I frequently state on our Thursday panel show, Docking Bay 94, that there’s no doubt that this may be the best time in history to be a science fiction fan. With social media and personal gadgetry completely changing the way that film companies market to and interact with their fans, it has opened the doors to opportunity not available to most of us even 10 years ago.
And that’s how I found myself in Hollywood on the afternoon of December 10th, at the world premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As a fervid costumed volunteer, my week had already been overextended; it would be the 9th of my attended events in 7 days, the other eight for charity and most at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. I’d submitted for and graciously received a pass to attend the screening through the Rebel Legion Star Wars hero costuming group, joining my fellow mates of Sunrider Base in the gallery on the red carpet. But I was a bit concerned that I’d be alert enough for such a tremendous event, fearing that I might even fall asleep during the film.
I’d worried for no reason. Flanked by the 501st Legion, Mandolorian Mercs, Saber Guild, R2 Builders Club and other fan groups, we were the rowdiest, most energetic crowd Disney could have assembled to cheer on the stars as they traversed the scarlet road to the Pantages Theatre for the screening. Several of my fangirl friends from our the Hospital visit that morning pressed against the barrier and, having dubbed themselves the “Rebel Girls”, lured celebrities to their side with their “squeeing” siren’s song, joyfully collecting Sharpie’d autographs on a bright orange Rebel Legion flag for future charity auction as we cheered and shook hands and took selfies with the notables. Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Mads Mikkelsen, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and more, including story writer Garry Whitta who was resplendent in a variety of Rebel gear, down to his underpants. Non-Star Wars fan favorites like Wil Wheaton, Nathan FIllion, Bill Nye, Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith and even Michael Douglas made the walk to enthusiastic applause.
Once the guests had passed the interview stand and entered the press gauntlet, we were led from our corral towards the theater, our badges also acting as assigned-seat tickets. To enter we had to file past the centerpiece, a massive full-scale production-used “Red 3” X-wing Starfighter brought in by its builders from England’s Pinewood Studios just for the event. Once past the ship we ducked under the Yavin VI Rebel temple arches and were hurried along the block-long tent, past security searches and cell-phone restraints to collect popcorn and drinks and take our seats.
The Pantages Theatre, a historic Art Deco palace built in 1930 and located at the legendary intersection of Hollywood and Vine, couldn’t have been a more opulent choice for the occasion. Former home of the Academy Awards, the 2700-seat space was built as a dual-purpose stage-and-screen venue to showcase live acts and first-run films; having –perhaps ironically for this event- closed to film projection mere months before 1977’s Star Wars opened, it has since operated almost entirely as a live venue for plays and musicals, so the state-of-the-art Dolby Atmos digital projection and sound system had to be brought in exclusively for the screening. But the gold façade was polished and glowing against the illuminated blue ceiling, the crowd abuzz with excitement, and all seats filled when the lights finally lowered. The Lucasfilm Ltd. logo twinkled past, and the black screen filled with that familiar blue phrase, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”
And then we held on for dear life on a ride that Did. Not. Let. Up.
I’m in a difficult position here; I don’t want to spoil this movie for you, the journey being the better part of it, but I want to tell you all about it. So to avoid spoilers, I think I just need to explain how I feel. Skip ahead if you just want the event description.
Non-Spoiler Review Below
Rogue One is great. I had hopes, but didn’t expect a lot from a film extracted from George Lucas’s original Star Wars opening crawl:
“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.”
That’s the synopsis pitched by John Knoll; simple. But creating the world around it, that’s what was incredible. If you don’t know the universe, it’s still an extraordinarily fun movie. If you know it well, it is a rich environment with references and easter eggs both subtle and blatant, superficial and deep. Excellent performances bring to life characters new and old and embue the film with a depth unexpected. The score by Michael Giaccino, cobbled together in a mere month’s time, reinforces these new adventures with his own style while assimilating John Williams exactly as needed. It was everything a Star Wars film should be, carefully crafted by fans of the universe, and obviously made as a love letter for the rest of us. And though different in tone and style from the numbered episodes in the saga, it is exactly the Star Wars film you didn’t know you needed, secretly always wanted, and are so glad to have. It has the character development of Star Wars: A New Hope, the ground battle action of Empire Strikes Back, and the space combat of Return of the Jedi while being different but equal to those entries. It’s an amazing thing to view, moving along maybe just a bit too quickly, but satisfying in its entirety when you catch your breath.
I’ve been a fan of Star Wars for 40 years. Before it even became “Episode IV” or “A New Hope”, Star Wars ruled my 10-year-old world, and has never let go its grip on my imagination. When Episode VII: The Force Awakens was released one year ago, my one criteria was that it “make me feel like a ten-year-old.” And it delivered, a great film with old and new heroes that really set the stage for the newly-launched Disney-led franchise. I saw The Force Awakens 9 times in just a few weeks, and thrilled to each viewing; I had “empirical” proof, if you will, that Star Wars was back and in capable hands.
And then there’s Rogue One. Essentially it’s “Episode III.V”, falling just before the original ’77 film in the timeline. It perfectly puts us back into the world of that film, the look, the equipment, the universe. It expands upon the first film while reinforcing it, maybe the best-plotted prequel film I’ve ever seen, and dovetails precisely with a story I’ve lived with for 40 years. And it didn’t just make me feel like a 10-year-old.
It somehow, magically and unexpectedly, astral-projected me back into my 10-year-old body.
There was an enthusiastic and unrelenting standing ovation throughout the credits. Embarrassingly, when the lights came up, I was a wreck, and in front of all my friends and celebrities. Not because of the events in the film but because of the emotional connection I felt with the past through it, far beyond simple nostalgia. I had tears down my face and had lost my voice, both physically from cheering and in an emotional inability to articulate my thoughts without breaking down. Not usually prone to this (and to the amusement of my friends) I finally managed to pull it together after about 15 minutes, just in time to return to public and the after party events.
End of Review
More intimate in comparison to 2015’s “Force Awakens” debut (and a bit less chaotic), the after party was a terrific affair, spanning the length of Vine St. from Hollywood Blvd. to the Capital Records building. In addition to the X-Wing (now a photo op) was a Nissan Star Wars Rogue SUV art-car display, and costumes from the film displayed in cases. Part A of the social mixer was at the Avalon Hollywood Theater, an open-floored music venue that featured food buffets and open bar, a DJ and dancing, virtual reality experiences, origami crafting and character photo-op experiences. Though enjoyable largely for mixing with the crowd, our group eventually relocated to Part B, the “VIP” party.
More our style, this one was in a clear-roofed tent in the parking lot next door, and featured quieter (and more classic) music and was a better personal interaction space. It was here, surrounding the centerpiece of a fan-built half-scale TIE Fighter ship, we could find our favorite guests and converse with them. Some of my conversations included Disney Head Bob Iger, Lucasfilm runner Kathleen Kennedy, Rebels showrunner Dave Filoni and Rogue One alumni Gareth Edwards (director), Gary Whitta (writer), John Knoll (Story and ILM head), Doug Chiang (production design), Alan Tudyk (K-2S0), Felicity Jones (Jyn), Donnie Yen (Chirrut) and Diego Luna (Cassian) among others. Attending guests Adam F. Goldberg, Kevin Smith, Fred Savage, Wil Wheaton and Geena Davis were also kind enough to chat. Sadly missing were James Earl Jones and Forest Whitaker, who I’d very much hoped to meet.
Our crew, pretty gregarious and having a blast, shut down the party as the last group shooed out amidst the growing chaos of disassembly. It’ll take a few days to strike the full red carpet, and for the film to properly open a few blocks away at Disney’s own El Capitan Theater and the TCL Chinese and nationwide; just enough time for me to catch my breath and get ready to go back.
Disney and Lucasfilm provided free entry to the event with no expectations. Thanks to Lucasfilm, Disney and the Pantages Theatre, who were so kind to invite and accommodate the Star Wars fan community to the red carpet, the screening and the afterparty. Special thanks to Ian “IronEdge” Cook, Commanding Officer of Sunrider Base for organizing our Rebels.
[Editor’s Note: There is a lot more video, and we’re going to update this article with that video as soon as we can get it all processed. Watch this space.]