I’ll be going to Star Wars Celebration VI, and I have no doubt it will be a tremendously fun time.
You should go.
Specifically, you should go to GeekDad, where we’re giving away two four-day passes to this August’s Star Wars Celebration in Orlando. Deadline to enter is next Tuesday, July 3, 2012.
Two facts: One, contributing to Wired‘s GeekDad is, no question, one of the most fun things I get to do as a writer; and two, I’ve always loved the inspiration and energy rush that comes from talking with creative people about their imaginations, work and passion.
So when I get to do both of those things at the same time, well, it’s like sticking the equivalent of a plant nutrient spike into the nerdiest corner of my brain.
I wrote up four interviews for GeekDad in 2011:
From Monty Python to Mad to Manga: An Interview with Mark Crilley – Don’t forget, Brody’s Ghost, Volume 3 is set for a May release.
What’s Behind James Gough’s Cloak? – Great premise for a book, fantastic guy to talk to. You’re ever in the market for an extra kiloton of energy, spending five minutes with James will replenish your stores and then some.
On my way into work yesterday morning, coming off about three hours’ sleep following the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and hopped up on caffeine and sugar, I got to thinking about the books and movies and what they’ve meant to me as a geek and – more importantly – as a dad over the past 12 years. I turned those reflections into a piece which is posted (appropriately enough) over at Wired – Harry Potter and the Nostalgic GeekDad:
I really enjoyed writing this one, and hope you enjoy reading it.
It’s been a fun couple months: In late February, I received an advance copy of John Scalzi’s new novel, Fuzzy Nation, a reboot of the H. Beam Piper classic Little Fuzzy. A couple weeks later, I interviewed him about the project for GeekDad, and this week, I wrote a review of the book itself.
Fuzzy Nation comes out May 10, but if you want more than that out of me, you’re going to have to click on those links and read the pieces over at GeekDad.
Five years ago, after returning from Indianapolis and Star Wars Celebration III, I spent a couple weeks chronicling the four-day event in a detailed personal journal. What I was aiming for was to somehow capture not just the moments and pictures and memories, but that energizing feeling of just being among fellow Star Wars fans and geeks. By the time I was done, my diary of the weekend was more than 14,000 words long, and as I’ve re-read it over the intervening years, it’s always been clear just why I had always held up that trip in my mind as one of the best times I’ve ever had.
And yet Star Wars Celebration V just blew it away, start to finish.
Part of it was the location and execution. I was super-impressed with the Orange County Convention Center’s spaciousness and the Reed Exhibition planning which used it so effectively. And every Reed and Lucasfilm person I talked with was nothing but helpful and accommodating. My sole gripe, I’ll admit, was that Saturday’s hyped Main Event – George Lucas interviewed on stage by Jon Stewart – was a one-off session in a 2,600-seat auditorium. Although it was broadcast live on screens throughout the center, it basically meant that the majority of attendees stood little or no chance of catching the event in person. Compare that to Celebration III, where Lucas held three half-hour Q-and-A appearances that 10,000 people got to see directly. Still – knowing the Main Event’s limitations in advance, I didn’t even count on being there, so in the end, it didn’t detract from my experience in the least.
I also felt like I got to see much more of Celebration V as a fan. When Jim Carchidi and I covered C3 for the Tribune Co., we spent a good chunk of each day wholly dedicated to work issues: securing Internet access, writing, shooting, editing and filing all by mid-afternoon. We attended very few panels and spent the last day of the convention running around trying to see all the stuff we hadn’t gotten to check out. In Orlando, we actually found ourselves saying on Saturday morning that if the convention had to shut down for some reason, we could go home right then and still say it had been amazingly awesome.
Not that this year’s Celebration diminishes that 2005 experience at all – it was just That Much Better. So much so that I’m struggling to organize and figure out how to do these recollection blog entries – even while reaching for clarity, I want to write while the afterglow remains, so things may be a little hyper and jumbled for the next week or so while I give it a shot.
Below are links to the coverage I provided for Wired magazine’s GeekDad:
I also sat down at the convention for a trio of incredibly fun interviews which I’ll be writing up and posting to GeekDad in the very near future. And the folks who recognized the blog from my shirt and badge and said nice things about it totally made my day.
I’ve mentioned before that writing for GeekDad has been one of the absolute coolest and most rewarding things I’ve been able to do over the past year and a half, so I need to thank editor Ken Denmead and assistant editor Matt Blum again for supporting the Celebration V coverage idea from the minute I proposed it late last year.
Here’s a nice wrap-up to what’s been a super-busy and ultra-Star Wars-related week: I received a very kind email this morning from an attendee at last month’s Pittsburgh Comicon who had taken home the copy of Collect All 21 which I gave away at the end of my presentation.
The note mentioned, in part, the “Dark Times” chapter of the book, which deals with my early 20s and a couple particularly rough years during which my Dad passed away and I alienated just about everybody who mattered to me. This chapter was difficult to write, not just because of the subject matter, but from the standpoint of striking the right tone to fit with the rest of the book without losing the weight and impact of those years. (I really owe my editor Adam for helping me find that balance.)
No other single section of the book has gotten me as much feedback as this chapter, and that means a lot, because it means I succeeded at least a little bit in getting across the idea that Collect All 21 is about more than just Star Wars as a movie series or toy line.
This note came on the heels of the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back – clearly, the saga’s own darkest-of-dark times, and a movie that’s about way more than spaceships and robots. Thirty years ago this week, my favorite Star Wars era began, and I celebrated the hell out of it: Over at GeekDad, I compiled a list of “Thirty Reasons the Empire Still Rules”; I contributed “A Saga’s Golden Age” to CNN’s iReport and added a couple photo sets; and then Henry Hanks interviewed me for his CNN report on Empire‘s lasting impact.
I also really liked Marc Bernardin’s take on ESB over at i09, and Bonnie Burton’s StarWars.com collection of memories which includes this quote from Sean Lennon: “The scene where Yoda describes the Force to Luke is the closest thing I can remember to a religious experience in my childhood.”
These last few weeks have felt almost overwhelmingly busy at times, but I feel like I managed to get a lot of things done and take some important steps forward, and getting that note this morning just helped pull into focus a sense of optimism and energy and excitement for what lies ahead.
Writing up this GeekDad post about Disney’s going-away party for the original Star Tours has me on one of my typical Star Wars nostalgia trips.
When my friend Aaron and I were perfecting our storyboards and outline for “Episode VII” (oh yeah – and it kicked ass) as a couple teenagers in the mid-1980s, there was a magazine clipping from the Disneyland Star Tours opening hanging on the wall next to the shelves of our action figures. I remember it pictured Artoo and Threepio next to a spectacularly ridiculous Mickey wearing an “outer-space” outfit that somehow crossed 1970s Ace Frehley with the Care Bears look. Disneyland’s Star Tours opened in ’87, but remained irrelevant to me since it was all the way across the country.
My family (often with Aaron along, too) used to take spring break trips to Florida and spend a day over at one of the Disney parks, but the Disney-MGM Studios didn’t open until May 1989 – just barely after spring vacation my senior year in high school. The following spring, I was in college and didn’t get to make the trip with my family because we had different break schedules – and of course, they went to the Studios and I got to hear from my little brothers all about how awesome the Indiana Jones show and Star Tours were.
So the calendar flips, and that summer, Adam moves to Orlando and takes a Disney job, and then it’s spring 1991, and I’m road-tripping to Florida with another high school buddy. We spent the week at Adam’s, enjoyed five free days in the parks, and I finally got to ride Star Tours, and of course, even with its ubergoofy parts, I loved it. To this day, the StarSpeeder’s first out-of-control stomach-lurching drop is one of my favorite theme park experiences.
A few years later, I was living in Orlando myself and worked part-time at Disney-MGM on the Backstage Studio Tour. (The “Catastrophe Canyon” ride: I still take a bit of pride in knowing that I once knew how to drive one of those trams and that I never hit anything with one of them. And seeing prop vehicles from Blade Runner and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Who Framed Roger Rabbit up close never got old, although witnessing their slow decay did make me wince a little.) A good chunk of my time at the Studios overlapped with the Dark Times referenced in Collect All 21, and consequently, I spent a fair amount of spare time taking advantage my free admission to the parks and riding Star Tours. I even filled in on staffing it once or twice, though I only worked the queue outside and never got to suit up in the orange flight outfits.
Naturally, it was a fine, fine day when Kelsey was tall enough to ride Star Tours with me, and even though she’s gone on to much bigger, badder thrill rides, the trip to Endor gone awry and a few minutes with our StarSpeeder’s misguided robot pilot have remained on the “must do” list whenever we get the chance.
Clear skies, Cap’n Rex. Clear skies.
“Well,” as a certain hobbit once said, “I’m back.”
Total trip time, from leaving the bank on Thursday morning to pulling into our driveway last night: 84.5 hours, with more than a quarter of that time – 22 hours between Canton, Ohio and Pawtucket, R.I., and another 4.5 spent going to and from Boston on Friday and Saturday – spent sitting behind the steering wheel. Total mileage: 1,490.
And completely worth every highway minute and every white-lined mile.
After a late Thursday night hanging out with my friends and gracious hosts Aaron and Jessica, I headed into Boston late Friday morning and – after a maybe 45-minute extended detour due to my missing a massive sign reading, in effect, “BOSTON – THIS WAY” – I got to the Hynes Convention Center just after 1 p.m. and found a hugehugeHUGE entrance queue. (You will undoubtedly read elsewhere about the crowds and lines at the center – honestly, I come to expect them at things like this, so I adjust my expectations accordingly. Also, I know that a lot of people work extremely hard to organize these conventions, and they’re supposed to be fun after all.) Doors were set to open at 2 p.m.
I honestly didn’t expect that by the time I made my way up to the doors of the Main Hall that Wil Wheaton’s keynote speech venue would already be at capacity. I mean, I knew that people would go straight there even though it wasn’t scheduled to start until 3 p.m., but I also figured maybe at some point, since they had divided the queue into “Expo Hall” and “Main Hall” lines, that someone would have established a cut-off point.
So, yeah, I was pretty disappointed, but I didn’t want to let it ruin my weekend, and besides, that’s when I ran into fellow GeekDad writer and panelist Dave Banks. While we were chatting and working our way over to the main expo hall, we caught up with two other contributors, Matt Blum and Doug Cornelius, who had also missed the keynote cut. Just after three o’clock, though, doing a little more wandering, we were passing the Main Hall doors and saw they were letting people in again, so we hopped in line. (Sadly, only Dave and I made it in, since they cut things off again right behind us.)
Wil was only about five minutes into his speech, so we got to take in most of it from our spots standing against the back wall, and while parts of it drew from stories he has told elsewhere, the keynote was by turns hilarious and nostalgic and heartfelt and inspiring.
A note on the convention offerings: Not being there for the video game industry displays and pre-release teasing and craziness, I was much more interested in the panels and kind off lower-key attractions like the old-school console gaming room – a working, playable Vectrex? are you KIDDING ME?!? and I wonder if anyone who sat down at the Atari 2600 actually put that E.T. cartridge in – and the American Classic Arcade Museum‘s free-play collection of games.
After the keynote, I met with my Ohio friends Paul and Wendy, and then it was time to go to dinner and establish what we believe to be the largest real-world gathering of GeekDad writers to date: With Michael Harrison and Natania Barron joining Matt and Dave and Doug and me, the bar is now set at a nice even half-dozen. I mentioned in an email to everyone this morning that it felt very much like we all had met before, even though most of us have only interacted through emails and podcasts.
We talked about a general framework for our 7 p.m. panel and wondered if anyone would show up other than to simply get off their feet for an hour. (A couple of us had peeked into the panel room earlier, and honestly, it looked awful big and seemed to have a great potential to be scarily empty.)
The six of us arrived back at that room at about 6:40 p.m., and figured the crowd in the hallway outside was lined up for something else. Ten minutes later, that line was gone, and we were looking at a fully-packed room of around 250-plus . Truthfully, this was nothing short of stunning, and I’m sure that words will utterly fail in describing how encouraging and wonderful it was, and though I know the odds are against it, if anyone who was in that audience stumbles across this blog: THANK YOU SO FREAKING MUCH!!!! Seriously – we each did a little introduction and talked about our kids and our geeklikes, and then as we started just generally talking about parenting and video games and movies and books and everything, people started raising their hands and asking questions and contributing their own experiences, and it was just a ton of fun. (Matt did a write-up at GeekDad, and Doug wrote a post for his blog, too, and both of them took photos so we know it was real.
Even with 70 minutes to fill – we had started early, since everyone was in the room anyway – the time just flew by, and there were still several hands up when we had to call it quits. Outside the room, a couple people came up to me to talk some more, and I saw other GeekDad writers having similar conversations. It’s almost three full days later and remembering it still makes me a little giddy.
Paul & Wendy had managed to get in, and they joined all of us for a post-panel trek for drinks, as did Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf, who, if I recall correctly, is a friend of Michael & Natania. His book has been on my to-read list for awhile, and even though it’s coming out in paperback this fall, after talking to him for awhile about writing, I couldn’t wait that long, so I ordered a copy this morning. He also bought a copy of Collect All 21!, which was an awfully nice thing to do.
We all went our separate ways once back at the convention center, since it was getting late, and while I was on my way out, I ran into Penny Arcade co-creator and PAX co-founder Mike Krahulik, capping a pretty damn fine day.
My calendar checked itself out this morning and honestly seemed a little surprised: “You know,” it said, “I don’t look half-bad the next eight weekends.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” I said. “Four of those weekends look fantastic.” I did my best Peter Venkman (which isn’t very good) and added, “I love this plan! I’m excited to be a part of it! Let’s do it!”
First, there’s this coming weekend, which begins for me on Thursday with a road trip to kick off PAX East, and while there’s no direct Collect All 21! tie-in, the topic of growing up on Star Wars and sharing it with the next generation seems awfully likely to come up on the GeekDad panel (Friday night – 7 p.m.!) which I’m lucky enough to be a part of. To say nothing of the rest of the weekend. Can you tell I’m a wee bit thrilled about all this?
Then I’ve got three weekends off to get ready for April 23-25 and the Pittsburgh Comicon, where I’m doing two panels thanks to the members of the Science Fiction Alliance of Pittsburgh: First up is a Collect All 21! presentation/reading, Super Deluxe Special But-Han-Still-Shoots-First Extended Edition, and that’s followed by a publishing panel which also includes my friend and Deus Ex Comica author Adam Besenyodi, and writer Paul Anderson, too.
Bonus Points: Adam went to last fall’s Pittsburgh con and met Stan Lee, so for me, the incredible thing about this edition of the con is that Roy Thomas is going to be there – and while I didn’t grow up a comic-book addict, I most certainly did read and re-read and re-re-read the early-run Marvel Star Wars comics. (And I don’t care what anybody says, Roy, JAXXON RULES!)
The weekend after that includes Saturday, May 1, which is Free Comic Book Day, and I should be spending the day alongside Stormtroopers and the Batmobile and a bunch of other pop-culture coolness at The Toys Time Forgot in Canal Fulton, Ohio.
Finally, on May 15 I’ll be at the Fairlawn-Bath branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back with a 1 p.m. presentation, “Memories of an Empire: Reminiscing and Readings from Collect All 21!“
So, to sum up: Eight weeks. Four weekends of gaming, comics, toys and Star Wars. I like those numbers.