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Saturday, 14 September 2013

CLASSIC REVIEW: 'STAR WARS FAN DAYS III' EVENT 2009


STAR WARS: FAN DAYS III CONVENTION - 24/25 OCT 2009 - PLANOTEXAS


By Ian Trussler


With the distinct lack of a Star Wars Celebration event this year, and suffering mildly from withdrawal symptoms, I decided to head off to my first Fan Days event.

Organized and run by the folks at Official PixFan Days events have been going a few years now and offer a smaller scale but equally impressive alternative to Celebration.

The venue, Plano Centre, North of Dallas in Texas was perfect, offering something similar but on a smaller scale to the Indiana Convention Centre used for Celebration III.

The two-day convention, running over a Saturday and Sunday certainly offered plenty for all fans and didn't disappoint me in anyway, featuring a large array of celebrity guests, talks, panels and fan related activities.

What follows is an account of my experiences over the weekend.


Saturday 24 October

Saturday had an early start for me as I had purchased a ticket for the Fan Club breakfast, so I arrived about 7am for the 7.30 let in ready for the breakfast start at 8am. Actually, there wasn't that many people who got there early, most arriving just before they needed to, either for the breakfast or general admission.

The breakfast was well organized and I was issued with my great goody bag of exclusive T-shirt and assorted freebies, along with my pre-ordered VIP ticket.

As well as getting in early and having a buffet breakfast, the main attraction of the event was that celebrity guests attend and mingle and chat with fans, as well as a prize raffle for cool items.

This years guests were the ever present Steve Sansweet, along with The Clone Wars director Dave Filoni and Obi-Wan voice actor James Arnold Taylor. During the breakfast Dave Filoni talked to everyone about the future of Clone Wars, James Arnold Taylor entertained with his collection of voice impressions and also signed items for fans including the exclusive breakfast trading card. At the same time Steve Sansweet chatted to fans, and conducted the prize raffle. To my utter amazement I won the second prize to be given away, which was a pristine, sealed version of the Parker Brothers ”Battle at Sarlaac Pit” game, donated by Lucasfilm Archives. Sadly I didn't win the top prize of an exclusive trading card signed by George Lucas, that went to a very young boy of about 10 at most whom had already won a prize earlier anyway. Some people get all the luck, it seems.

Overall the breakfast was huge fun and something I would definitely do again next time I attend Fan Days.

Breakfast over it was into the main centre at about 9.30 for about an hour of either watching fan films or shopping at theOfficial Pix booth, where they had a great selection of classic photos and a large number of brand new never before seen shots.

Once things officially got started at 10.30am, the main attraction for many was the fact that Anthony Daniels was there to sign autographs and meet fans. Daniels was in town for the previous nights performance of Star Wars In Concert and was only available for a short time on Saturday so I, like many, headed straight to his area.

Interestingly earlier at the breakfast I had asked Steve Sansweet why the name of the concert tour had been changed from Star Wars A Musical Journey, as it was when I saw its debut in London, to the rather bland Star Wars In Concert. Steve's answer was that surveys in America had shown that they were confused by the original title, thinking they would be seeing a theatrical show with acting and a story, so the name got changed.

Mr. Daniels was in good form and happily chatted with fans while signing items, his assistants were a little over zealous at times in their attempts to grab as much money as possible and keep us at arms length from Anthony. Bizarrely the guy in front of me asked Tony to sign a baseball and Tony's face was priceless as he tried to work out how to go about signing it and clearly thinking "why?" to himself.

The line moved smoothly along and this out of the way I was free to enjoy all the other things the show had to offer.

The collector room had a series of panels on Star Wars toys and collectibles as well as a costume contest and trivia quiz.

Separate autograph rooms were available for the Clone Warsvoice actors and also for movie related actors.

The Clone Wars room had James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan), Matt Lanter (Anakin), Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka), Tom Kane (Yoda), Dee Bradley Baker (Rex/Clones), Cat Taber (Padme) and Nika Futterman (Ventress)

The Movie room had Ray Park, Dave Prowse, Peter Mayhew, Jeremy Bulloch, Nalini Krishnan, Anthony Forest, Jack Klaff, Christopher Muncke, Hugh Quarshie, Matt Wood and David Accord. Unfortunately, Rusty Goffe, Jerome Blake and Phil Eason had to cancel.

But at this point it was the talks in the main auditorium that interested me, first up was Don Bies.

Don Bies assisting Anthony Daniels for EPISODE III.

Don Bies Talk

Don Bies hour-long talk was excellent, he talked in detail about his career at ILM and this is some of the great info he shared with us.

The first job he worked on for ILM was The Witches of Eastwick.

When he took over running the Lucasfilm Archives in the late 80's one of the first things he had to do was oversee the destruction of the second original Landspeeder prop. This was the prop that had been fixed on an arm and used inTunisia. They simply had no room for it at the time so he was instructed to destroy it so he watched as a huge truck drove over it and crushed it. He was a little bit heartbroken by this, understandably. The only remaining original Landspeeder is the 3 wheel car version, which got repainted for re-use inEpisode One.

He worked on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and was hired originally to do Donovan’s death scene effects. However he ended up being in the film in more ways than one. He was a Nazi in the Hitler scene and when they had to re-shoot an insert scene of Indy handing the Grail Diary to Hitler to sign, he played Indy, so that is Don's hand you see handing the diary over.

Don worked on the famed Energizer Bunny/Darth Vader commercial which was the first time George Lucas had agreed for a SW character to be used outside of movie promotions. The original concept for the commercial was somewhat different; it was to feature a line up of classic movie villain’s with Vader appearing at the end of the line up. George rejected this idea so it got revamped. Tom Deeley played Vader in the commercial, in a Carbon Freezing Chamber rebuilt using the original blueprints from Empire. Don actually played Vader in the close up scenes of Vader swinging his lightsaber.

Don also mentioned a rejected commercial for Pepsi at the time of The Last Crusade that was to feature Indy drinking Pepsi and a rival drink and riffing on the Grail Knights dialogue of "He Chose Poorly" and "He Chose Wisely". You can just imagine it. Again George nixed this idea.

During his time he has overseen the production of 18 Vader costumes for use in public appearances. He is known for his cameo in ROTJ-SE as Boba Fett but he candidly stated he was not a fan of the Special Editions, even going so far as to say there are only 2 good SW movies, clearly meaning A New Hope and Empire.

When he appeared on set as Boba Fett, he was not wearing the helmet and had his glasses on, and George laughed and said, "Look, it's Jabba's Accountant" and continued to make fun and refer to him this way throughout the day of filming. The costume of Boba was a mess from the back as the rocket pack was the one used in Yuma for the explosion scene, so it was all broken up form the effects explosion. It was George’s idea for Fett to touch the dancers face and the shot where all three of them suddenly look in the same direction was caught on camera when Lucas deliberately said something to distract them all when caught off guard.

When Don played the Bith musician in the Jedi Rocks sequence he was wearing Jon Berg's original Cantina Band member mask, which he had borrowed from his friend. He also played Stormtroopers in the A New Hope Special Edition when Han Solo runs into extra troopers after the chase down the Death Star corridor and as an escort for Vader to his shuttle in Empire's Special Edition.

Bies operating the puppet Threepio.

He designed the Episode I C-3PO puppets head. He was also going to puppet 3PO for Episode 2 but Anthony Daniels insisted on doing it instead. In Tunisia, at the Hotel Sidi Driss, used as the Lars Homestead in Episode II, Tony Daniels fell over with the 3PO puppet and broke the leg’s off, so they had to shoot the scene from the waist up, but it got cut and re-shot anyway.

ILM built 16 R2's for Episode I and 12 R2's for Episode II. Two R2's were made for Kenny Baker.

Don also cleared up a question I have had for ages. Which one scene did Kenny Baker play R2-D2 in for Episode II? Common thought has been that Kenny played R2 only in the scene inside Padme's ship on Tatooine when Obi-Wan's hologram comes through. However, many years ago, Anthony Daniels told me that Kenny only did the wedding scene. So I asked Don this when I got his autograph and he confirmed that Kenny Baker only played R2 for the wedding scene, shot against bluescreen in London and then composited onto theLake Como location shot. It was Don who played R2 in Padme's ship. He operated R2 from underneath while laying on the floor.

Don Bies was a great guest and given more time could surely have talked on and on. He was a pleasure to meet and get his autograph from.

Following Bies, Ray Park gave a talk about his career, but I decided to skip this, having seen him talk before, and went to get some autographs and check out the artists in artist alley and the dealers room.

Next in the main auditorium for me was the Future of Lucasfilm talk with Steve Sansweet and Dave Filoni.

Although good, there wasn't anything new about this presentation. Dave talked about The Clone Wars and we saw the Season One box set trailer. Steve Sansweet told us that he still couldn't announce Celebration V yet. Latest was that they are 6-8 weeks away from signing a contract so hopefully an announcement will be coming in the new year. No mention of the Live Action TV show. The highlight was the outstanding trailer for the up coming new video game The Old Republic, due in 2010 sometime. This trailer was amazing, the computer graphics and human character rendering so life like, with incredible action and slo-mo fighting. I think everyone in the room was dumb struck how good it looked.

After this talk both Dave and Steve did signings for fans at theOfficial Pix booth.

Last thing on Saturday in the main auditorium was the Charity auction.

I missed the auction as I went to meet all the Clone Warsactors and get autographs. Ashley Eckstein was definitely the most popular of these guests but they were all lovely, Cat Taber especially being so grateful and overwhelmed by the positive response the show has received.

As each day began to wind down Official Pix would slash prices on their pictures and put out the One Dollar sale boxes. I, along with many others spent ages wading through the huge selection available each day. Infuriatingly, Official Pixkept adding new pics to the boxes every 10 minutes or so, so once you thought you had been through everything, you had to start again in case you missed something. It was all good fun though and I grabbed myself so many bargains.


Sunday 25th October

Sunday was a much shorter and quieter day by far after the craziness of Saturday. It was nice to take a bit more time in the dealer room and relax a bit without being on such a schedule to fit everything in.

Again there were some Fan/Collector panels but I stuck with the main auditorium and first went to Steve Sansweet and Anne Neumann’s talk about their new book 1000 Collectibles. This was basically a slide show of the book with stories from Steve and Anne about how and why they picked the items from Steve's vast collection. Steve gave some background to how Rancho Obi-Wan came about and the sort of problems he had and also some funny stories about both good and bad decisions he has made over the years relating to his collection. A very enjoyable way to pass an hour.

Next though was the highlight of the day and perhaps the whole weekend, The Clone Wars actors panel, with Dave Filoni, Steve Sansweet and all the voice actors in attendance. This started as a major love-in with Dave saying how wonderful all the cast were to work with and how talented they all were. Each actor introduced themselves using their character voices and Dave chatted animatedly about the making of the show.

Interesting info was that when they started making the show it had no network attached so all episodes were made initially at about 24-26 minutes in length. As all networks differ slightly they had to hedge their bets on episode time length. Once Cartoon Network picked up the series and insisted on 22 mins per show, all existing episodes had to be cut down. Hence we are getting longer director cuts of selected shows on the DVD boxset.

Image: LUCASFILM.


Later, I asked Dave Filoni about the major continuity error in the episode "Dooku Captured" with the pirates where Anakin and Obi-Wan's drinks are drugged but they appear to realize this and use the Force to swap the drinks, yet in the next episode they wake up in prison all hazy after clearly being drugged. Well, Dave explained that originally there was a scene that explained that all the pirates’ drinks were drugged, but this got cut out. Dave noticed the error and told George but Lucas said to leave the episode as it was.

After the verbal back slapping had finished we got a real treat. Filoni had written a short 15 minute episode to bridge the gap between the events of "Senate Spy" Season Two's fourth show and the upcoming episode 5. The show was on temporary hiatus pending the November sweeps.

The short script consisted of two scenes, one good guys and one bad guys.

First up we had Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Ahsoka, Padme and Rex discuss the events of Padme's poisoning as seen in “Senate Spy” and what action to take next in the Senate and Jedi Council. Watching Tom Kane perform Yoda live was brilliant and James Arnold Taylor as Obi-Wan excelled. All the other cast members were great too and you got a real feel for how the shows come together. However the second scene of the bad guys was superb, consisting of Matt Wood as Grievous being teased mercilessly by Ventress, played by Nika Futterman, as she also flirted outrageously, making comments of innuendo towards the droid General as his now reconstructed Surgeon Droid, previously destroyed in the Lair of Grievous episode, played by David Accord, fussed and fretted around them. Futterman bought such a playful yet sultry tone to the character of Asajj Ventress, it was something we had barely seen or heard before.

The crowd absolutely loved this little impromptu show and gave thunderous applause.

With a little time left for questions, Dave Filoni awkwardly managed to side step the question of who voices the Mandalorian warrior glimpsed so briefly in some of the promo footage, as asked by an audience member. Ashley Eckstein also took a question on the fate of Ahsoka saying she hoped she didn't ultimately die. Filoni said he had his own strong views on Ahsoka's fate but that ultimately George Lucas would decide what happens to her.

With Season Two finished and work well under way on Season Three, we clearly have so much to look forward to with The Clone Wars.

This was the last major talk of the day so afterwards it was time to meet Dave and Steve as they again did signings and to re-visit the Official Pix sale boxes for those last minute bargains.

In between these talks and panels one other small but great little feature was the Ralph McQuarrie exhibit. It consisted mainly of a small gallery of artwork, primarily for The Empire Strikes Back, showing previously unseen artwork of Lando and the Luke/Vader duel. Also on show was artwork Ralph did for crew and fan club logos and some of his last work for Galoob on the Action Fleet toys packaging.

In addition to all this you had Replica Prop and Costume rooms, courtesy of The Dented Helmet, the ForceCast guys were also doing live shows and all the hugely talented artists like Matt Busch, Russell Walks and Randy Martinez to name a few, treating fans to one of a kind sketch cards all weekend.

Overall the whole event was great, two days of fun, excitement and surprises. The organization was mostly great, just a few minor communication problems but much better than some previous Celebration’s I've attended.

As either an alternative or addition to Celebration, I would highly recommend going to a Fan Day’s event and can see these becoming a permanent fixture on my calender.

Thanks to everyone involved for making such a great event and to all the people I met and chatted with over the weekend. Hopefully some longtime new friends made.

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