How Star Wars Celebration Europe Prioritized Fans Over Media

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Still 18 Kylo Ren - H 2015
Courtesy of Lucasfilms 2015/Walt Disney Studios
Was the low-news output from the three-day 'Star Wars' fan event a good thing for fandom?

Those who hoped that this past weekend's Star Wars Celebration Europe would be the place to learn details about this winter's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or next year's Star Wars: Episode VIII were likely disappointed by what was revealed at the three-day London event, which focused on vague teases in place of specifics — loose-lipped actors aside. But is that misunderstanding what the Celebration is all about?

Sure enough, of the many things fans were anticipating from the gathering, it's striking how little actually appeared: Although audiences in attendance saw the new Rogue One trailer, it was held back from the online live stream in favor of a third screening of the "Celebration Reel"; no footage from Star Wars: Episode VIII was released; and neither was the title of the movie revealed, despite expectations from those who remembered the Force Awakens title announcement coming at the end of that movie's shoot, knowing that Episode VIII is also wrapped on initial shooting.

That's not to say that there was no new information released for the faithful. Followers of the now-invalidated Expanded Universe got the news that fan-favorite villain General Thrawn will be showing up in Disney XD's Star Wars: Rebels, and it was revealed that Episode VIII will be the first installment not to jump forward in time from its predecessor, while Rogue One might be the first Star Wars movie to lack an opening-text crawl.

However, the most revelatory statements both came from actors accidentally leaking things that filmmakers would almost certainly have wanted to keep under wraps. Rogue One's Jiang Wen seemed to disclose the death of one of the movie's characters during that movie's Friday panel, while Carrie Fisher quickly tried to cover a reference to "Han's funeral" in response to a question about next year's Episode VIII — although whether that was a suggestion that such a scene is in the movie or takes place offscreen is unclear.

The news-light format of Celebration Europe was something that pointed towards a larger conversation about conventions and events in general — who, or what, are they supposed to serve? Celebration lived up to its name: By focusing on minutiae of the mythology, interaction with the fanbase and shifting attention away from major announcements, the event was indeed a recognition of the relationship fans have with the franchise as a whole.

Arguably on the other side of the spectrum is something like this week's San Diego Comic-Con, which lacks the narrow focus of subject matter and, for filmmakers at least, the intent of the big Hall H panels. There, new footage is shown, announcements are made and news is broken on a regular basis, with an emphasis not on interaction with fans per se, but instead on generating attention, interest and buzz for a project — not only because the media is paying attention (the same could be said of Star Wars Celebration Europe, after all), but also because there are so many more potential audience members there, ready to be convinced.

It's easy to feel let down that Celebration Europe didn't offer everyone a new thrill every day, whether or not they happened to be attending — as Comic-Con manages, year after year — but that simply might be missing the point of what the event was created for. Star Wars Celebration Europe, and the annual Star Wars Celebration events in general, are appreciations for those who have already invested time, energy and, of course, money, into the franchise more than they are an invitation to invest even further. As much as people may have wanted more of the latter from this event, perhaps it would be better if pop culture in general had more of the former.