Star Wars Celebration I: The Real Insiders’ Club

Celebration I logo

I am not a part of the tribe.

I have worked on every Star Wars Celebration since Celebration II, but no matter, I am not a member of the elite echelon of fans who traveled to Star Wars Celebration I in Colorado back in 1999. Not able to claim I had anything to do with the show at all, I do not possess even a nostalgic attendance badge.

At that time, before starting at Lucasfilm in 2001, I lived in rural Alaska, in a town with no roads into it from the outside world, and certainly no movie theater. As spring of 1999 drew near, budget dictated I choose between traveling to Las Vegas to meet my dear friends the Star Ladies and see Episode I with them, or traveling to Denver to attend the newly-minted Celebration festival.

I chose my girlfriends and the movie screenings — the trip was memorable and great fun — but subsequently I missed what has since been affectionately nicknamed the Woodstock of the Star Wars world.

It Never Rains But It Pours…
“It’s almost time for Episode I The Phantom Menace. Let’s throw a little party for Star Wars fans.”

One can imagine the words uttered in the halls of Lucasfilm, and in the corridors of the Official Star Wars Fan Club, then run by Dan Madsen of Colorado. Madsen wanted to bring fans together to celebrate the coming release of Episode I, and anticipation for the movie was at a fever pitch.

The movie might have been the most anticipated release of that time, but no one knew how many fans would travel to the Rocky Mountains in the western United States to celebrate together for three days. The Fan Club and Lucasfilm selected the Wings Over the Rockies Museum outside Denver, which featured old airplane hangars and lots of space.

What they believed would be lots of space…

It’s unknown for certain how many fans were there for those three days in May, but what is certain is that the number far exceeded expectations.

What also exceeded expectations, even more than the number of fans, was the deluge of rain.

Photo by Rhonda Brown

Photo by Rhonda Brown

The long, damp line winds through the parking lot at Celebration I. (Jon Leopold)

The long, damp line winds through the parking lot at Celebration I. (Jon Leopold)

Some called them the 50-Year Rains. Showers soaked the long lines of fans waiting to get in to the attractions. Rain dripped through the old hangers onto the exhibits and art displays, and licensees and artists alike scrambled to protect their wares. Fans shivered outside in the mud. It is reported that food, shelter, and port-a-potties were in short supply.

But the fans loved it.

“The convention set up was a little different since it was outdoors in tents,” says Rhonda Brown. “It had more of a State Fair-type feel to it but we adapted and found our way around. Although the weather during the convention was terribly dreary, cold and wet, the enthusiasm of everyone at the convention was far from it.

“It was especially fun to see Jake Lloyd playing with LEGO Star Wars toys,” Brown continues. “Jake was not yet as recognizable since the film hadn’t been released yet so my friend and I would chuckle when we saw him moving through the crowds. Jake would then walk up to someone with a Darth Vader shirt on and say ‘Darth Vader is cool.’”

'One of my favorite memories from Star Wars Celebration I was seeing all of the different fans in costume,' recalls Brown. 'Although I am a member of the 501st Legion now, I hadn't heard of them back then.' (Photo by Rhonda Brown)

\’One of my favorite memories from Star Wars Celebration I was seeing all of the different fans in costume,\’ recalls Brown. \’Although I am a member of the 501st Legion now, I hadn\’t heard of them back then.\’ (Photo by Rhonda Brown)

Years later, in the ranks of fans who travel to all the Celebrations worldwide, those who were at Celebration I share a special camaraderie, and carry their shared experience with a sense of pride. Other fans look up to them, and maybe secretly wish they could say that they were at Celebration I in the mud that May.

“Sure, there may have been long lines and bad weather, but that didn’t keep us from having a wonderful time,” concludes Brown. “We met a ton of new friends in those long lines. I haven’t missed a Star Wars Celebration since then and I don’t plan on ever missing one. It is truly one of the best fan experiences around.”

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