In early May 1999, the Official Star Wars Fan Club held the Star Wars Celebration at Wings over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver, Colorado. Rick Bors was one of several RASSMer's who were fortunate enough to attend the Celebration and has graciously provided this report of what went on at the Celebration and the Rocky Mountain RASSMCon.
Matt Agee RASSM|
Rick Bors RASSM
Mirza (P.B.) RASSM
Jim Fisher AFW
Jill Marie Fritsche RASSM
Alexander Fritsche RASSM
Kristy Henscheid AFW
Mike Mierzwa RASSM
Robert Nolan RASSM
Jason Robinson AFW
Michael Shannon AFW
Shanon Stavenjord AFW
Tracy (Drake's friend) RASSM
James Watson RASSM
From the beginning we were better organized than the Fan Club. Jill and Mirza provided Denver FAQs, got us a nice deal at the Travelodge hotel, and not only planned Saturday's RASSMCon, but also made sure CNN would be there to record the event! We were in Denver to attend the 1999 Star Wars Celebration, hosted by the Official Fan Club, but that was just an excuse to meet fellow RASSMers in real life for a change. And it's a good thing we weren't there strictly for the convention, because, well, it sucked. Okay, it wasn't terrible, but could have been a lot better. You know what, though? It didn't matter, because RASSMers are great people (er, at least the ones here :)) and we weren't about to let the Fan Club's logistical nightmare prevent us from having a memorable weekend.
Thursday, April 29, was the arrival day for most of us staying at the Travelodge. RASSMers trickled in throughout the evening, checked into their rooms, and wandered down to the lounge/bar, where name badges were distributed and the small talk began. I arrived sometime around 11:00pm, after getting lost for the first (and by no means last) time on the trip. Most of the folks were here already, except Jill and her son Alexander (who drove from Salt Lake City and dropped by briefly when they arrived before hitting the sack) and Watson (whom nobody had heard from). Idle chitchat and introductions continued until Mirza brought down the SW Trivial Pursuit game. A word of advice: this game was not meant to be played by SW fans. My team won the first game without answering a single question wrong. "Who was the pilot of the Millennium Falcon?" was the typical difficulty level. Fortunately (or not), Jim Fisher happened to have a set of questions he'd written down in his spare time. It took over an hour to complete this second game, as most of the trivia was plucked from either obscure WEG guides or tidbits from the spinoffs. Still, my team conquered again (myself, Mierzwa, & Nolan); I can't remember breakdowns of the other teams, which is just as well, as further humiliation of their runners-up status could only be deemed as cruelty. Eventually the bar closed and they kicked us out around 2:00. We made tentative plans for the morning and were off to bed.
Transportation was provided by the Travelodge's shuttle (on request), the minivan I rented (they were all out of the economy class I had reserved, which worked out great for my passengers), Jill's Saturn, and when he finally arrived, Watson's rented Ewok Mobile (er, make that a red Mustang). Convention events began at 12:30 on Friday. A few took the shuttle around 9:00, while the rest of us gathered in the lobby for a departure in the 10:00 hour. As we waited for people to get ready, Mierzwa related a disturbing scene he witnessed earlier in the morning. Apparently when he got out of the shower, he discovered roommate Matt watching the Teletubbies on TV. Matt, of course, insisted he was just channel surfing and that this was the first time he'd ever seen the show. An ensuing discussion of the show began between him and Jill (who claims to have watched the show only because her kids do--okay, whatever), but the less said about this turn of events, the better.
We eventually got on the road, stopped off at Burger King for breakfast/lunch, and arrived at the place formerly known as Lowry Air Force Base. Oh, and the rain was pouring down on us, which wouldn't have been that big of a deal if it weren't for three things. 1) The events took place inside the main hangar and two big tents *outside*. This was a surprise, as we'd been led to believe everything was taking place inside. 2) The land was still in the process of being converted from air force base to private property, and there was no grass in sight. By the time we got there, the ground was covered in mud and pools of water. 3) It was immediately apparent that the Fan Club oversold the event by several thousand. There was a huge line for the hangar, and growing lines for both tents. In short, it was Woodstock. I think I was the only one who brought an umbrella, which sheltered Alexander, part of Mike (sometimes), and part of me.
We picked the shortest line, which by chance turned out to be the main auditorium stage, where the opening ceremonies hosted by Anthony Daniels were about to get underway. A word must be said about Mr. Daniels, as he's one heck of a guy. He took a hands-on approach to make sure as many people could get seats as possible; this included straightening out the chain line markers that had fallen down outside and telling people to stop cutting in line. He was this way the entire weekend, doing all he could to make things run more smoothly, and even taking time to talk with fans waiting in line and sign autographs. A real class act. Anyway, we all found seats in roughly the same area and soon discovered the tent was leaking. Nope, this wasn't off to a good start at all. Daniels went through his mostly funny routine and we were treated to many video clips. We saw messages from all the people the Fan Club should have gotten to attend (Lucas and McGregor, Neeson, McDiarmid, John Williams, etc.); Trailer A; premiers of the Duel of the Fates video and TV commercials; and other behind-the-scenes segments.
The opening ceremony was one of the few times where the whole group was together at the convention. Because of the large crowd, the tents were cleared after each event, and we soon departed into smaller groups. Some went to wait in the now huge line for the main hangar (where it wasn't leaking), others to stage B in the second tent, and myself and Mierzwa, being the avid collectors that we are, headed for the dealers tent. Like the main tent, the dealer's tent was leaking too. You had to feel sympathy for the guys who had thousands of dollars of merchandise, plenty of which must have been ruined before appropriate measures to protect their goods were taken. Apparently the Fan Club refunded the dealer fees, which is the least they could have done. After Mike had seemingly gone through every trading card common in the tent looking to complete old Topps sets, we headed to the hangar.
The hangar is now the Wings Over the Rockies museum. Being from D.C., I was expecting something similar in size to the National Air & Space Museum. Instead, the sight was an average one-level hangar cramped with all the regular museum attractions (namely aircraft) intruding at every turn. All of the licensees were here demonstrating their Episode I goods; more importantly, they were giving away free stuff. Most of the company reps were enthusiastic and helpful (and generous with their freebies :)). Mike and I proceeded to stuff our backpacks full with Decipher sample packs, Pepsi tumblers and stickers, posters, and anything else we could find. Some of it we took home with fond memories; plenty of it was thrown away due to water damage before the end of the day. Much of what we saw would be commonplace within a month, but it was still cool to see, for example, all of the Tricon restaurant toys and cup toppers in one showcase. The Hasbro booth had an unsurprisingly long line, and we weren't about to wait in long lines again; besides, you could get more personal attention at, say, the Ertl display. Given the wide range of SW merchandise, we were also privy to see plenty of junk that will surely be on clearance in a couple months... but let's move on to more pleasant things.
Thankfully there was more than just salesmen showing off their product. A small section of props and costumes from the recent Smithsonian exhibit were on display, as well as TPM items. This didn't interest me much, since I'd been to the Smithsonian exhibit numerous times, so unfortunately I can't recall much of what was there. A Millennium Falcon prop was probably the highlight, from what I remember. The biggest surprise in the hangar were stand-up arcades of the good old vector graphic games. I never knew there was an ESB game, BTW. You could play them, too--as long as you inserted a quarter! LucasArts' various TPM games were available to play, too, but something about playing the game before seeing the movie prompted us to move along quickly after just a smidgen of eye-candy. Other stuff: an almost life-size X-Wing replica, the pod race flags (apparently the same ones used in the movie), and the most embarrassing spinoff timeline you'll ever see (incomplete, unattractive, and so flimsy it looked ready to fall over).
Towards late afternoon, some of the group assembled to head back to the hotel. When Matt arrived, he told us of something most of us had overlooked in the hangar: the screening room. Inside this room, they were showing old videos of practically every SW related moment that ever appeared on TV. Saturday Night Live skits, Today show cast appearances, old Kenner toy commercials, The Simpsons' numerous references, etc. Matt thought he'd only spent an hour or two in the room and was shocked to hear we were going to leave; turns out he'd been there all afternoon. His reaction when he found out it was 5:00 already was one of the classic moments of the weekend.
Meanwhile, the last person we waited for was Drake, who had spent the whole afternoon in line for the Fan Club's official store (located inside the hangar, you had to wait hours in line just to get into the store). We saw him through the window and decided to go to the Lego tent while we waited for him. There was some confusion as to where the Lego tent was, but we did find it after awhile (more on this later). Inside, Lego reps were assembling (from scratch) a large Naboo fighter using standard blocks; their goal was to finish Sunday, but I don't think they ever did. Still, it was impressive to watch. Finally, Drake was done shopping and we headed for the minivan. Everything in the store was available online after the show, BTW.
Getting to the convention that morning was simple: just follow Jill. Getting back to the hotel was more of an adventure, because Jill left before us. To be brutally honest, this was the sad scenario: a minivan packed full of guys who couldn't read a map. I may get in trouble for this revelation, but there I said it! I was driving around Denver with eight (?) male RASSMers and not one of them could figure out where to go. I believe it was Matt who finally got us home, but he was also one of the main culprits. It must have taken an hour to get back to the hotel, compared to 20 minutes the other times. While taking the scenic route, we discussed the pros/cons of the day, but most importantly came up with our excuse for being late: we were looking for Legos. What can I say?--it doesn't sound too funny, but you had to be there (see above paragraph).
We returned to find Watson had finally arrived at the Travelodge. Some R&R was taken, more milling around in the lobby, and then we headed downtown to a Chili's for dinner. Jill gave us simple directions, which supposedly required only two turns, and said she'd meet us there a little later. Well, after the earlier debacle, I wasn't about to go cruising around town without following someone who supposedly knew where they were going. So I waited. And it's a good thing I did, because Jill got us lost! When we eventually found the place, we had to get two tables due to our size, and predictably split along AFW/RASSM lines. This division later led to the highlight of the evening, where the RASSMers caught the AFWers by surprise and prevailed in a short battle involving thrown table objects.
More discussion followed in the Travelodge lobby when we returned. Part of the time was devoted to slamming the Fan Club's poor organization, but most of the conversation was what you'd expect from a group of RASSMers. A sampling of topics touched upon: Sith War V, James King, why such-and-such RASSMer wasn't here, what to expect for tomorrow, Watson's pictures of the Gulf Coast RASSMCon, etc. Basically random thoughts, with the occasional SW topic thrown in for good measure (i.e., how Dark Horse butchered its Marvel reprints, leaving out Rich Handley's introductions in the process). Mike also gave us a memorable account of his trip to a ketchup factory, which forever altered the way we looked at the condiment (hint: it involved exhaust landing on not-quite-fresh tomatoes). This continued until sometime past midnight.
The rain continued throughout Saturday. The convention experiences were similar to the day before, except we now had Watson with us. We met a few other online folks, including usher. Jill and Alexander were seen less and less, especially since she had to leave early to prepare for the RASSMCon that evening (as did Mirza). The Fan Club learned a bit from the previous day and had the line for the store outdoors instead of inside the hangar. As the fire code limited the amount of people inside the building at one time, on Friday hundreds simply waiting in the store line for hours were taking up valuable space. Since these poor souls now were waiting in the rain, more of us who wanted to see the rest of the displays and activities could get in. While none of the actors or production guests were signing autographs, I managed to get Drew Struzan to autograph a couple items, and waited in line for an hour to get Dave Dorman's signature. Dorman, though, didn't just sign his name; he drew a little drawing for each person I asked for Vader---and it's is one of the neatest things in my collection ;)
The big thing on Saturday was RASSMCon, which began in the early evening and continued a few hours into Sunday morning. Jill and Mirza set up the event at the Travelodge's conference room, decorating it with a SW flavor. Tables lined the walls with SW collectibles people had brought with them. We had four TVs with both a VCR and Jill's Web TV attached. For quite some time various people chatted in #RASSM, relaying the our journeys and trying to make everyone who wasn't here insanely jealous. We bragged about the awesome surprise of being at the first public screening of TPM and told very scary tales of Drake's behavior. Okay, so the second half was true :) It wasn't just our little circle of RASSMers staying at the Travelodge who joined in the festivities. We invited all the other SW fans at the hotel who were in town for the convention and of course extended invitations to the entire RASS+ community beforehand. Oblio, with his two kids (which delighted Alexander) and usher & Bria were there for most of it. Gus Lopez and the collecting circle (John Wooten, too many Chris's to keep track of, etc.) stopped by later for about ten minutes, too. About 30-40 wandered in and out throughout the night. A guy from CNN was there, arranged by Mirza, who taped us watching Hardware Wars and interviewed a few of us, trying to figure out just what kind of insane people would meet like this. Mirza and Jill (costumed as ANH Leia and Endor Leia, respectively) both made it onto a SW show CNN aired the week before the premiere of TPM.
As mentioned above, we started watching videos, beginning with the hilarious Hardware Wars parody. Then a naive group dared to sit through the Holiday Special. A few of us who had either seen it before or were wise enough to know better, decided to do other things. Mierzwa was all excited about the new Young Jedi CCG from Decipher and attempted to teach us how to play with the sample decks everyone had gathered during the day. Watson, tmarie, and maybe some others eventually learned how to play, but I didn't try to keep up. Drake had the idea of mailing postcards to some who weren't able to attend. A dozen or so SW postcards were bought at the convention and signed by everyone. Obviously, quite a few Regulars didn't get one, but there was no choosing of who got one and who didn't. We only had a few address with us (that Drake brought along) and because we wanted it to be a surprise, we didn't ask for others. Sorry! Please don't feel slighted if you didn't get one. You might want to subtly pass your address to someone who attends the next SW Celebration, though :)
Eventually the kids had enough of the Holiday Special, but I believe they suffered through the whole thing. It was at this point, I think, that we had the group picture. It took forever, as every camera in the place had two shots taken. Next up was ANH, SE style. There was plenty of discussion, especially lamenting at the SE additions, with the most memorable moment coming during the climactic battle, where certain RASSMers cheered when Wedge got hit and voiced their disappointment that the object of the AFWers affection wasn't killed like he should have been for his useless role. All in good fun, of course :) ESB followed, but we were exhausted, it was late, the hotel guy wanted us out, and in a blasphemous move, we turned it off right during the lightsaber duel. Then we cleaned up and went to bed around 2:30.
Sunday it stopped raining and the sun was out! We still had to deal with mud and puddles, but we were loving life at this point. There were collectibles-related events planned the entire weekend, where some of the high end collectors (Gus, et al) were going to discuss their collections, show off rare pieces, and interact with the crowd. Unfortunately, due to the rain they were only able to do this on Sunday. Mierzwa and I spoke with a few of them briefly and listened to some of the discussions. Decipher also had a trivia contest, where I won a Young Jedi booster pack (inside was a Darth Maul rare!) and after awhile Mike won too (lucky bastard got an Amidala foil card, I think). Nolan, Watson, and I toured through the hangar for a third day, rounding up more free goodies, including an excessive amount of Decipher cards in an event so embarrassing that I won't reveal the entire story (it was initiated by Watson and involved a box of free cards--that's all I'll say).
I haven't talked much about the guests, mainly because the group I was with didn't go to many of these events. The long lines were part of the reason, but it also stems from the disappointing guest list. You'd think the *Official* Fan Club at the *Official* SW Celebration would be able to snag practically every SW notable, save perhaps Lucas, Ford, and Sir Alec. Nope. There are far more comic conventions every year that have a more impressive SW guest list. Okay, so we got Daniels, McCallum, Park, and Lloyd. Great. I'm sure Hugh Quarshie and John Morton were fun to see, but where was Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, any of the non costumed adult stars of TPM, etc.? How about Zahn, Stackpole, or any of the other fan favorites from the novel and comic world?
Enough ranting. The one show most of us managed to see was Ray Park on Sunday. The lines to see his one hour performances were the longest of the weekend, especially after word got out that he did a martial arts display at the end. We had tmarie stand in line for us early, while a half dozen of us came later to wait in line. We still had to wait over an hour, but it was worth it to see Park. There was a Q&A session, where Tony Daniels-- still the MC of the main stage--ran through the crowd with his microphone to people who had questions. At one point he was right behind me--literally about two feet away--and I took an impressive photo, though I must have blinded his eyes!
The crowd shrunk considerably in the afternoon hours and so did the lines. Mirza and I finally checked out the Hasbro/Galoob display area and shopped in the official store without waiting in any lines. Going to these two areas earlier in the weekend would have taken the better part of a day. There were plenty of costumed individuals--some of the finest quality--and we got some good photos. There was a gathering of a TIE Pilot, Fett, Vader, and a couple Stormtroopers that I waited to get a picture with on my disposable camera. Mirza took the shot, but the flash didn't go off! There were others waiting and I only had one exposure left, so I didn't get another chance. The picture didn't come out at all :( I did, however, get a nice shot of a Leia in costumed slave girl outfit outside :)
Those of us left agreed to meet at 5:30 under an aircraft outside to head back, or in my case, leave for the airport. I knew I should have left at 5:30 or sooner, since my flight was departing at 6:49. Well, Watson was a little late, and then the group talked for a few more minutes. I said my goodbyes and by the time I got to my minivan it was 5:50--far too late. To make a long story short, I missed my flight (though as luck would have it, my luggage made it) and I had to pay a $75 fee to take a flight out the next morning. After paying entirely too much for a frozen strawberry margarita at the airport bar, I got the Travelodge's shuttle back to the hotel (though it took the driver close to two hours to pick me up due to a mixup). There I met with Drake and his friend Tracy in the restaurant and explained my story for the first of countless times. We talked for about thirty minutes, until they began to explain to me how West Virginia (their home state) had recently made it legal again to move roadkill and why that was a good thing for the poorer, hungrier residents. Shortly after this engaging conversation, I went to the lobby and was greeted by quizzical looks from Watson, Nolan, Mirza, and Jill. There was no way that I was going to pay for another night, so Mirza let me stay in her room's extra bed.
Later in the evening, Nolan, Watson, myself, and two guys from the hotel who we didn't know, packed into the Ewok Mobile and headed to the local Toys R Us. May 3 was the date stores were allowed to start selling TPM merchandise, and TRU was opening at midnight. As anticipated, seemingly every collector who hadn't gone home yet was at this store. We got there around 10:45 and the line was wrapped around the store! Extra police and even an ambulance were present, just in case. When the doors opened, it was chaos. "Collectors" were stuffing their hands and baskets full with whatever Hasbro figures they could find. Apparently a few guys took a bunch of unopened figure cases in their carts and ran to the back of the store to divide their spoils. It didn't take too long for people to notice, and a fight almost started until a policeman forced the greedy bastards to open their cases and let anybody take them. I managed to get a few figures, but I gave most of them away to folks who didn't look greedy. By mistake, I gave the first one away right in front of Nolan, who immediately informed me that *he* wanted that figure. Well, I felt stupid, and I know he'll never let me forget it. But I did manage to get him a couple others. After an hour or so, we waited in line for the last time and got out of there. We got back pretty late and went straight to bed.
Monday morning I attempted to call my boss and explain the situation. You see, not only was I supposed to go to work on Monday, but I didn't even tell anyone at work that I was going to a SW convention in Denver. But that's another story altogether; I will say that thankfully my co-workers and boss were understanding and everyone had a good laugh when I returned on Tuesday. After saying goodbye to the Travelodge, Watson drove Nolan and I to the airport, since all three of us had early morning flights. And guess what? It's still hard to believe, but Watson was late and missed his flight! Tardiness apparently runs in the RASSM family. We all sat down and had some breakfast, then to the tram to Rob's gate and saw him off. Turns out Ray Park was on the same tram, but in another car; we missed him. Next, Watson and I went to my gate. After I left, Watson was by himself, naturally, for the next several hours as the flight he had secured wasn't leaving until the afternoon. I believe he managed to read most of TPM novelization during this time.
I think it's safe to say most, if not all, of us would love to get together at the next SW Celebration, assuming there is one and provided the Fan Club learns from their mistakes. Despite the fact we were together for three days, it just wasn't enough time to get to know everyone really well. We spent time together at the hotel, but during the days most of us went our separate ways in various groups of 2-4. You got to spend a lot of time with a handful of people and in the end realized that half the people in the group you spent hardly any time with. Which is just another excuse to do it all again sometime :)
* Individuals staying at the Travelodge for the duration of the Star Wars Celebration/Rocky Mountain RASSMCon
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