"Who doesn't love Star Wars?" our Celebration emcee whooped from the stage this weekend, to an uproarious cheer from the cosplay-clad audience. The atmosphere was absolutely electric, and in every panel, hall, and discussion, the overwhelming adoration for the galaxy far, far away was palpable. But for many, the dark side of the fandom has cast a shadow over their love for the universe George Lucas built, and so many after him have expanded. That goes for everyday fans, media professionals, and cast members alike – just look at the bile aimed at Ahmed Best and Hayden Christensen back in the noughties, to the (completely unfair) criticism hurled at Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy today.
In fact, the toxic side of Star Wars is so prominent that it has a name: "the Fandom Menace," a play on The Phantom Menace. Today, debates over the Disney era – particularly The Last Jedi – are fiercely polarized. Obi-Wan Kenobi star Moses Ingram was the recipient of vile, racist abuse, as was John Boyega. Kelly Marie Tran walked away from an online presence thanks to hatred from certain Star Wars fans.
At Star Wars Celebration, though, the sheer joy and enthusiasm from everyone in attendance made it easy to forget that some people are so determined to make the galaxy a rigidly gatekept and unwelcoming space. Emcee DJ Elliot regularly reminded everyone that this was a place to make lifelong friends, sharing that he met his wife thanks to Star Wars. I was in the audience for a lot of panels, which meant I heard him urge people to turn to strangers and shake their hand or chat to them multiple times over the long weekend. When one fan called up on stage expressed his fear that he'd be made fun of for his (spot on) General Hux impression, DJ Elliot reminded him that he was among friends.
Then, in the actual panels themselves, every announcement and reveal was met with cheers so loud that it was enough to make your ears ring. Ahmed Best, who played Jar Jar Binks in the prequels and has been open about the awful abuse he suffered as a result, has just recently debuted in The Mandalorian season 3, episode 4 as his Jedi character Kelleran Beq, who saved Grogu from Order 66. When Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni talked about this moment, the crowd went wild, welcoming Best back to Star Wars with open arms.
The prequel renaissance is nothing particularly new, kicking into hyperdrive at last year's Star Wars Celebration when the first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi premiered for the audience. But the crowd was no less joyful this year at the show's retrospective panel. Christensen received such excitement that he flashed the audience a smile and a thumbs up; later, on the Live Stage, the crowd's reaction left him wiping a tear from his eye. For his part, Ewan McGregor is no less happy to have returned. "The Star Wars part of my life is back, and I have to say it feels really good," he told the audience. Director Deborah Chow also praised Moses Ingram, to loud applause.
After this year's Celebration, it's hard to doubt that the sequels will be looked back on with just as much fondness and devotion as the prequels are today. None of those fierce debates about the sequels' quality mattered when Kennedy revealed that Daisy Ridley is returning as Rey for a new film. As the actor took to the stage, the reaction was unanimous, happy screams. The same love could be felt in the Villains of the Sequel Trilogy panel, which featured Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis, and Ian McDiarmid. The audience clapped, cheered, and laughed all the way through, especially when Serkis joked about pitching a Snoke and Phasma series.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy reveals that REY will be rebuilding the Jedi Order in her movie! Daisy Ridley is here and the crowd has gone WILD #SWC2023 pic.twitter.com/7ayWJjGzdEApril 7, 2023
Overall, this weekend truly did live up to its name: it was a celebration of this incredible saga and all the different ways people love and experience it. I saw costumes of just about every character imaginable, across every era of Star Wars. Cosplayers dressed like Andor's Narkina 5 prisoners chanting "one way out!" abounded, even, at one moment, joined onstage by Cassian Andor himself when Diego Luna and showrunner Tony Gilroy came out for a photo. A similar thing happened when DJ Elliot brought all the Obi-Wan cosplayers in the room up onstage; in a surprise appearance, McGregor ran out to join his fellow Jedi, to their obvious delight.
A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one! Ewan McGregor takes to the stage early to join his fellow Obi-Wans #SWC2023 pic.twitter.com/fPmVOel8XYApril 9, 2023
I walked past people getting Star Wars tattoos, posing for photos with strangers, and embracing in tears after an emotional Bad Batch panel (RIP Tech). I'm not naive, of course: all I had to do was open Twitter for a reminder that the Fandom Menace is not so easily defeated, and I've personally been on the receiving end of hostility from these people more than once. But all weekend at Celebration there was nothing but joy, love, and unabashed geekery, and that is everything a fandom should be – after all, as our emcee reminded us, we're fans because we love Star Wars.
You can catch up on everything announced at Star Wars Celebration 2023 through the link. For everything else coming soon from the galaxy far, far away, check out our guide to all the upcoming Star Wars movies and Disney Plus TV shows.