Star Wars European convention has the droids you're looking for

Article published on Aug. 21, 2013
Article published on Aug. 21, 2013

'Preparing for jump to hyperspace, Commander'.  On the last weekend in July the Messe Essen event hall in Germany was converted into a star destroyer from Star Wars.  It transported its passengers to a galaxy far far away where imperial stormtroopers, rebel pilots, bounty hunters, sith and jedi roam. The word from a different EU ('extended universe')

The little girl to my right is painted red.  Togruta-red.  The man to my left wears white.  Stormtrooper-white. They are dressed up as jedi knight Ahsoka Tano, from the Clone Wars 2008 television animation series, and as the iconic imperial stormtrooper from the original Star Wars trilogy. 'I like Ahsoka, because she is clever, brave and cheerful', the girl explains to me.  However, I feel that the stormtrooper in the heat might be best left alone.

The final weekend of July saw 20, 000 people flock to the Star Wars Europe celebration in Essen.  Tickets are not exactly cheap: a three-day pass for an adult costs about 115 euros, and even the discounted rate for children up to the age of thirteen is still 60 euros. For the thousands of fans in attendance, dressed in their costumes and eager to enter, it is worth it.  When cinemas released the first Star Wars film in 1977, they saw people queue around the block to see what had become the world's first 'blockbuster'. Even thirty years later, people from all age groups and backgrounds remain fascinated by the galactic saga. The film is often described as a pop-culture phenomenon, but for diehard Star Wars fans it is more than that - it is a fundamental part of their lives.

JONAS, I AM YOUR FATHER

The most striking thing in the exhibition hall is the array of costumes. An army of imperial stormtroopers and clonetroopers patrol through the corridors. 'Jonas, I am your father,' says a man dressed as Darth Vader as he teases his wide-eyed son, who is dressed as a jedi. The place is thronging not only with people dressed as human characters but with blue Twi’leks, plush Ewoks, gold protocol droids and an enormous Wampa. 'It's great fun and it does you good to be here with so many like-minded people,' says a man dressed as bounty hunter Boba Fett happily states. 

In the halls, scenes from the films have been reconstructed, from the palace of the criminal lord Jabba, to imperial vehicles like the gigantic AT-AT, to the hospital ward of a rebel base. All of this demonstrates above all fans' unbelievable obsession with the details of this universe. Every character, every location and every object has its own name, history and meaning. 'I even write my own science fiction; my favorite figure is Mara Jade,' says a woman dressed as her idol.  The figure of Mara Jade originates solely from the so-called extended universe (EU), which developed through countless books, comics and stories. Fans and their stories have allowed the galaxy far far away to continuously grow, keeping the Star Wars mythos alive through the decades without new films.

There is a costume parade, a droid-builders' club and one entire hall reserved just for the numerous fan clubs. Many show their passion for the celebration by getting Star Wars tattoos. 'For a moment I had tears in my eyes, I was so happy,' says a young woman, newly sporting a tattoo of the astromech droid R2-D2 on her foot. At the booths between the sets one can purchase t-shirts, figures, posters, lego-kits, books, stories and much more. Some fans spend vast amounts on merchandise and prices range from moderate to excessive – the selling of Star Wars products is a gigantic business.  During the shooting of the first film, creator George Lucas received only $150, 000 but also secured the then-insignificant merchandise rights. Since then, about twenty million dollars has been generated and, thanks to the enormously enthusiastic fans, Star Wars has become the most financially successful film saga of all time.

THIRD GENERATION STAR WARS

'My father showed me the classic trilogy, I grew up with the prequels and I'm watching the sequels with my son.  That’s damn cool!' exclaims one young father. The outstanding narrative style of the film enables this generation-spanning enthusiasm. The classic trilogy Episode IV-VI ran from 1977 to 1983 in the cinemas and portrayed the struggle between the Rebel Alliance (the good guys) and the Empire (the bad guys). It is a modern fairytale with princesses, scoundrels, jedi-knights, space battles, epic duels, humour and the power of a mystical energy field – the Force – that surrounds every living creature. 

The prequels, Episode I-III were shown on the big screen from 1999 to 2005.  They tell the story of the destruction of the Jedi Order and of the Old Republic, a time when democracy and freedom were destroyed by a civil war staged through political intrigue. According to the words of old master George Lucas, the saga concluded with that. Then on October 30, 2012 came the big bang: disney purchased Lucasfilm and the rights to the Star Wars franchise for $4.05 billion dollars (approximately 3.12 billion euros) and announced new episodes as well as independent spin-off films. The sequels will appear in 2015, taking place every two years, beginning with Episode VII

The celebrating fans at the Essen event hope for news about these planned films.  Enthusiastic applause rings out every time the actors in the old films take the stage, with the audience frequently giving standing ovations and waving light sabers. 'It’s unbelievable, you guys are amazing, every time,' says Mark Hamill, the actor who played the character of the hero Luke Skywalker in the classic trilogy. There are no big surprises, but as Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy officially announces that master composer John Williams will be composing the soundtrack for the sequels, a murmur goes through the hall. 'Every time I listen to John’s music, I get goose bumps,' says Kennedy. As the evocative Star Wars music begins to play, I sense that all the fans in the hall feel the same way, united in common celebration and hope for a new film and a new story from a galaxy far far away.  May the force be with them!