Being a fan at Fan Expo

Have you ever seen the movie Paul? Well, if you haven’t, it’s about a couple of sci-fi nerds who befriend an alien on the lam trying to escape the powers that be that control Area 51. It’s a fantastic homage to sci-fi replete with all sorts of clever references, particularly relating to Star Wars and Star Trek. In other words, this movie is very dear to my heart. The movie begins with our beloved geeks – ably, and probably aptly, portrayed by comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – at the San Diego Comic-Con, the grand-daddy of all conventions. This was my inspiration – I needed to explore my inner geek. I needed to go to a Comic Con.

Norman Reedus

Norman Reedus of the Walking Dead was certainly a big draw at FanExpo

Though there is a Toronto Comic Con, it is now outshone by a much, much bigger event – Fan Expo Canada. The interesting thing about Fan Expo Canada is that it is truly a free-for-all for the avid fan. Though there is certainly a big focus on comic and sci-fi fare, there are many attractions for the sports fan as well. So not only was there Norman Reedus, Laurie Holden, and Steven Yuen – the Walking Dead’s Daryl, Andrea, and Glenn – there was also hockey greats Joe Sakic, Gordie Howe, and Bobby Orr. Star Trek stars both old and new found themselves rubbing shoulders with Blue Jays Robbie Alomar, Paul Molitor and Tony Fernandez. FanExpo had everything for the geek and jock alike (ok if not jock, at least the sports nut). In truth, I have never been much of celebrity hunter or autograph seeker – never saw what the big fuss was about – but with all the attractions this was clearly the event for me. As such, I took a Friday off work, put on my Stormtrooper T-shirt, and made my way to FanExpo Canada.

The Convention Floor

I got to FanExpo right around 10AM when the doors were set to open. I hadn’t purchased tickets in advance and had no idea what to expect. I was fully prepared to miss out on it completely, as it sounded like there was quite the hype about the lineup of stars coming for the event. The ticket line looped through Olympic Park by the Rogers Centre and spiraled its way down the garage entrance into the Convention Centre. Though I may have covered as much as a mile in this winding line, it took a relatively pain-free hour to get to the ticket booths. The wait was made all the more bearable by the interesting people I got to talk to in line. One guy I spent most of my time chatting with was looking forward to heading to the Hulk Hogan”Uncensored” event that night – an up close and personal experience with the Hulkster.  Though it’s not what I would spend my money on, if you really are a Hulkamaniac,  I can see how it would be a big draw. As well, we were all fans there, and the nice thing about all the people there was that it didn’t matter what you were a fan of, people just enjoyed sharing with others this opportunity of expressing their fandom without judgement. In fact, the only thing you might’ve been judged on was your dedication as a fan. One young woman dressed up as Kaylee from Firefly noted to me that it didn’t matter who or what I showed up as, I just really should’ve made more of an effort than my basic Stormtrooper t-shirt. It was true, amongst the Batmans, Captain Americas, Lara Crofts, and Anime characters I’m unfamiliar with, I was decidedly underdressed.

The Emperor's Throne

The 501st stands guard

As my scheduled activities were later on in the day, my first order of business was just to wander the convention floor (or shall I say floors – Fan Expo took up pretty much the entire Convention Centre). As you might imagine, video game companies showed off the latest games, collectibles were stacked high among the endless rows of vendors, and comic book art exploded out of every corner of the place. Though fun to see, I was not in the market to buy anything (more due to a lack of space in my condo than any other reason).In the end, I found myself more interested in people costume watching and checking out some of the big props on display. One thing I absolutely loved was the omnipresence of the 501st Legion. As you can see on their website, the legion is an international club dedicated to celebrating the Star Wars universe, primarily through making authentic costumes. This focuses on stormtroopers and various other Star Wars universe soldiers, but they’ve developed costuming guidelines for just about every character in the movies (and books, I imagine). They had some cool displays (like the Emperor’s chair), an AT-ST, and various R2 droids roaming about. Any of them on their own was pretty cool; seeing a whole squadron of them march the halls was quite something. Beyond the Star Wars theme, the coolest of all cars were on display: the Batmobile (Tim Burton movies) and the original KITT from Knight Rider! After checking out the convention floor, it was on to my first appointment …

Batmobile

The Batmobile (from the Tim Burton films)

Celebrity Encounters

You may have noticed a heavy Star Wars theme to my recounting of the Fan Expo experience. I am truly a child of Star Wars. The original came out when I was a toddler, and as a child, I lived and breathed everything that was a long long time ago and in a galaxy far far away. As such, if I were to tell you that I actually spent money (and yes, it was a little more than 20$) to have a photo-op with a celebrity, you would guess correctly that it was someone from Star Wars. But who? Though there is photographic evidence below, you may not be sure who my Star Wars idol. Clearly it’s not Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill, neither is it Carrie Fisher or James Earl Jones. No, the celebrity appearance that cinched my attendance at Fan Expo was none other than Ian McDiarmid … the Emperor. Though it is Darth Vader that finds himself ranked third on the American Film Institute’s list of greatest movie villains, I always had a soft spot (or perhaps dark spot) in my heart for the Emperor. In the end, Vader shows remorse, he is redeemed. The Emperor is evil incarnate to the end, and McDiarmid’s portrayal is exquisitely diabolical. Though the photo is great, the encounter as you imagine was short lived. I believe I got to ask him how his day was, but that waspretty much it. Thankfully I got to hear more from him during the Q&A.

The Emperor

Me and the Emperor – just chillin’

Besides the Emperor, I also got to meet another personal favourite – Rudy Ruettiger. Reuttiger is of course the real life inspiration for the movie “Rudy”, which always struck a chord with me. It’s about the little guy who for one shining moment got his own football glory on the field for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. As a university student, I remember much bigger guys referring to me as Rudy on the rugby field and basketball court (none of my own doing – I swear, it was just my stature and hustle). I actually look a little like Sean Astin who portrayed Rudy in the movie; the real Rudy, not so much. Anyway, my encounter with Rudy was a little longer than that with the Emperor. Besides getting his autograph on my Rudy DVD case, I chatted with him briefly about the current state of Notre Dame football, and my own experiences playing rugby and football. Though I grant the experience was made a little awkward by the woman asking for the 40$ payment for the autograph, it was nonetheless an worthwhile experience. Also, the photo I got with him was quite a bonus – he wasn’t too busy when I came by so he was able to take the moment to have the photo taken. Though I’m generally not an autograph-hunter, the DVD and the photo will definitely be great personal keepsakes.

Rudy

Rudy Ruettiger (and me)

The Q&A Sessions

Throughout the day there are Q&A sessions with the various celebrity guests of the expo. Some of the best of course are saved for the end of the day. That is when I headed downstairs to one of the larger convention rooms where the final lineup was to comprise George Takei and Nichelle Nichols – Sulu and Uhura from the original Star Trek – and of course, Emperor McDiarmid. Not wanting to miss George Takei, who I figured might be the biggest draw, I headed down a little early. When I got down to the room a good half hour or more before Takei was to take the stage, the usher noted to me that I was welcome to go in and take in the current guest … David Hasselhoff. To my complete surprise, the Hoff was very genuine, charming, and quite entertaining. When asked about the famous Cronut Burger at the CNE, he was humbly self-deprecating noting that burgers had gotten him in trouble in the past. As well, after a little egging on, he rolled off a couple of verses of “Springtime for Hitler” from Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” (he played Roger Debris in its Las Vegas run). What was most endearing about him was that he was genuinely thankful for everything that his life in showbiz had afforded him. One of his more engaging stories was his recounting of using his celebrity to allow him to “see the people” in South Africa (an earlier retelling of the story is available here).  On a lighter note, he was also thankful to have gotten the opportunity to being a part of the Spongebob movie, and Piranha 3DD. Yes, that was the Hoff.

The Q&A Sessions

Hasselhoff, Takei, McDiarmid (note McDiarmid’s security detail)

George Takei followed Hasselhoff and was equally entertaining. As I had a question ready for George early on, one of the facilitators roving the crowd with a microphone motioned for me to join him to await my chance. George, taking charge himself, proceeded to select people in the first few rows that were within earshot. These questions led to interesting stories regarding his past convention experiences and his opportunity to take part of NASA history. Throughout, I crouched down in the aisle (so as to not block the view of the people in my vicinity), and awaited my chance. Finally, the host declared they had time for one more question. At this point, I now had mic in hand … and it was on. I took my chance and announced, “as I have a microphone, I think I’m getting the last question.” Though there were a handful of disappointed looks turned my way, it appeared that no one was going to challenge my claim to the honour of the final question. I proceeded with my question: ”George, I have to admit, when I log in to Facebook, half of my newsfeed is made up of George Takei posts that my friends have shared with the world … I was wondering, what got you started on your way to becoming the King of Facebook?” Even before George’s response, it was clear that I had asked a good question; after both my initial statement, and my question declaring George the King, there was applause and roars of approval from the crowd. After things settled, George actually had an interesting story to tell. Earlier on in the Q&A he had noted that over the last few years he’d been driving the development of a musical about the Japanese American internment during World War II – its plot is inspired by his own personal experiences. Clearly the project was a labour of love and he is determined to get it to Broadway. How would he do that? The plan was to boost his social media presence and get the word out about the show. As such, he started posting more, using the humorous memes, and the topical fare with his own commentary. As he himself explained, this let him expand his fan base beyond the trekkies to a whole host of new followers of all ages and stripes. Great story – though through this process, I must admit I hadn’t heard of his musical … but I have now! It’s called Allegiance and it opened to rave reviews in San Diego last year. Touché George, well done.

Rebel Scum!

On the lookout for Rebel Scum!

After George came Nichelle Nichols (the original Uhura). Though she did have some inspiring words, and interesting stories as she recounted her journey to becoming one of the first female African American stars on television, I have to admit, I was really now just waiting for the Emperor. It was well worth the wait. Prior to his arrival, the buzz grew as the 501st legion entered the hall. A squad of Stormtroopers and Imperial Guards set post in front of the stage to act as McDiarmid’s security detail, while a handful of troops roamed the aisles (conceivably looking out for rebel scum). Though I don’t see myself joining the 501st anytime soon, seeing the spectacle that they made at this event certainly made me understand the draw of enjoying such a hobby. With the stage set, McDiarmid came on and charmed the audience. Using the eloquence one might expect from a Shakespearean actor, McDiarmid recounted his story of getting the part as the Emperor. It turns out, they did originally cast a much older actor for the part, but McDiarmid was chosen to step in, as the older fellow would not sign on to play the Emperor due to health concerns over having to wear the yellow contact lenses required for the role. McDiarmid who was only 38 at the time, was cast based on his performance of an aging Howard Hughes in a production in London. Being so young when playing the decrepit Emperor allowed for the odd turn of events of then getting to play the younger version of the character – Senator Palpatine – in the prequel trilogy when he was in fifties and early sixties. Among other notable remarks, when McDiarmid was asked about his favourite scene from the movies, he chose the scene in the opera house in Revenge of the Sith, where he is finally able to turn Anakin to the dark side.  All in all, McDiarmid was very entertaining – even doing the Emperor’s voice upon request. A great way to end my Fan Expo experience.

So, would I go again? I think so. As I mentioned, I am rarely an autograph or celebrity seeker, but there was definitely something to exploring your fandom – your inner geek, shall we say – with other people doing the same. Only trick now – got to figure out a costume for next year!