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Published: Sunday, 4/24/2005

Director Lucas visits a galaxy not so far away

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Anthony Campbell, 7, of New Albany, Ind., duels with Darth Vader as Simon Needham of London, as a Jedi master, observes. Anthony Campbell, 7, of New Albany, Ind., duels with Darth Vader as Simon Needham of London, as a Jedi master, observes.
TOM STRATTMAN / AP Enlarge

INDIANAPOLIS - Geeks.

Lots and lots of geeks.

And lines.

Lots and lots of lines.

Five and six-hour-long lines.

For Star Wars action figures.

To listen to George Lucas.

And to simply .●.●. get in.

'Star Wars' creator George Lucas, right, greets 8-year-old Tyler Hamrick of Glen Burnie, Md. 'Star Wars' creator George Lucas, right, greets 8-year-old Tyler Hamrick of Glen Burnie, Md.
JOHN HARRELL / AP Enlarge

There is one more thing you notice at Celebration III, the largest official Star Wars convention ever held in the known galaxy. With all apologies to Yoda and Jabba the Hut, a building jostling, bumping, buzzing, and brimming with Star Wars fans is, in fact, a building full of surprisingly good-looking lunatics.

People in Chewbacca suits.

People like this:

Joe Fellows, 35, and Daniel Vesci, 31, both from North Carolina, are very large men in tight T-shirts and they wear red buttons reading "Thank the Maker."

And the maker is?

"George Lucas," Mr. Fellows says. "For giving us this great history."

Geeks, you might call them.

But that's what they call themselves. There are also hipsters, true believers, thoughtful fans, elderly men who think they look like Sir Alec Guinness, a handful of Billy Dee Williams impersonators, many women dressed in sandy Jedi robes, infants dressed as Darth Vader, children who have never even seen a Star Wars movie before, parents who want to share their obsession with their children, and a number of grown, gainfully employed guys who carry light sabers with one hand while resting their other arm around very hot girlfriends.

So much for stereotyping.

Still, you'd think they were nuts. Gen Con, the group that organized Celebration III, would not estimate how many people were attending. The convention, which is being held at the RCA Dome and Indiana Convention Center, began Thursday and ends tomorrow, and every day has been packed. Lucasfilm, which produces the Star Wars series, expected around 28,000, being that Celebration III is the only Star Wars convention sanctioned by Lucasfilm and there are fan contingents here from as far away as Japan. In 2002, when Indianapolis hosted Celebration II, roughly 75,000 fans attended.

This time, ahem, more came.

The Force was strong.

"I would say there's like 60,000 people right now," said Indiana police Officer Steve Mullen, who was working security yesterday. "I mean, you can't move in here. They're saying capacity is 30,000 in the convention center part? Well, I don't know what we're going to do with that huge line outside. Get a shoehorn maybe - a Star Wars shoehorn."

Celebration III was generally happy and full of excited people carrying large boxes of collectibles, but at times, it also felt so chaotic and crammed with oddity, it could have been the subject of a Hollywood pitch: "Lord of the Flies meets Star Wars."

Mike Jager, 36, of Weston, Ohio, waited five hours for three autographs and was very mad: "This place is so unorganized, it's just pathetic. I'm a huge Star Wars fan. But this is like .●.●. I don't know. Nobody knows what line to stand in - except that you are going to have to wait in one."

Whose autograph did he get?

"Oh, I can't think of the woman's name. She has blue skin."

The occasion for such madness was the upcoming May 19 release of the final picture in the landmark Star Wars movie series, Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. There were R2-D2 races and Ewok throwing contests and a man who did a one-man stage production of the original Star Wars trilogy. At every door to the building, and directing foot traffic, were not security personnel but men in Storm Trooper costumes. Many wore helmets that gave their voice the modulation of the characters in the movies.

You felt bad for them. They were no Hell's Angels.

Yesterday morning, around 7:30, for instance, the Sith hit the fan. The fan was a kid in an R2-D2 costume. He wore a mixing bowl on his head and track suit with blue runners. Behind him was a man dressed as a Sith lord. He bumped into R2 and couldn't move back. The line was too cramped; it wrapped around the RCA Dome, two Banthas deep.

The line was to see George Lucas, who created the series as a homage to movie serials. John Fitzgerald, 17 and Russell Muffit, 30, of Omaha had a great plan. Their sisters secured a place in line - the day before at 3 p.m. At 11:30 p.m. on Friday, they took the next shift, and waited in line, on a unseasonably cold April night, for the 8:45 a.m. show.

Minutes before, a man said, "I hear the guy who is interviewing George played the security detail for Princess Amidala!" Mr. Lucas was greeted by 3,000 fans waving their light sabers in the air, shouting, "Thank you, George!"

Randy of New Jersey asked:

"Now that the series is over, was it everything you wanted?"

"Well, I didn't think I'd be here 30 years later still doing this," Mr. Lucas said. "This is 20 years of my life if you count how it long it took to make the six films. That's across 30 years. You hope you can get to the end eventually."

"I just thought a big space battle would have been cool."

He delivered a little bit of actual Star Wars news: There will be a live-action Star Wars TV series; production will begin next year.

Then he was gone.

"It was worth it," said Mike Shepherd, 19, of Chesterton, Ind. Renee Bissett and Joe Mancie, both 31 and from Cleveland, were less convinced. "This thing is so oversold," Mr. Mancie said.

"We are huge fans," Ms. Bissett said, "but this seems greedy. It's like you have to get in line at 6 a.m. if you want to do anything."

For every negative story, there was a positive: Chris Lee, 39, spent $8,000 building a working replica of R2-D2, and was graced with a visit from Mr. Lucas. "He was in awe, I think. I can die now."

And then a negative:

Jason and Trevor Fish, 34 and 31, from Toronto, stood in a three-hour line on Friday to just get into the store selling official Celebration III merchandise.

After a while, they were told the store was closed for the day.

It was 10 a.m.

Compared to Cindi Szilvasy, 29, of Loraine, Ohio, they're lightweights. Ms. Szilvasy got in line at 3:30 a.m. to buy her boyfriend an ultraspecial, Celebration III-edition Darth Vader action figure. She appeared happy to be finished. The store, an airplane hanger-huge room, smelled like a Tusken Raider had just died.

"I just deal with it. My boyfriend is a total Star Wars freak."

Freak?

"Freak."

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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