There’s a Party Goin’ On: Talking with David Collins, Star Wars Celebration Host

The veteran host reflects on Celebrations past and looks forward to his Galaxy Stage duties in London.

As a well-established and highly regarded voice actor and sound designer, David Collins has left his mark on Star Wars in numerous ways. In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, he provided the voice of the homicidal droid, PROXY. As a sound designer, he worked on classic Star Wars video games like Star Wars: Battlefront II, Star Wars: Republic Commando, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. And for nearly a decade, Collins has been a staple of Star Wars Celebration. In two days, he will host the Galaxy Stage at Star Wars Celebration London and once again give fans a behind-the-scenes look at the Star Wars galaxy. In advance of this, spoke with Collins about what it means to be a Celebration stage host and all things Star Wars Celebration. How did you get started with being a Celebration host?

David Collins: [Laughs] I think the best way to do this is to go back to the very beginning. Right out of college I applied for an internship at Skywalker Sound and was accepted. I worked there for about a year on the scoring stage before a sound assistant position opened up at LucasArts, and I jumped at it and was hired. And I ended up working at LucasArts as a sound designer and dialogue editor for a lot of video games from about 2002 to about 2004, and by the time 2003 and 2004 rolled around, I was leading the audio on a project called Star Wars: Republic Commando. I was just really passionate about it, and the nature of doing sound work and, especially in video game where you’re not going to a set, you’re very much in a soundproof room cutting explosions and things like that. So I was just getting an itch — having a theater background and loving Star Wars — to get out there and just represent our games and see what was going on. So there was a call on the Republic Commando team to volunteer at E3 and I said, “I’d love to volunteer. In fact, if you guys ever need help demoing, please let me know.” And they said if I wanted to give it a shot they’re actually doing a thing called a demo derby, which is when producers and people get out in front of all of the executives at the company and basically get coached on how to play the game. It’s sitting at a kiosk, basically, to talk to press and buyers and gaming press and cameras, things like that. So I did it, and I did that in 2004, and I demoed every year around the world after that just because I loved it, you know? It led to E3 and Comic-Con and events in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, London, France, and I just went all over the place. And I had a ton of fun because I was a part of the development team, which made it fun to talk to crowds, and also just because I loved it.

So Mary [Franklin] and I were kind of working together, and I was getting to know people at Lucasfilm more and more. And at that time, we were still very much working on different things. It’s not like it is now where everyone is really, really tightly knit and working together, it was still kind of a different company. And so at one point I made a comment to Mary and said, “If you ever need a host at Star Wars Celebration, then I would love to do that,” and to my surprise she said, “Well, actually, I would love to have you as a host.” This was partially because I ended up hosting a stage at Star Wars Celebration III for the Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith video game, and we had a little stage on the side of the LucasArts booth. I would end up doing a demo almost every hour to a big crowd because there was movie footage in the game, and… You know, I know this is a really long-winded and rambling answer but… [Laughs] I just was demoing for the company, I was very passionate about talking about it, and when I first went to Celebration and saw the fans’ reactions to the stuff we were working on every day, I mean that just ended up being an incredibly meaningful experience for me and ended up putting the work I was doing at LucasArts into perspective. Especially when you see fans in costumes or kids dressed or people just being really passionate about what you’re doing. It reconnected me to what I loved about Star Wars and made a lot of hard work and long hours — which I happily volunteered to do — it made it worth it. So I really started as a host in 2007 and they kept calling me, and I always expressed interest and always hoped that I’d be asked back, and I’ve been asked back pretty much every time since. So it’s just really been wonderful because I started in 2007. It’s 2016, so after Celebration London, next year will be 10 years as a stage host!

Pablo Hidalgo, Dave Filoni, and David Collins

The “Untold Clone Wars” panel from Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, featuring Pablo Hidalgo and Dave Filoni. So since you started hosting in 2007, how do you think Star Wars Celebration has evolved over that time?

David Collins: Celebration has evolved in a lot of ways. First of all, there is so much content now. There’s a movie every year, there’s a TV show, there are video games. There’s multiple TV shows actually! [Laughs] I’ve got a panel in London for [LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures], and there’s just so much content with the comic books and the novels, and it’s really on fire right now. So it’s become incredibly busy. Not that there was just filler before, but there were relatively quiet years.

I remember in 2007 I was told, “Hey we want you to go meet with Dave Filoni,” and I said, “Oh, who’s Dave Filoni?” [Laughs] Because at the time I didn’t know who he was, and nobody knew who he was in Star Wars. So I went up to Big Rock Ranch and I met with Dave and the producer at the time, Katherine Windor, and we were going to do a sneak peek panel of this new series coming out called Star Wars: The Clone Wars. And this was before they even had footage that they were willing to show. So we were going to look at the maquettes, we were going to look at the drawings, we were going to talk about art style. But at the very, very last minute George Lucas approved a trailer to be shown, and I remember being there as [the trailer] was shown and the place went absolutely nuts. I remember it so well. And I remember going to rehearsal and walking with Dave and Katherine before those panels at Celebration, and by the end of the weekend he just was being stopped everywhere and being asked for autographs and selfies. It was like watching the genesis for George’s Padawan, Dave Filoni, right there in front of me. And I really feel like The Clone Wars and some of the games were really the central focus for a lot of those Celebrations, and now Star Wars Rebels is a huge focus. But [The Clone Wars] really was kind of a template for big events, it was kind of a trailblazer in that way. And now you’ve got Rebels and you’ve got movies [at Celebration], like the Rogue One panel we’ve got coming up, and it just feels huge! And I think that one of the nice things about Celebration is that it still feels like a community event. One that is for the fans, in large part is run by the fans, and it still has that feeling of walking around during the weekend and no matter who you meet, you know you have a tremendous amount in common because you both love the same thing. That…that I think has stayed the same. So what do you think it is that will make an event like Celebration London unique in comparison to past Celebrations? What can the fans expect to see?

David Collins: Well, I think the easy answer is Rogue One. You know, that’s a brand new movie and we’ve never seen anything like it in Star Wars, which makes it very exciting. We’ve got ILMxLAB, and there’s a lot of people who are interested in the latest and greatest in technology, so there are going to be a lot of people who will want to check that out. I just think Star Wars is in a renaissance right now, and I really noticed it in Anaheim that I never worked harder at a Celebration. I remember thinking, “Well, you know, Celebration London, and it’s just three days, so after [Celebration] Anaheim [it’ll be simpler] — no. It’s exactly the same.” [Laughs] It is just like Anaheim and it is packed and filled with, at least with me on the Galaxy Stage, panel after panel after panel of really incredible stuff. So I think if people went to previous Celebrations, and had a great time, they’re going to have an even better time in London.

David Collins

Interviewing the Star Wars Battlefront team (including Lucasfilm’s Doug Chiang) at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim. With the past years in mind, have there been times where you personally have been surprised even as a stage host?

David Collins: Oh, yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. Well, there’s a tricky balance, you need to be prepared because there’s a ton of work that goes into it. But at the same time, there’s something to be said about an honest reaction that fans can relate to on stage. And over the years, Dave Filoni and crew have just stopped showing me clips ahead of time because they just like when I react in real time while I’m on stage. [Laughs] I think a big part of that is because at my first Celebration I had cue cards in my hands for every panel that I did. And by the end of the weekend, I ended up finding them to be very distracting, so I just put them away and said, “You know what, I just want to be myself and ask questions that not only am I interested in but I’m pretty sure everyone is thinking the same thing. And if I’m wrong, I’m sure people will tell me. [Laughs] So I just stopped doing the cue card thing, and I know through a series of conversations that I hopefully have with all of the panelists before the show, I have a general idea of what I want to ask. But if you are too prepared, you’re not responding to cool things that they might bring up in the moment. It’s really just about listening and making sure that I’m listening as much as I can and walking that fine line between preparation and spontaneity. And there are production schedules going on too right now. With all of the games and TV and films going on, people are so busy, so sometimes you don’t see people until a half hour before. But I’m lucky that I’ve known people at Lucasfilm for so long over the years that if a panelist comes on, we can talk for a half hour ahead of time and have a great show, because I already have the rundown of what they want to talk about from Lucasfilm. So it really is kind of finding that balance.

But yeah, it terms of being surprised, people will say the most incredible things or we will see come content that we’ve never seen before. I will say that I’ve been working on this panel now called Lucasfilm and the Art of Storytelling, which features a lot of the executives at Lucasfilm, and some of the stories that have come out in terms of, “What would be great to bring up — this thing or bring up that thing?” have been mind-blowing. Last year when I did [the panel for] Star Wars Battlefront and I heard the word “Jakku” for the first time was really exciting. And I think the last story is that in 2012, George Lucas came out and sat on our stage, and I knew he was backstage ahead of time. But I hadn’t seen any of the clips, so Dave was up there with Joel Aron, and I was reacting to the clips in real time. And I was so nervous because I knew that George was watching from a monitor backstage with PR and other people. And when it was over, he walked up and said, “Good job, it sounded rehearsed.” [Laughs] But that was really fun and, yeah, it’s definitely surprising. So what do you think it is as a whole that makes Star Wars Celebration unique when compared to other conventions?

David Collins: Celebration is incredibly unique because Lucasfilm as a company is so accessible to Star Wars fans. A great example of this is the “Lucasfilm and the Art of Storytelling” panel that I’m honored to be hosting on Sunday: leaders from each discipline at Lucasfilm (including Story Group) will be offering fans an inside look at their creative process and structure, and are even taking questions from fans. Celebration makes that kind of direct connection between creators and audience possible.

You know, I think the sense of community at all conventions is pretty strong, but I’ve never felt anything or seen anything like Star Wars Celebration, and I think that is because you are celebrating Star Wars. Everything you see and are looking at is related to Star Wars. You’re not celebrating hundreds of different fandoms or micro-fandoms; you’re really celebrating one thing. And that means that no matter where you go, restaurants, hotels, convention center floor, or panels, you’re surrounded by people that love the same thing that you love. And because of that, there is just such a strong sense of community, and community really is the number one draw year after year to Celebration. You know, the friendships that you make can last a lifetime. I mean, I met my wife at Celebration. I was working at Lucasfilm, and she was working at ReedPop at the time, and we both moved out to LA to get married. [Laughs] But it’s the community, it’s absolutely the community that keeps people coming back year after year. Certainly for me, I say a lot that I wish the teammates of mine who had been working on these big projects over the years could see what I’ve seen at Celebration, because it makes all of that hard work worth it. There really isn’t anything like it. It’s wonderful.

Tyler Westhause is the social media manager for Rebel Force Radio, a popular podcast that covers the latest and greatest in Star Wars news. He became engrossed with Star Wars at the age of three, when he went to see The Phantom Menace in theaters. Tyler is also always happy to run your ear off about why Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is the greatest video game of all time. Follow him on Twitter @twesthause.

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