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Monday, August 19, 2013

Celebration Europe II: Day One: The Best Longest Day Ever

Celebration Europe II

Guten Abend und Möge die Macht mit dir sein, everyone! The Missing Linc is back from its summer vacation and I am dying to get to my recap of Celebration Europe II (and beyond)! Let me just say right off the bat that I had the experience of a lifetime and am so lucky to have spent it with an amazing group of people that traveled from all over the world simply for their love of Star Wars. So let's make me feel super nostalgic and dive into this amazing adventure!

"Blast, This Is Why I Hate Flying!"

That header might be a bit misleading. I had a great flight (via Lufthansa airlines) from New York to Frankfurt on my solo journey to Essen. I got through security just fine, I had an aisle seat with no one next to me, the food was pretty good, and the flight attendants were incredibly nice, even complimenting me on my passable German that I learned through the MindSnacks iPad app. What I soon learned to dread, however, was the arrival at the Frankfurt airport.

Frankfurt Airport
Hallo Frankfurt, Hallo Angst!
If only I had thought to take a video of the adventure I went on to reach my connecting flight Dusseldorf. As you can see, I disembarked (also, debarked, both are correct) the plane onto the tarmac and proceeded to hop on a tram. I asked a flight attendant if the tram went to Terminal A, where my flight was leaving from. She assured me that it did (we'll call her Frau Liarstein for this story) and off we went. The tram takes a very circuitous route around the tarmac...allll the way to Terminal B. As everyone and their mothers start to pile out, I ask the conductor if I should stay on to get to Terminal A. No, he says, I have to go through Terminal B. So, a little inconvenient, but I still have about 40 minutes til my flight. I think I can make it.

That is, until I hit security.

As I waited huffily in line, I noticed a British gentleman checking his boarding pass and his watch nervously. Turns out we had different flights, but they were leaving at the same time....and that time was very fast approaching. I made note of our concern to an American security agent who said, in quite possibly the most nasal and haughty voice known to mankind:

"Hyperventilating is a form of free speech, but it won't get you to your plane any faster."

It was then that the New Yorker in me started to rear its ugly head. I managed to calm myself down, reasoning that this doofus had the power to detain me permanently and it probably wouldn't be wise to deliver a haymaker to his head. And so, finally through security, and with around 30 minutes to go, I ran down the corridors of Terminal B, finding my way to a bank of elevators, which I took down. The doors opened and in front of me was another area with more signs to follow, which led me to literally the longest hallway on the face of the Earth.

Meine Dammen und Herren......I present to you...Purgatory.
No sweat, I think. I'll just glide along the moving sidewalk and be at the end in no time. Welllll guess which moving sidewalk going in which direction was broken? You guessed it, mine. Truly the gods of the Frankfurt Airport were toying with this mortal traveler. And neither the cool lighting scheme nor the techno music pumping through the speakers made the dash through this never-ending corridor any more enjoyable. 

When I finally reached the end (had it been a minute, or a millennium?) I noticed that it too ended in a second bank of elevators. Noticing that the line for these elevators was growing steadily, I decided to take the stairs. The of stairs. Beginning to breathe in a way that can definitely be defined as "panting", I realized that I had finally reached Terminal A! Just a few steps down towards the end and I would be able to board my flight with 20 minutes left to spare before takeoff!

Of course, when I reached the end I could not locate Gate A2 anywhere...until I saw a small flight of steps with a sign indicating "Gates A2-A10" pointing down. Rolling my eyes I descended the short staircase and reached an underground level.......starting at A10. When I at long last reached A2 I noticed something odd....I wasn't boarding a plane, I was boarding a bus that was going to to the plane! With under 15 minutes left, I was starting to get a bit antsy. And so I hopped on the bus, specifically designated to go my flight, and waited.....and waited.....and waited. As one or two passengers at a time climbed aboard, and as the seconds ticked down until takeoff, I was starting to feel very Bruce Bannerish. Trying to find solace in my fellow panicked passengers I turned around, only to see a vague approximation of this:

"I say Franz, do you see the little American boy about to lose his shit?"
"Pay him no mind, Helga, his head will explode shortly."
Everyone else! Seven other people! Were calmly reading their newspapers while I was ready to take over the bus and do my own re-enactment of the movie Speed! But, finally, with just six minutes left, we pulled out from Gate A2 and made our windy way to the plane....but not before stopping for two minutes to let a plane land just a couple dozen yards next to us. The only saving grace was that I saw my bag being loaded onto the plane, so I knew it made it too. Hopped on the plane, found my seat (window this time, but still no one sitting next to me), and in two minutes we were off to Dusseldorf.

Dusseldorf Frankfurt
The urge to jump slowly receded the farther away we got from Frankfurt.

"This is Where the Fun Begins!"

At Dusseldorf, I calmly walked off the plane, grabbed my bags, and met up with my friend and airport taxi driver, Chris Dee. From there we drove the roughly half-hour turned hour-and-a-half (thanks to traffic) drive to Essen. But at that point I didn't care. I was with my friend, and I was finally officially on the way to Essen, and to Celebration! We arrived in Essen and instantly my traveler's spirit re-awakened. I was really here, in Essen, in Germany! And very soon I would be entering the halls of Messe Essen itself.

Star Wars Celebration Europe II

Star Wars Celebration Europe II

We arrived at the wonderful Hotel Maximillians, where I quickly freshened up and got ready to head over
Essen, Germany

Star Wars Celebration Europe II

Star Wars Celebration Europe II
It's a shame when a town has no charm or whimsy whatsoever </sarcasm>
At this point I should have been tired, and maybe I should have given myself an hour or so to take a nap and shower....but I was in Germany, and Celebration had already been going a couple of hours by the time I arrived. With every step towards Messe Essen, the convention center, my resolve grew stronger and my excitement began to rise. Following my friend Chris, who was drawing some stares from the locals in his Mandalorian armor, I gave myself fully to the Force, and to that ever-escalating feeling that I had come Celebration.

Essen, Germany
To quote Nute Gunray: "BIC-toree!"
I went around the corner from the entrance, traded in my confirmation for a 3-day pass, and hurriedly went inside to see just what was in store for me. I was especially curious to see what was similar to and different from the past two Celebrations in Orlando. When I walked through the doors, through the lobby, and into the main hall, I knew that, for whatever might be different, this felt like Celebration.

Messe Essen
Packed room filled with fans? Check.
Messe Essen
Double check.
Messe Essen
Booths, vendors, and people selling stuff at high mark-ups? Check.
Darth Maul
Cool statues of famous characters? Checkaroo.
Large replicas of cool vehicles? A-check.
Giant, inflatable version of a droid, character, or ship? Oooh hells check!
Admittedly, I missed the giant inflatable Death Star hanging over the entrance to the Orlando convention center, but a giant inflatable R2-D2 certainly makes up for it! As I made my way through the Main Hall, I noticed that it opened up to an even bigger hall (where the AT-AT is) that contained the Artists Alley, Tattoo area, more booths and vendors, replica set pieces, and the area where you can get pictures with some of the celebs. Looking down on it from the small cafeteria area, it was truly stunning to see so many people (over 20,000 from the official estimates), from all over the world, here to celebrate the saga we all love.

Messe Essen
Look sir, Nerds!
And, one of the best thrills was being able to reunite with my Celebration family. If walking into the Main Hall didn't help me shed the hours of travel and the anxiety of making a connecting flight, then seeing the smiling, happy faces of my friends surely did the trick.

Messe Essen
At least I think they're smiling....
I said hello to Jazz and Anne, my Norwegian buddies, and Sarah, my mate from Down Under, and at last felt like I had really arrived. But, there was no time to waste! There was so much more to see! After a quick lunch (because, oh yeah, i had eaten in about six hours) we tried to make it to the screening of Episode II: Attack of the Clones in 3-D...although sadly we got to the Digital Stage just as it had filled up. I did, however, get to see more of the convention center, including its Biergarten!

Messe Essen
Because of course it would have a Biergarten.....
Star Wars Angry Birds
Not so Angry now, is he?
Lederhosen Trooper
Because of course he'd be interviewed by a German radio station...
"This is Only the Beginning!"

The beauty of Celebration is that there is always something going on. So we made our way to the Main Stage to see the first big panel of the convention, entitled: "Designing A Galaxy". It featured Doug Chiang and Ian McCaig who were the principal concept artists for the prequels, and who are already hard at work designing the heroes, villains, aliens, ships, and planets we'll see in the Sequel Trilogy.

Doug Chiang and Ian McCaig

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the warm-up acts were DJ Elliot and comedian Mark Daniel. The duo, who work at Disney Hollywood Studios, had worked previously at Celebrations V and VI, and were known for doling out some sick beats, funny videos, cool T-shirts, and lots of recurring gags and jokes (so much so that you could finish the before they did, and it made them all that much more hilarious). If they were good at CV and CVI, they were in their element at CEII. DJ Elliot's remixes were incredible (including, of course 99 Luftballoons) and Mark Daniel knew how to get the crowd going, including this little diddy he worked up to pay homage to both Star Wars and his home country of Trinidad and Tobago:

After everyone was feeling the island spirit, DJ Elliot and Mark turned the show over to Celebration Europe II's official host, Mr. Warwick Davis. Known to many as Wicket the Ewok, Willow, Professor Flitwick, and many others, Warwick was a brilliant host who combined wit, great questions, and his own fandom to make every panel on the main stage fun and interesting. You'll see more of some of his superb hosting in later posts, but here's his hilarious introduction:

Warwick also came with his own droid, R4-CE2 (....get it?), who was voiced by DJ Elliot. The two had some witty banter which became utterly predictable (and thus, more hilarious) as the convention wore on. To dismiss his upstart droid, Warwick would tell him to go talk to an air conditioner...which of course was unintentionally made even funnier by the fact that there wasn't an air conditioner in the entire nation of Germany. If there had actually been one there for R4 to talk to, I would have sold that droid to the Jawas in a heartbeat for a chance to converse with the AC myself.

Warwick Davis
Everyone say it with me now: "Anthony Daniels speaks Bocce...."
And then it was time to bring out the featured guests. Doug Chiang and Ian McCaig are chiefly responsible for the look and feel of the Star Wars universe as we know it now. Inheriting the mantle of McQuarrie, these talented artists (and their team) have been at the very forefront of creating some of the most iconic ships, planets, and characters of all time.

Jar Jar Binks
Of course we won't fault them for a few mistakes...
The interview was really insightful, with Doug and Ian sharing their inspirations, paths to success, and approaches to creating and designing. The pair could not have been more humble, recognizing the incredible role they have played in shaping a galaxy and a franchise. You began to understand the enormous responsibility they felt, and the obligation to create something brand new and yet utterly Star Wars.

Doug Chiang Ian McCaig

And then they did something really cool. The actually invited a fan on stage to draw with Ian. Under his tutelage, the young fan learned how to draw Darth Maul from the man who created Darth Maul's infamous look. He actually did a very good job, and was given Ian's copy of Maul.

Warwick Davis
And Warwick....ehhh not-a so much...
When the young fan had departed the stage, Warwick asked who would like to draw a droid with Doug. Well, here's where it gets interesting. Before I knew what was happening my hand was up, Mark Daniel called me out from the audience, and I quickly jaunted up the steps to the stage, shaking hands with three legends from both behind the scenes and on the screen. It took every last bit of my memory of acting in school to not be completely overwhelmed with the fact that here I was, on stage, at Celebration Europe II, in front of a few hundred people and sitting with icons of the saga.

Doug Chiang Ian McCaig
Pictured above: Me absolutely trying not to lose my shit.

Doug Chiang Ian McCaig
Answering a question from Warwick Davis
.......which I can't even believe I'm typing right now
Doug Chiang Ian McCaig
Doing a passable job copying Doug, with Ian looking on
Doug Chiang Ian McCaig
Learning from the Master
Doug moved fast, and I had to work hard to keep up with every circle and line he expertly applied to the canvas. I barely glanced at the audience, or at Warwick and Ian, and focused intensely on my own private (and yet extremely public) master class. As the battle droid we were drawing took shape, Ian leaned over to me and said "Hey, that's pretty good!" Now, I don't know if he was lying or not, but nothing says "giant boost of confidence" like the reassurance of the guy who drew something so freaky George Lucas had to say "Um, show me your second worst nightmare."

When we were finished, I held my sketch up to the audience (unfortunately no picture exists), Warwick had long since given up on his, and I watched as Doug signed his own copy for me. I quickly jotted down on my pad "Doug, Thanks for the lesson! - Joe Sorbera" and handed him my sketch, which he assured me would "Go on his wall" (Again, could not care one dewback's scale if he was lying or not). I shook hands with Doug, Ian, and Warwick as I exited the stage with my prize, got my picture taken by an employee of Lucasfilm, and floated to my seat still on the supreme high I was experiencing. 

Doug Chiang Ian McCaig
Yeah....I can go home right now and be fine...
My first panel, on my first day at CEII and already it was an experience of a lifetime. But it wasn't over yet...not by a long shot! Hell, Day One wasn't even close to over yet! So stay tuned for the next installment of my Celebration Europe II recap for an interview with C-3PO, an Evening with the Emperor, Return of the Jedi in the park, and a night out with some of the coolest people in the galaxy...

Bis Später!