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A short time ago, in a convention center far far away...

A short time ago, in a convention center far far away...

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I have never been one to go to conventions. But when a good friend of mine made the suggestion to go to "Star Wars: Celebration III," I figured why not. Little did I know what an adventure I signed myself up for.

My trip started in sunny ... very sunny ... okay, darn hot Phoenix, AZ. I arrived in Indianapolis, IN just after 2pm and -- after checking in at my hotel -- went straight to "Celebration." When I arrived, I was shocked that there were actual Storm Troopers checking badges. Hmm? What have I gotten myself into?

I have always thought that those people who dressed up were a little on the eccentric side (not to be judgemental, or anything like that). But what I found out was that it was almost like a badge of honor. The storm troopers were members of a group called the 501st, an organization/fan club who dress up and volunteer throughout the communities in which they live. At the convention, they provided security. And the conventioneers really listened to these guys.

We walked through the event's main entrance and -- to my amazement -- others were dressed up as well. After a small period of adjustment, we went to check out the Exhibition Hall where various companies were pedaling their wares. There was a wide array of toys, games, posters, comics, and any other conceivable device associated with "Star Wars."

Having collected the toys as a kid in the early 1980's, I was in heaven. I was looking at things I hadn't seen in 20 years. A Darth Vader action figure! A Han Solo in carbonite mint on card, gasp! Why didn't I keep them? I was taken right back to my childhood and -- from that point on -- I was drawn into this world.

The most impressive booth was Master Replicas. This booth was slick and the people there were unbelievably friendly. Master Replicas sells hyper detailed recreations of famous movie props. Among the pieces that I got to see at "Celebration III" was the one Ring of Sauron from the " Lord of the Rings" trilogy and even a replica of the Nautilus from Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

But what was obvious wowing the "Star Wars" fans for the Master Replica pieces that were based on props from the six films. These items included the FX Light Sabers, which lit up like an actual light saber and make sound based on how you move it. The most impressive piece was an exact replication Darth Vader helmet and Light Saber hilt from the new movie, "Revenge of the Sith." Which is being raffled off on the MR website.

After exploring the vaste hall and picking up trinkets, we went over to "Celebration III" 's opening ceremonies. I found a fashionably decorated hall with giant screens projecting C3 logos and a jazz band playing fantastic arrangements of "Star Wars" most familiar tunes.

Then the fun really started. Jay Laga'aia was announced and sang Weird Al's version of "American Pie." He has a great voice and is quite an entertainer. The various hosts and MC's came out to discuss what would be happening on their stage. The marketing manager for Lucasfilms came out and wished us all a good time and said that he never in his 30 years would have guessed that his legacy would be Darth Tater. He then introduced a video package that would be included on DVD with the Episode 3 soundtrack. It was an emotional vignette that included scenes from all 6 star wars movies and set the anticipation for the final film.

Rick McCallum, producer of the prequels came up and stated very bluntly "this is the film you have always wanted." He introduced a video package with the stars of the film that couldn't be there, who sent their well wishes.

Then there was a performance from each of the three shows that were showing at "Celebration III." First was a clip from Charlie Ross' frenetic "One Man Star Wars Trilogy." Then the cast of the "Star Wars Trilogy in 30 Minutes" was to perform a snippet. But the director explained that to show a sample would be to show most of their play. So -- instead -- this troupe of performers acted the entire "Episode III" trailer, picture perfect with just two hour of rehearsal. After a light saber battle sponsored by Master Replicas, the night was over with a burst of confetti.

The next day, Jeff & I arrived at "Celebration III" promptly at 9 a.m. and head straight to the C3 store. Unfortunately, we found ourselves pretty far back in line. Then the sky opened and rain fell. But we still stayed in line.

After what seemed like an eternity, the doors to the store finally opened. So we rushed inside ... only to find the place already packed. So -- just like everybody else -- Jeff & I got in line for our C3 Darth Vader talking action figure. And we waited...and waited...and waited... After 3 hours, we were only halfway through the line. Clearly something was being mismanaged here.

I mean, here we are on Friday. Yet the store had already sold out of many of the items that people wanted to commemorate their C3 experience. T-shirts, sweatshirts, kids clothes, all of it gone. To make matter worse, during or wait in line, Jeff & I missed convention presentation of make-up and special effects from "Revenge of the Sith."

Being a portly gentleman, I eventually grew tired of standing. So I scouted out the line for the Rick McCallum Spectacular. Just as I arrived, the theatre emptied and we were all ushered inside. The only problem was: I was without my friends. Which meant that I had to step out and wait.

This happened again 30 minutes later. And I was starting to get worried that we wouldn't be able see Mr. McCallum at all. But -- just as they were letting the third group through -- my friends all showed up. So we were all finally able to sit down & enjoy the show.

Rick gave a short introduction, but no Q&A. Then the lights went off and we were treated to 3 minutes of the most tantalizing footage from "SWE3" anyone could want. I won't spoil any surprises for any of you. But -- needless to say -- Mr. McCallum may be right. "Revenge of the Sith" might just be the movie we all hav been waiting for.

After this, Jeff & I went to the Master Replicas party. There, we were treated to food, drinks, several raffles for products and most of the celebrities that were there at "Celebration III." We mingled and schmoozed with the likes of Ray Park (Darth Maul), David Prowse (original Darth Vader), and even Jake Lloyd (young Anakin Skywalker). We talked at length with the Jensen brothers about their experiences. Jesse Jensen said it was definitely on his top-ten list of things to do before you die. As the party died down, we returned to our hotel fully aware that a line was already forming at 1 a.m. to see George Lucas for the Q&A session at 8:30 am, but we decide to go home and get some rest.

I awoke at 5:30 a.m. and burst out the door to see if I could get a peek at GL for any one of his three shows. I walked the two blocks to the entrance, only to find that the line for the shows was capped off at 2 a.m. Disappointed, I walked back and decided to get in line for the actual convention at 6:30 a.m.

As I stood there in line, snow began to fall. My buddies arrived at 8 a.m. and found a Richard-cicle. Within five minutes of their arrival, a convention worker shouted out "Anyone who would like to see George Lucas, come with me." Flabbergasted, we followed. Apprehensive about leaving our good spot in line but still thankful for the warmth of the building.

We were escorted through the back and directly to the theatre. Unbelievably we got in with only a two-hour wait. Both Ben and Jeff thanked me greatly for freezing for the better good, and then it was show time.

Jay Laga'aia came out and introduced two new actors that were making their debuts in Episode 3. They were George's kids, Jett and Katie Lucas. They introduced a clip of the master at work and also at play (a rare glimpse into just how much fun & hard work the Jedi Master has had over the last 30 years).

Then Rick McCallum came out to introduce the one and only George Lucas. Flash bulbs went off and people started an unbelievable ovation, which lasted the entire three minutes we were allowed by security staff. Lucas looked rather overwhelmed, but with a satisfied grin. He was polite and funny.

The first question was if "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" would be released on DVD. George Lucas and Rick McCallum acknowledged that it would be released soon though no date was announced. The next question was pertaining to Lucas's relationship with Disney and whether there would be updates on any of those rides. Lucas said that there have been problems inside Disney's management lately. But he was sure that he would update "Star Tours" very soon.

George was also asked about the possibilities of "Star Wars" coming to TV. He said he was committed to continuing the popular "Clone Wars" cartoon, but said that he would like to use CG animation. He also said a live action TV show was in the works and that it would be with new characters and vaguely mentions the people from the movies.

Lucas was hoping to work on the live action "Star Wars" television series for the first year and then let others have it after that and just consult. George also said he wants to finish the first twelve scripts before the series actually began shooting. Which was something very similiar to what George had done during the production of "Young Indy."

What a way to start a day! After that, we grabbed a bite and went for autographs. This was definitely the most organized part of the convention. We could all have a brief time with those involved in making the movies we love.

After spending the better part of the day collecting signatures and shaking hands, we stopped back at the hotel to freshen up and then returned for the "Celebration at Celebration III!" This was a big party for 3,000 people. The band from the opening ceremonies was swinging away and there were some carnival style games, but it was basically a big line for C3 T-shirts.

Unfortunately, this was also not very well organized. People were allowed 1 shirt and 1 T-shirt transfer. Smalls ran out quickly and so did certain characters. By the time we arrived, no Yoda shirts were available, and we were again disappointed by the lack of foresight from the buyers.

After schmoozing with the Star Wars fanatics for a couple more hours, it was time to turn in. We woke the next day deciding to take it easy. I sat in on a Collectors Seminar while Ben and Jeff shipped their goodies home. From there, we went to see the Costume Cabaret.

For an hour we were treated to original songs, skits and sword fights based on "Star Wars" characters. The best was a duo of dancers dressed as Han Solo and Chewbacca performing to the "Puttin' on the Ritz" scene from "Young Frankenstein." We decided to mosey over to the Spectacular! Footage one more time and stopped to say goodbye to the MR folks, and that was that.

Even with its problems in the retail area (I hope that they address the buyer for the event), "Celebration III" was much more than I expected. It was like being a part of a large extended family. And I am better for having met the people I did. Seeing George Lucas was like seeing a favorite uncle and we were all along for his version of story time.

The event could be summed up best by a young boy's comment to George during the Q&A. "Thanks," he said. Thanks for 30 years, 6 movies, countless memories, and many more to come.


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