On Sitting Down to Watch a Star Wars Celebration and Doctor Who Premiere Again

The past few days have been very good for me, a sci-fi geek (the positive quality of those days has also, in all likelihood, affected other similarly-minded fans).

Star Wars Celebration, the sometimes-annual-fan-fest, is now wrapping to a close in Orlando, Florida, but the four-day extravaganza has brought untold riches to the global Star Wars community: a beautiful poster and first trailer for The Last Jedi (which appears to confirm my fan theory); delightful anecdotes from Mark Hamill, George Lucas and Harrison Ford, who was experiencing his first Celebration; the announcement that the fourth season of Star Wars: Rebels will be its last, with a great trailer to go with it; confirmation of Star Wars: Battlefront II through an exciting, expansive trailer; and a touching, heartfelt tribute to Carrie Fisher. This year’s convention was celebrating 40 Years of Star Wars, and it’s impossible to do that without remembering the late, great Princess. It’s tragic that she suddenly passed away on the cusp of that milestone, which she undoubtedly would have loved to be a part of.

Carrie’s absence hung low over the entire festival, with an entire panel dedicated to remembering her, headed by her best friend Mark Hamill. Star Wars is, above all else, a story of life and death; those eternally opposing forces of darkness and light, manifested into the distinct orders of Jedi and Sith. For 40 years, we have relished and revelled in watching this fantastical conflict between those forces, cheering and crying when characters reach the end of their journeys. However, it has been rare for that conflict to seep over into the real world we so desperately try to escape from. Mark, Harrison and Carrie truly did feel like untouchable giants – actors who would forever remain at the forefront of our lives. Through Carrie’s untimely death, that image is broken; dare I say it, but this is the first real time that Star Wars fans have had to confront the reality of life and death when enjoying our story.

At the same time, we have also acknowledged that relentless mourning is futile. Indeed, it would be the last thing Carrie would have wanted – if she could speak from beyond the grave, her first instinct would probably be to crack a joke about her death. That’s a sentiment which has also echoed through the weekend, and allowed fans all over the globe to look to the future of this franchise, and rejoice in finally getting a look at The Last Jedi.

However, even that has felt melancholic – for me, at least. I went to Star Wars Celebration last July when it came to London and truly reached ‘peak geek’. For me, one can only attain such a title when they actually camp out overnight at a convention just to get into a panel – which is exactly what I did. I imagine the experience is probably similar to the one at music festivals, but conventions are undoubtedly better.

My vlog about it summarises most of my thoughts, however I will add in a thing or two. Star Wars Celebration is unique for several reasons: firstly, it embraces the global appeal and adoration of Star Wars, having been held all over the world for over a decade; secondly, it is one of the few conventions which are dedicated entirely to one property, allowing the event to feel tightly focused whilst also increasing the sense of unity amongst fans; and thirdly, it truly is a celebration of Star Wars. Perhaps that isn’t a particularly astute observation, but it warrants being said. What other franchise can unite such a variety of different people in the same way? When I camped out overnight last year, I met and spoke with dozens of different people whom I otherwise would have never met, yet we are all bound together by a common affection for one story. It is tangible, it is real.

There’s a fourth reason why this felt like such a special event for me: at Star Wars Celebration, the line between fan and creator is wholly broken down. At Star Wars Celebration, everybody is a fan. Even Mark Hamill.

During one of the panels, Dave Filoni (the guy who runs Star Wars: Rebels and ran The Clone Wars), who has a penchant for eloquent, applause-garnering speeches such as these, said that, if he were not in his job, he’d be sat in the audience with us. His love of Star Wars goes beyond his day job; he is, first and foremost, a fan – a fan who just so happened to get lucky and get to be a key figure in the Saga. Later, when in the toilets, I bumped into a concept artist whom I had seen on another panel dedicated to the artwork of The Force Awakens – Glyn Dillon. We chatted for a couple of minutes, and, as it turns out, he was the artist who designed Kylo Ren’s helmet.

In another panel, a guy dressed as a Stormtrooper was stood around waiting to ask a question at the end; after he did, he took off his helmet and revealed to us that he was Gareth Edwards, director of the then-upcoming Rogue One. It turned out that he’d been roaming the convention floor the entire day like that, stopping for selfies with fans who had no idea who they were really taking a photo with. Later, in the The Force Awakens screening, I spoke to a father and son who happened to bump into Edwards after the panel just hanging around, and he chatted to and took photos with them. At some point prior to that, Mark Hamill crashed The Star Wars Show, which was live-streaming all weekend, to chat to the massive crowd. I managed to get quite up close and take several videos and photos, which was good fun.

Never have I felt more like a member of a community than I did at Star Wars Celebration. Never have I felt more inspired to create stories, and never have I felt more optimistic that I will, one day, end up on one of those panels, than at Star Wars Celebration. The reason why following this year’s festival felt melancholic, as well as fun, is because it looked the exact same as it did last year – yet I was separated from those same feelings of geek unity by thousands of miles of water. I knew I couldn’t join in the fun; I’ve only been able to watch from afar, through the magic of YouTube live streams and Twitter.

But, y’know, what can I do?

Doctor Who is also back! And I quite liked it.

I’ve been a fan of this show since Rose in 2005; my family and I were on a caravan holiday, because we were poor, and we all watched it on a tiny TV. My mum watched it when she was growing up, so the only logical thing to do when a reboot came along was to force her son to watch it. The next week, I insisted that we watch episode 2, The End of the World, and from then on my love of Doctor Who easily surpassed hers. Since 2005, there have only been a small handful of occasions where I have missed an episode.

Because of that, I often feel like the last line of defence of this show, which has, for several years, been gaining greater global popularity and success, at the expense of British cultural relevance. David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor was a national treasure. It was not unusual for Doctor Who to dominate headlines, as well as the news. Now, the show is very much the preserve of the hardcore fans, particularly since Peter Capaldi took on the title role. That isn’t to say the show has been bad, or that he has been; Capaldi has consistently put in excellent and underrated performances, and there have been several great individual episodes and creations – Missy being the first to come to mind.

The simple fact is that Doctor Who is a show which requires rejuvenation every few years, otherwise it stagnates. Series 5 and 6 were bursting with energy, creativity and possibility, but since then Moffat’s ability to successfully manage the show has been declining, through the combination of Sherlock (which has replaced RTD-era Who as the British-TV-cultural-landmark) and the natural stagnation which occurs when the show goes on for too long without regenerating. Nonetheless, I stick by it.

And I’m glad I have: The Pilot felt like a breath of fresh air for the show, which is fairly ironic given that it’s all being rebooted next year anyway. The story was simple and character-driven with a strong sense of fun and adventure; it felt like the perfect blend of an RTD-style plot with Moffat-esque dialogue and characterization. Pearl Mackie’s Bill Potts was far less annoying than I had expected (a sentiment which is being echoed by seemingly everyone who watched it), and Capaldi’s Doctor seems to have finally settled in to a coherent and appealing character. In Series 8, he was morally ambiguous, questioning whether he was a good man; in Series 9, he was a fading rock star; in Series 10, he’s a wizened professor. Moffat has been trying each approach in an effort to find what works, it seems; while the fading rock star image is the most creative, I feel that Capaldi acting as the wise teacher to Bill’s student is the dynamic which works best. Clara was far too individualistic and combative to ever be the student, always acting as the Doctor’s equal. I could be wrong about all of this, but that’s the impression I got from last night’s episode.

Judging from all of the reviews, my feelings about The Pilot are shared by many others – which is good! Doctor Who is very near and dear to me (as one may have been able to tell), and it’s always encouraging when it succeeds and gains attention. Next week’s Emojibots look like fun and timely villains, and I have high hopes for the rest of Series 10; I’m still not entirely sold on Matt Lucas’ Nardole, but I’ve liked him since Little Britain, so I may change my mind. However, how could I not be looking forward to the return of the Ice Warriors, the original Mondasian Cybermen, Missy, and John Simm’s Master?!

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Besides from the double-gratification of Star Wars and Doctor Who, my week has been OK. I don’t feel that I’ve been as productive as I can be, and it’s felt fairly jumbled. I’ve been trying my best to crack on with making revision materials early, because I hate leaving things until the last minute. For last year’s exams, I condensed Politics, History, and English Literature revision into what felt like a few weeks (I can’t remember exact dates, but that’s probably not far off); I made about 30 pages’ worth of History mind-maps, eight Politics topic overviews, and dozens of English quote cards. Fortunately, I had already completed two massive revision documents for the books, which are now lightening the load for this year’s exams.

When it gets to exams, my brain becomes intently focused on getting the job done. My body is consumed with revision; nothing else warrants my attention. Every minute of the day is spent in a library, working. It’s a very distinct feeling and tone, one which also rang throughout my GCSE exams, and, despite my best intentions, it has yet to arrive for A2.

My attempts at self-diagnosis have reached the conclusion that I can only work hard when I’m really under time pressure. This is not something which I like, but I’m beginning to see it as inevitable. With Easter, I don’t feel as compelled to do tons of work in the first week because I know the second week is there – even though I’m acutely aware that two weeks isn’t actually that long, and that I also have other things to be getting on with. Not to mention the countdown clock which I edit daily, on my whiteboard next to my bed, outlining the number of days I have left until study leave and my first exam. It’s 39 and 54, respectively.

Nonetheless, I will persist. Despite my body not clicking into gear properly, I know that doing as much work as possible right now is for the best. Wish me luck.

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