Jedi- Con 2001 Cologne

©Maikel Das 2001

During the Easter holiday April 13th ? 15th the long anticipated Jedi-Con 2001 took place in Cologne, Germany. With 1200 attendees it was sold out in advance and the biggest Star Wars Convention in Germany so far. People without tickets even tried to bribe the organizers to let them in, but to no avail.
Compared to the chaotic Jedi-Con '97 in Munich, much more considerations and thorough planning went into the preparations of this event. And that paid off. A perfect con doesnít exist of course. The key to success is, trying to hide inner troubles and mishap from the audience, create a positive atmosphere and let the people have a good time. This worked out just fine. Even most of the shows and panels were on schedule! This was one of the few cons, where you could rely on the program booklet until the end.

Invited stars were Warwick Davis (Wicket and other Ep.I characters), Michael Sheard (Admiral Ozzel), Jerome Blake (Rune Haako and other Ep.I aliens) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett). He was already invited for the '97 Jedi-Con, but had to cancel his attendance. This time he could make it. Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) was invited only ten days before the con and was introduced as a surprise guest. Don Bies (Artoo operator) represented ILM and their activities and Steve Sansweet was the Lucasfilm representative and Star Wars expert. The big question mark was, will Rick McCallum make it to the con? He was announced as the main guest star in the ads and program, but due to the element of uncertainty that the job of the Episode II producer brings with it, his attendance couldnít be promised.

Located in the basement were the information, crew center, refreshment & snack bar and the Decipher booth. Here you could learn how to play the "Young Jedi" CCG. Down the hall were the tables for the guest stars, where they sold and signed their photos. "The Emperorís Hand" online club presented their activities and offered the chance to play various LucasArts PC games for free. A cluster of young, male teenagers always surrounded the computers. The entrance of the so-called "Whills Festival Hall", the main stage, was also located in the basement. Upstairs were the dealerís tables and the "Sith Area" with the B-stage. Here the videos and guest panels were presented. Next to the "Sith Area" was the "Naboo Art Gallery" with fan- and semi-professional Star Wars art.

The first panel I attended was the one held by Don Bies. He presented the official video with SFX highlights from ILM and the "bad Artoo karmaî, a reel with R2 bloopers. Even after nearly 25 years of experience and technical progress, an astromech still doesnít work. The video showed all kinds of falling, tripping, bumping and malfunctioning Artoo units and amused actors, annoyed crewmembers and a fatalistic George Lucas.

Instead of Jerome Blake, who arrived later, Peter Mayhew took over his panel. I guess the most frequent question Peter gets ask nowadays is about the "death" of Chewbacca. He was in England, when the novel Vector Prime came out. A radio station got it all wrong and broadcast the death of Peter Mayhew. That caused some irritation. All his friends and family called and asked him, if everything is all right. And he didnít know what was going on. In the Redwoods, Oregon during the shooting of ROTJ, Peter Mayhew wasn't allowed to leave the set in costume. The crew was afraid that a trigger-happy hunter might misjudge him as Big Foot and shoot him.

The official start of the Jedi-Con was given with the opening show in the evening. In a computer-animated film Boba Fett has to defend himself against IG-88 and Tie Fighters. Although he defeats his opponents, Han Solo in carbonite is lost on a planet. This leads to a life action film with Boba Fett searching for his frozen trophy. In a shoot out with an imperial unit, the action then continues on stage and climax in a light saber fight with Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul. Okay, donít ask for the inner logic. This is only a fan-made show to entertain the con audience. And this was well done with convincing SFX, excellent costumes and tumultuous action.
After the show the guest stars were introduced one by one. They gave the audience brief previews what to expect in the days to come.
The Belgian Mark Dermul left quite an impression as a singing Jedi during the last con in Munich. This time he was "promotedî to co-moderator. He finished the show with another musical performance.

Steve Sansweet started his panel right after the opening ceremony. He showed Episode II "making of" films originally released at Interviews with Joel Edgerton and Bonnie Piesse, the new Owen and Beru Lars. Ahmed Best bugged his actor colleagues and George Lucas, waiting in line during a lunch break, with his anarchic interviews.

Roomparties during cons are an old tradition. Already before the con we (our local SW group) agreed upon celebrating two birthdays in the hotel. I know my fandom buddies. Theyíre a little bit "tame". Therefore I donated the alcohol to loosen the mood. But getting up early at 4.00 a.m. and the busy day had fed me up. What an outcry of disbelieves and shocks among my friends... Me, fandom-boozer No.1 was chicken out of the party and went to bed early. The party went on without meÖ Now Iím getting old.

The next day, fully recovered again, I joined the discussion about the history and current situation of the German SW fandom. That was something I didn't want to miss.
The auction, hosted by Steve Sansweet, was another program I had to participate. My pockets were full of valid currency. Just in case. You never know whom you have to yell at and outbid. But those things I was interested in reached a price even I wasnít willing to pay. A photoset with 5 signed pictures from the Episode II crew, including George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Don Bies and two others I forgot was sold for DM 550,-. A limited Skywalker leatherjacket from Steveís collection was sold, after a bitter fight, for DM 1500,-! It became a running gag that each time the buyer was seen, proudly wearing his new jacket, everybody asked him what he paid for or made snippy comments. But nobody was willing to spend DM 1000,- for two tiny pieces of plastic from the original Death Star. They remained in Steveís collection and went back to California. Compared to those prices, a signed photo from George Lucas & Steven Spielberg sold for DM 180,- was a real bargain. This rarely happens to me, but I didn't buy an item and left with my pockets still full of money.

At the same time when the con took place, the pay-TV channel "Premiere" was on a Star Wars promotion tour. They were promoting the first German TV broadcast of Episode I and the Special Edition. Premiere had a half size AT-AT displayed in front of the Cologne Cathedral and gave away a lot of freebees. A "con-delegation" in costumes marched to the cathedral. That caused quite a stir and the TV-folks were surely happy for all the extra attention and free PR.

In Don Bies second panel he summarized the history of Artoo, inclusive a short outlook of Episode II, without giving anything away from the plot of course. He presented some pictures of his youth and career as a model-maker, when he build his first R2 and worked his way up toward an ILM pro.

The following costume contest was organized and hosted by my friend Arnd Riedel. I was shanghaied to sum up the points of the participants. This guaranteed me at least a place in the first row. Not only during the contest, but also throughout the whole con some really nice costumes were presented.

The man everybody was waiting for made it ? Rick McCallum. He arrived from London, where the additional shooting of Episode II just had been wrapped up. Instead of flying straight back to California, he made a stop in Cologne visiting the Jedi-Con. The hall was crowded with people. The tragedy was, I had to present at the same time Jeff Ciolettiís documentation Millenniumís End - The Fandom Menace. When it was time for me to leave, I stormed out of the "Whills Festival Hall", introduced and presented the video on the nearly deserted B-stage and stormed back to the panel. Therefore the first German presentation of this excellent documentation went on nearly unnoticed. You canít win against Rick McCallum. Sorry, Jeff!
Right away, Rick McCallum said, he wonít tell anything about the plot of Episode II or Star Wars on DVD. First question: What about Star Wars on DVD? Thereíre always morons at cons, whoíre eager to make fools out of themselves. Anyway, Lucasfilm is working on an Episode I DVD release, but no schedule for the classic trilogy yet. And yes, Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) will have a fight scene in Episode II. All other questions regarding the next film, were put off with remarks like "We'll see" or "Be patient".
When asked, why George Lucas is always wearing lumberman shirts, Rick McCallum answered that thereís no electricity in California. So, they always send out George to cut some wood. Another question asked was, if such a stupid, physical thing like Midi-Chlorians can be forgotten and we return to the great, spiritual thing of the Force? Rickís simple answer was a "Uh, no"... What else can he say? Thatís something George has messed up.
After the panel, Rick McCallum signed for hours until everybody was served. This was the only opportunity someone had the chance to get an autograph, because he had to move on the next day.
The "One World" petition was also handed over to him.  Itís the attempt of fans to release Episode II at the same time all over the world. In todayís globalize world waiting half a year after a movie has been released in the US is so annoying. Spoiler? Donít make me laugh! Until we get the movies, everything is yesterday news. But this isn't a problem of Lucasfilm, as Rick McCallum explained, these are local problems. Lucasfilm ask national distributors when they want to release their films. What's considered a perfect timing can be very different from country to country. Thereíre severe technical and logistic problems. A film is often finished only a few weeks before the US release. It has to be dubbed and re-mixed in how many languages? Maybe 20? Prints have to be made. For the whole world on one release date? I guess, this is a nearly impossible task. It might become a realistic goal, when films are made and distributed entirely digital. Until then, we Europeans and the rest of the world are getting outdated stuff.

The highlight of the convention was the Star Wars concert with the Metropolis Filmorchester from Aachen. Before the con I was wary, if the orchestra is professional enough to tackle something so complex like a John Williams score and if you can get hundreds of fandom geeks listen patiently to a classic concert? But my fears were in vain. In contrary, it was marvelous!
Various chapters from the "Journal of the Whills" were read, narrating the history of the Star Wars saga. The orchestra played the theme to each chapter, while filmclips in the background visualized the scene. The sound was very good, the lightshow atmospheric, the narrator was a trained theater actor, the 80 people strong orchestra was well prepared and highly professional. Fans and guest stars were equally impressed with this brilliant performance.
And by the way: Iíve been at Punk concerts standing in the first row, Iíve been in folk concerts with poetry reading, but this was my very first classic concert!

Most traders only sold toys or merchandise. That crap doesn't interest me anymore. I only bought an old Cinefantastique and a ROTJ Yoda patch for my Star Wars jump suit. Nothing else. So, if I didn't spend my money on collectibles or merchandise, on what did I spend my money? Booze! I promised my folks to buy them a drink, because I deserted the party and also to celebrate my big 2001 anniversary: 25 years of collecting comics and 20 active years in the fandom! Is there is a better place than a Jedi-Con to toast such an event? I invited everybody to the hotel bar. The prices made me winch. Why must I always be such a loudmouth? My buddy Alex saved my butt and shared the cost. Still, I spend most of my money in this bar and not at the con. Nevertheless, it was a perfect fade in with cocktails and live Jazz music after an exciting day.

On the last day, I attended a few more guest panels.
I didnít know that Jeremy Bulloch have gathered quite an impressive Boba Fett collection. He presented a TV documentation showing him at home among his collectibles.
Warwick Davis gave us the hilarious "Return of the Ewok" film that assistant director David Tomblin made with his 16mm camera during the shooting of ROTJ (see SW Insider #46 for details). That rare and raw gem is a must see for every SW fan!
Before Jerome Blake shifted his career toward acting, he was a musician.  The audience persuaded him to sing a song. So, he sang a Sarah Vaughn tune. He also imitated Luc Besson (Jerome Blake played a Mondoshawan in the Fifth Element) and George Lucas to point out the different styles of directing.

The con ended with the closing ceremony that didnít worked out as planned. But as I said before, a perfect con doesnít exist. And this was only a minor flaw compared to an otherwise well organized con with a spectacular program. Also the guest stars were quite impressed with the Jedi-Con and even considered it THE best con ever in their farewell speech. Okay, of course theyíve to say some nice words at the end and it doesn't matter, if it was THE best, among the best or whatever. It was exciting, we had a great time and you all can kick your butt that you missed it!
See you in May 2002 at the Star Wars Celebration #2, wherever it will take place!

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