin set ($80), a Yoda hooded sweatshirt ($32) and Hasbro’s coveted, 3 3/4-inch talking Darth Vader action figure ($15), which spews new lines recorded by James Earl Jones (the voice of the dark Sith lord).

• Unbelievably, celebrity firepower was a mere flicker at the show. If George Lucas hadn’t made an appearance, it would have reminded me of the standard set of “Star Wars” autograph hawkers seen at any large comic-book convention.

Fans were stuck with 40 celebs, most of them minor: Matthew Wood (the voice of General Grievous), Zach Jenson (Jedi Kitt Fisto) and Daniel Logan (young Boba Fett), whose total screen time throughout the sagas did not justify the amount of money asked for their autographs ($10 to $30 each plus the purchase of a photo).

• Producer Rick McCallum did manage to fire up the crowds each day with an amazing montage from the new film, “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” After showing eye-popping visuals using a Christie Digital Cinema projector, he answered fans’ questions while pleading with them to view the new film only in theaters willing to install digital projection systems.

• Of course, the “world’s definitive Imperial costuming organization,” the 501st Legion, showed up to display its seriously detailed and flawlessly designed outfits.

Basically, more than 3,000 folks around the globe dress up as Stormtroopers, Clonetroopers and Red Guard to promote “Star Wars” to a new generation as they make appearances and collect money for charities.

The number of Imperial forces that showed up, estimated at around 700, made the town look as if it were in lockdown. Almost every street corner contained a helmeted trooper, dressed in white and wielding a laser blaster.

Sunday was their day to shine, as many in the group posed for photos in the Fan Fair Hall. As a special surprise, actor Jay Laga’aia, who plays Captain Typho in Episodes I, II and III, grabbed his costume out of the exhibit hall and dressed up as the character to pose with the huge garrison.

“I couldn’t pass this up because there are not too many opportunities for a photo shoot with good and evil,” Mr. Laga’aia said with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

• I was very happy to see that Celebration III offered many chances for children to join in the fun. Burger King, which will be offering toys with the new film release, sponsored a 21-session Junior Jedi Academy that gave a dozen children the chance to wear robes, wield light sabers, learn some moves and practice against Darth Vader.

Additionally, Hasbro was running Attacktix tournaments with its kid-friendly action figures; Lego provided building blocks to construct Rebel and Imperial ships; and a “Star Wars” Kids’ Room offered origami, story time, droid building, face painting and educational sessions in drawing some of the characters.

• “‘Star Wars’: the Musical Edition,” created by the MIT Musical Theater Guild, was another highlight of the festivities. A group of singing actors mixed parodies of Gilbert and Sullivan, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Andrew Lloyd Webber songs to tell of the adventure of the 1977 original “Star Wars” film.

A trio of Stormtroopers dancing to a “South Pacific” tune, Ben Kenobi relaying his knowledge of the Force to “Music of the Night,” and a faux George Lucas using cue cards to reveal the preface of the film,were antics that gave a large crowd its quotient of belly laughs each day.

Lucas on his creation: ‘What

in the world was I thinking?

Nine thousand, nine hundred persons had to wait outside the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis in a cold, wind-driven rain last Saturday morning to meet the Maker.

George Lucas, who has not been seen at a “Star Wars” convention since 1987, made a rare appearance at “Star Wars” Celebration III. Staying for a trio of 20-minute question-and-answer sessions with his devoted minions, he was introduced by his children while hanging out onstage with producer Rick McCallum and Jay Laga’aia.

Here is a sampling of the queries posed by fans who came from around the world.

Question: Why did you create “Star Wars” and what made you think about it?

Answer: You know, I ask myself that every day. I sometime watch the movies, especially this one, and about halfway, I do say, “What in the world was I thinking about?” because they’re weird.

I did it because I wanted to make a film for young people and I wanted to make an exciting story that had values and dealt with issues that young people confront, and I wanted it to be a lot of fun, something that people would enjoy watching. Little did I realize they would enjoy it so much.

Q: What do you say to the people who have focused so much of their lives on your story?

A: I am very grateful to you all and surprised. I have known over the years that “Star Wars” is something to enjoy, and take away what you can from it that maybe helps you in your lives, but don’t let it take over your lives.

You know, that’s what they say about Trekkies. “Star Wars” fan don’t do that. The point of the movies is to get on with your lives. To take that challenge, leave your uncle’s moisture farm, go out into the world and save the universe.

Q: Did you ever think it was possible for R2-D2 to have Force powers and make him more special than your average Astromech?

A: If you think about it, R2-D2 is the hero of this film. He is the one that gets them out of the mess. Every time they get into a mess, R2 gets them out of it. He doesn’t need any special powers because he is already the most powerful character on the screen. He is the only one to survive all of the movies.

Q: What color would your light saber be?

A: I have two light sabers. I have a red one and a blue one. I’m like Grievous. I sort of collect them. Depending on how I feel that morning, I use one or the other.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail; or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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