Star Wars Celebration Episode III: Return of the Money

So I’d been at the Star Wars Celebration for three and a half hours and hadn’t done anything besides wait in line and sit in a dark room watching what amounted to a live TV broadcast.  It was time to descend into the roiling belly of any convention:  the exhibitor’s hall.

The typical exhibitor’s hall is there to separate as much money from you as possible.  Very nearly every cool thing you see is designed to get you to buy it or something next to it.  Your average exhibitor paid a pretty good chunk of change for their spot on the floor, in addition to any costs related to getting to the place, so they have to make their trip worth the while.  So you’ll see flashing lights and vivid colors, and hear lively music and enticing sounds, all saying, “Pay attention to me, then pay me.”  It’s a siren song that needs to be resisted as much as possible, or else you may walk out with full shopping bags but empty pockets.

Okay, things weren’t quite that bad, but the smell of commerce was definitely heavy in the air this day.  Nearly one third of the enormous space was given over to toy sellers, with most of my childhood for sale.  If I’d know the kind of prices they’d be pulling in, I’d have taken better care of them.  Most people seemed to be looking them as museum pieces with price tags rather than potential purchases, with exclamations of “I used to have that!” much more common than “I’ll take it!”

Then there were the big merchandise companies like Hasbro and Disney and Lego and Random House, using elaborate displays to draw you in.  Who could look at a life-size Lego Darth Vader and not want to buy a Lego Darth Vader key chain?  Well, that would be me.  I was in full-on “Must.  Buy.  Something.” mode, and I figured $5.00 wouldn’t hurt too badly while scratching that itch.  And besides, it was really cool.

Next were the folks who were actually there simply to exhibit stuff.  Model makers and costume makers and fan groups who just wanted to get word of their existence out to other fans, and show off what they’d done.  There were groups from as far away as Belgium and Japan, and the enthusiasm and talent was pretty infectious.  I spent a bunch of time circling a massive Lego display by a local Lego builders group that was almost dizzying in its complexity.  The best I could do with Lego was a passable house, but these guys had scenes from every one of the films complete down to the tiniest detail.  That I was sorely tempted to smash like Godzilla, until I thought better of it.

And finally, there were a few What the Hell Are You Doing Here? booths.  Guy selling samurai swords and medieval armor and Star Trek posters.  I guess there’s a pretty good chance of cross pollination, and it seems like every con has to have at least on booth with actual practical weaponry, but it was still a little jarring.  Most puzzling were the not one, not two, but half dozen tattoo companies actually tattooing people during the show.  Sure, they were Star Wars tattoos, but I credit the average Star Wars fan with the constitution of a South American revolutionary government.  I figured being pricked repeatedly with a needle was the last option they’d want to be presented with, but these guys were going a brisk business.  Chicks do dig scars, I guess.

The back of the room contained Autograph Alley, home of the $125 Mark Hamill scrawl.  And to add insult to injury, the big names weren’t even visible as you walked by.  They were hidden away behind curtains, available only to those privileged few who forked over the cash for their autograph.  There were plenty of other folks signing autographs out in full sight, but when you’re biggest claim to fame is being the guy in the Admiral Ackbar mask, well, no offense, but I’m not looking for your snapshot.  But what was nice about those people was that they had time to actually talk to people, and every one of them seemed genuinely pleased to be there, even if there wasn’t a single person waiting in line to see them.

All told, I must have done a dozen laps of the place, and I still feel like I missed some stuff.  Which is easy to do, with all the costumes walking around.  But that’s a tale for another episode.


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