Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Jedi Junket; Fans come out in force for convention

This is mostly for my friend Sarah, aka: Chase North.

Jedi Junket; Fans come out in force for convention
Dave Larsen

INDIANAPOLIS -- Many Star Wars fans wear their devotion on their sleeves, tailored as Jedi robes or Imperial uniforms. Bill Kinney of Fairborn displays his loyalty even more up-front, with the letters "D-AR-K S-I-D-E" tattooed across the knuckles of his hands.

Kinney, 28, is one of more than 28,000 people who were expected to attend Star Wars Celebration III, a four-day fan festival which was held April 21-24 at the Indiana Convention Center.

The event celebrates the May 19 release of Star Wars: Episode III -- The Revenge of the Sith, the sixth and final film in the legendary sci-fi saga. The first five films have grossed more than $3.4 billion theatrically worldwide.

Episode III follows Anakin Skywalker's transformation into the classic villain Darth Vader, and that of the Republic into the sinister Galactic Empire.

Kinney, clearly aligned with the Dark Side of the Force, is eager to see evil prevail.

"That's the best part of the whole thing," he said. "That's what's drawing me toward seeing it, is how it's going to bring it all up to where they take over."

Episode III is the much-anticipated payoff of the long-running series, which began with the 1977 release of the original Star Wars, now titled Episode IV -- A New Hope.

But some fans are as skittish as C-3PO aboard the Death Star about the new film, given Star Wars creator George Lucas' treatment of the franchise in recent years. In 1997, Lucas remastered the original trilogy, tweaking some scenes and adding computer- generated effects, much to fans' dismay. The first two films in the prequel trilogy, Episode I -- The Phantom Menace and Episode II -- Attack of the Clones, disappointed many of the faithful with their heavy exposition and sometimes light-hearted tone.

"I'm hoping it will tie the other two into the fourth one," said Jeff Stine, 43, of Dayton. "There's a lot of loose ends, a lot of questions in the other two movies that people go, 'Well, why did (writer-director Lucas) do that?' I hope he's put that all together."

Lucas was scheduled to conduct several question-and-answer sessions with fans on Saturday at Celebration III. It would be his first appearance at a fan event since 1987.

"They're very pretty," said Julie Burnsides, 21, of Fairborn, regarding the first two prequels. "They're not really Star Wars. They kind of got away from what made Star Wars such an epic."

Burnsides, a Wright State University student, attended Celebration III costumed as Episode II bounty hunter Zam Wesell. She is eager to see Episode III "because people are telling me that it's going to be better than Episode II, but I'm almost afraid to be excited because I was really let down by the last one."

Steve Miller of Omaha, Neb., echoed that disturbance felt among the fan force.

"I'm trying to keep my expectations down, just because the other movies haven't exactly met the over-inflated expectations," said Miller, 30, dressed as a Jedi Knight. "So just take it like what it is, and hopefully you'll see some good action and a decent story."

Florencio Lim Jr. of Pasadena, Calif., was attired as an Imperial Officer. He shared Kinney's allegiance to the Empire, as well as his desire to see it destroy the Jedi and conquer the Republic. "It will be the most depressing one, but it still will be the best one," said Lim, 40.

Episode III will carry a PG-13 rating, a first for the Star Wars films. Given such, fans such as Stine are hoping that Lucas delivers a darker film that harkens back to the original trilogy, particularly

Episode V -- The Empire Strikes Back, which many consider to be the series' high point.

"If he can just capture that feeling from Empire Strikes Back, that little bit of that darkness, or even a little bit darker, I think everybody will appreciate it a little bit more, especially the adults that have been through the series the whole time," Stine said.

Stine, a member of the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers, volunteered at Celebration III, helping with security and crowd-control attired in a white helmet and body armor.

The sprawling convention drew Star Wars fans from around the world. Members of the 501st fan club from Germany traded Garrison patches with their counterparts from Japan, attempting to broker the deal in broken English.

But such a gathering begs the question of what fans will do now that the Star Wars saga is nearing its conclusion.

"Just the fact that it is the last one, we know this is the last chance to soak it all in," said Dan Flarida, 32, of Lebanon, president of the Ohio Star Wars Collectors Club.

But Burnsides doesn't see Episode III as the end of an era. She noted that the franchise endured 16 years between trilogies, with no promise of future Star Wars movies.

"They kept it alive after the first trilogy and now with the second one I think they'll continue to keep the fan base alive," agreed Roman Sanchez, 31, of Albuquerque, N.M., who wore a Jedi robe.

As with Luke Skywalker's arrival in Episode IV, there's new hope for fans. Lucas recently announced plans to re-release all six films in 3D starting in 2007.

"I'm hoping that they will continue in some way, shape or form," said Jimmy Siokos, 33, of Davenport, Iowa. Siokos, who made a dashing Han Solo, suggested an animated or live-action Star Wars television series as possibilities, along with a computer-animated film that followed the exploits of the young Solo or Princess Leia.

"Digitally, with the animation, they could make anything they wanted to," Siokos said. "All it takes is George Lucas to give them the say-so and they could do it. I doubt he will, but I hope he does. And they're coming out with all the movies in 3D, which is great. That's good enough for me right now."

Chad Locke, 35, of Prescott, Ariz., envisions a Disney Worldlike theme park based on the Star Wars films. Locke has even drawn up plans for what he's dubbed "Lucas Land."

"Once he gets done with this film, there's no sense in putting it to bed," Locke said. "I'd like to be giving more of my money to George -- if that's possible."


Contact Dave Larsen at 225-2419.

This news arrived on: 04/26/2005 Copyright © 2005 ArcaMax Publishing, Inc., and its licensors. All rights reserved.

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