One man’s harrowing journey at Star Wars Celebration fraught with dangerous twists and unexpected turns – enough to test any human’s will, grit, and resolve. He made it out alive… but only barely.
Let me be clear. It wasn’t the longest line at Celebration. Not by a long-shot. The 40 year and the Last Jedi panel lines had people lining up and camping out a day in advance. No, it wasn’t the longest line…it was just the most ridiculous.
It was the line to the show store. The gift shop. The place where you go to buy trinkets and t-shirts. And it was FIVE FREAKING HOURS LONG.
I, like most people, are subject to wanting to commemorate my time at events with a t-shirt. Call me ‘basic’ all you want for that. I’m a sucker for any t-shirt that has the event name and dates on it. But why is that? Well, for me, it’s about community. I look forward to opening night of the ‘Last Jedi’ in December wearing my Celebration shirt to the theater and hopefully running into a few other super fans that excitedly point to me and say ‘I WAS THERE TOO!!!’. Usually, this is followed by a camaraderie where each person takes turns relaying their favorite parts of the Con. But I have a sinking feeling it won’t be like that this time. Most likely we’ll notice each other’s shirt, make shameful eye contact, and just ‘know’. Knowing what the other went through to get that shirt. Knowing that they wasted a majority of their day at the Celebration in line. Knowing that shared feeling of finishing paying for the goods, walking back out into the convention floor and thinking to yourself… “What the hell just happened?”.
I’m completely aware that this is my own doing. I could have dropped out of line at any point. I could have said ’screw it’ and left. But I didn’t. Neither did anyone else in line. We all stayed. Why? For me, I believe there was a tipping point after about the first hour or two. When my feet started barking and my back started hurting. When my fellow queue-mates went from that peppy ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE WE’RE AT STAR WARS CELEBRATION’ to a more dejected and defeated look. For me, it was about defeating the line. It was about not letting it beat me. Sure, at points I felt like Luke telling Yoda he wants the impossible. But then I remember what happens just before that in Empire. The ‘do or do not’ line. Master Yoda gave me strength and I pushed through… if only to prove I could do it. Well, and to get some pretty rad stuff too.
So I pushed through. I put in my headphones and started listening to music. Then an audiobook. Then play the alpha of an iPhone game I’m working on (Alex, I’m coming for your high score). When I looked up and figured that I had about another 3 hours in line, I realized could totally bust out some work. So I sent some emails, knocked down my inbox from 134 emails to 23, hired an illustrator for a project, had a call with said illustrator to catch him up on the project, and moved forward on some side-project work too. So it wasn’t a total loss, but that’s not why I was at Celebration. That’s not why most in those lines were at Celebration. They wanted to experience what the entire Con had to offer. Luckily for me, I had a 4-day pass and had already seen the booths and my only panel for the day wasn’t until much later (even though I ended up almost not making it because of the lines).
One of the biggest problems in the line was the lack of food and water. Being stuck in a line for that long, any rations I had beforehand – a water bottle and trail mix – were depleted in the first 3 hours. Not to mention if you had to go the bathroom. In fact, I did see a few people pop out of line, head to the restroom and hop back in… but a majority did not. At least in amusement park lines (which are hardly ever 5 hours long), they usually have vending machines and entertainment to keep you going and your spirits up. Not here. Just insanely spotty wifi and a line that progressed a few people ever 20 minutes or so.
The upside to being in line that long is the conversations you inadvertently start with the people around you. Maybe someone tries to cut and everyone around you groans, a brave soul even muttering something passive aggressive out loud. Looking up, you give a nod in agreement. Then the line traffic cop makes an announcement that the item that everyone wanted, in this case the ‘Last Jedi’ t-shirt is out of stock, and you look back to them and make some snide comment about the lack of organization here… and you’re in. You exchange pleasantries and engage in small talk. You find out where they’re from, what they’re looking to purchase, and so-on and so-forth. By the end of the line, you feel like you’ve been friends with Mike and Karen for years. Karen, if you’re reading this, I hope everything worked out with your boss – She shouldn’t have overstepped her authority like that.
4 hours later, I got through. I made it. The sad part? It really felt like I had accomplished something. People were throwing their hands up in the air and cheering when they finally were let in. To the store. To purchase things. It felt like Black-Friday, but without the deals. So I shuffle in (they let about 20-25 people in at a time), and start to look for the items I wanted to buy. I saw a screen-printer setup inside making custom shirts – you pick the color and design. So, I got in ANOTHER line and waited another 30 min. This line I was OK with… I love the idea of having something you can only get during the weekend that not a ton of other people will have. Apart from that, there were a few things that I saw on the store page online. A BB-8 Orange shirt and patch (which both were sold out, of course), the Celebration shirt, and the 40th-anniversary shirt. From there, I pick up a few smaller items and push ahead towards the door marked ‘Checkout’.
Cool. Another line.
As I round the corner, there is ANOTHER LINE that an employee said was about an hour long. Talk about a sense of defeat. Here I was, thinking I can conquer the summit only to get to the top and realize there’s still a mountain to go. So I hop in ANOTHER LINE and wait. This time holding a bunch of shirts and items. There are 20 checkout lines, all moving incredibly slow. My suspicion there is that because they had the show-exclusive pins and lanyards behind every counter, and everyone pretty much wanted them, it slowed the flow down a ton. This is because someone would roll up, set their stuff down, and then talk to the checkout clerk for another 2-3 minutes about the pins and what the options were. Compound that by the 400 people in front of you, and that leads to some serious extra time.
By this point, I was so hungry I wasn’t seeing straight. I think my blood sugar was so low, as was my morale, that I wasn’t really seeing straight. I could only dream of the crappy Papa Johns ready-made personal pan pizza I was going to head to directly after I made it through the gauntlet. It’s what got me through the final line. The final boss. Thank you, Papa, for that.
I made it to the counter and set all of my stuff down as the clerk started to scan my items. He was entirely pleasant and chipper, something that had left my capabilities hours ago. He asked me how I was doing, and as much as I didn’t want to burden him with something he had little control over, all I could mutter back was ‘exhausted’. He checked me out and said ‘Have a great day’, and I half-heartedly said ‘you too’. Not because I didn’t want him to have a good day, but because It was all I had left in me.
As I walked out of the door, I felt a feeling I couldn’t describe. Simultaneous joy, concern, depression, and hunger. I darted to the food court and, believe it or not, hopped into ANOTHER. DAMN. LINE. Thankfully this one was only 5 min. I got my food and devoured it. I check my watch and realized it was almost 4 pm and my 4:30 pm panel was starting soon and I had a ways to walk. Then I thought to myself, ‘Huh, 4:00 pm? I got in the store line at about 10:45 am – that’s over 5 hours’.
Was it worth it? Honestly, probably not. I’m glad I got the stuff I got, but the cost was so high. For those in line with me that had ‘Saturday Only’ badges, they most likely wasted most of their Con in a line. I’m not writing this to simply complain and that’s it. I really want to highlight some of the problems so Reed Pop can hopefully do something fix them. I’ve been to other Reed Pop events and they weren’t nearly as unorganized. Both New York Comic Con and C2E2 were like well-oiled machines compared to this. Even some of the line-volunteers were saying it was nuts. So if you’re reading this Reed Pop, please fix the long waits for the stores. Create additional stores throughout the space. Allow people to order online and do a will-call pickup. At the very least offer food and water and a way to go to the restroom. Add vending machines or allow food vendors to set up next to the line. Find a way so people can sit for a bit without having to bring their own chairs (the ground is not an option when you may move forward so randomly). In fact, I may print some shirts that say ‘I survived the Star Wars Celebration store line of 2017’. Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait in line for it.
If they don’t, however, make any changes to how they handle the lines at future events… I have devised a few ways to make the experience more bearable for me. Please see below the drawing.
I had an absolute blast at Star Wars Celebration. It was so amazing to be around so many other people who love the same thing as you. To get to watch the ‘Last Jedi’ trailer with thousands of other fans cheering is amazing. To be in the same room as the cast of one of your favorite stories, incredible. Don’t let this story make you think the lines diminished the magic of the weekend. Nothing could have. To see Mark Hamill’s tribute to Carrie Fisher will always hold a special place in my heart. Warwick Davis almost ran into me on a Segway within the first 5 minutes of being at the Convention Center. If you get the chance to go to Celebration. Go. Just be careful when hopping into a line. Any line.