Star Wars Celebration: A Brief History

Star Wars Celebration has become the biggest event for Star Wars fans. What started as humble beginnings have become a massive Lucasfilm and Disney convention.

With project announcements, celebrity meet-and-greets, Star Wars movie and television show trailers, exclusive merchandise, and more, Celebration is the place to be. How did this convention start? Here's a short history of Star Wars Celebration.

How Star Wars Celebration Began

Star Wars
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The man behind what would become Star Wars Celebration is Dan Madsen, who got the gig simply because of his love of the franchise. In an interview with the podcast Talking Bay 94, Madsen describes how Lucasfilm reached out to him because of his work with another franchise, Star Trek. In 1979 when Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out, Madsen decided to make a fanzine. He enjoyed the process so much that he made fanzines for years.

That is until Paramount Pictures reached out and said he needed a license to create this kind of Star Trek content. The company was so impressed with Madsen's work that they instead offered him the license along with a job to run their official Star Trek Fan Club.

Madsen was a fan of Star Wars too. Before his work with Paramount, he had been a member of the official Star Wars Fan Club as a teenager. Years after Lucasfilm closed its fan club, though, the company was interested in starting it again with the release of the Prequel Trilogy looming. Impressed with Madsen's work with Paramount, head of Lucasfilm licensing Howard Roffman reached out, wanting Madsen to run their club as well. Madsen quickly said yes and flew to Skywalker Ranch to meet Roffman and George Lucas. One of the most significant contributions from Madsen with this partnership was the creation of the magazine Star Wars Insider, a vital source of news and content for fans before the internet.

Because of Madsen's work with the Star Wars Fan Club and Star Wars Insider, he was the person Lucasfilm approached when they wanted to hold a fan convention to help promote the upcoming Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The coincidental thing that Madsen says in his interview with Talking Bay 94, he and his fellow fan club members were already considering putting on their own fan convention for fun. His team was invited out to Skywalker Ranch to discuss plans and possible locations for the event. The group tossed out suggestions like New York City, Chicago, Florida, and Los Angeles. Madsen then offered up Denver, Colorado, because that was where the Star Wars Fan Club was located. It was a central place where he had volunteers on hand to help run the event. With the city decided, the group chose to have it at Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum. They picked a date, and the first Star Wars Celebration was born!

The First Star Wars Celebration

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Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures

Excitement was high for Celebration. The preparations were complete and ready to go. Then as the event began, it rained for two days straight. Rain is usually fine for most conventions as they take place indoors. But with Celebration being held in a hangar bay and massive tents outside to be the main stages, this was an enormous challenge for the volunteers.

Still, the fans did not let it stop their fun. Madsen said:

“We would have the worst rain in 100 years. It rained for two solid days, pounding rain. It was a nightmare for a while. I was like, ‘I cannot believe that it's happening.' If we'd had it in the convention center, it wouldn't have bothered us in any way, but we had to deal with that. It was a challenge, but you know, it's kind of become known like the fans of Woodstock, out there in the rain and mud, enjoying Star Wars. Everybody was so excited by the fact that Star Wars was coming back, and we're going to have some of the first footage from it. All the actors and production people from the new movie were there. So it was a pretty amazing, amazing event. A lot of the groundwork for all the things that you see today in all of the Celebrations were set down right then and there in 1999 here in Denver.”

He then joked: “Now it's just done on a much larger, more professional scale and in a covered environment where nothing, [not even] the weather, can't affect it in any way. [Star Wars Celebration] started there.”

Unlike many big conventions, Star Wars Celebration is not annual, and Lucasfilm usually hosts the event to coincide with the upcoming film release or for a significant anniversary. The second and third Celebrations were to promote Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. 2007 was a particular year as it held two separate Celebrations in Los Angeles and London, England, the first Celebration outside the United States. The occasion was for both the 30th anniversary of the franchise and to promote the upcoming animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

From these humble beginnings, Star Wars Celebration would continue to grow. It's been held in multiple countries like Germany and Japan and several states in America. After the Disney acquisition of Star Wars, they continued bringing a fan-driven convention while promoting upcoming projects. The 40th anniversary of A New Hope and the 20th anniversary of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were a party for all to attend. Heart-filled moments happen on the main stage like the standing ovation Ahmed Best received after the horrific backlash he got for his character. It's where projects are announced from the first look at The Mandalorian and massive media initiatives like The High Republic.

Star Wars Celebration is the place to be for Star Wars fans. Even if a fan can't attend, the panels are usually livestreamed. Lucasfilm set out to make a convention by their fans, for their fans, and they succeeded as Celebration continues to be one of the best Star Wars events of the year.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Hope Mullinax is a freelance writer with over ten years of experience working for various publications. She’s the Site Expert at Dork Side of the Force, a Freelance News Writer for Collider, and the Animation Staff Writer at The Geeky Waffle. When she’s not writing, she loves on her cats, collects Pokémon cards, and rolls dice on For Light and Dice, a Star Wars TTRPG podcast.