Every year, people wonder about Hall H, the largest panel room at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
With 6000+ seats, it’s the Hajarul Aswad of the Nerd hajj. After enduring online queues and lotteries for con badges, hotels, and parking lots, the most faithful then endure sunburn, hypothermia, rats, and cockroaches as they wait in line overnight for the rare opportunity to share in the experience of being the first to hear the good news from Hollywood’s dream makers.
As is the case in almost any fandom, there is endless talk about who does or doesn’t show up, who had the best presentation, which show generated the most buzz, in essence, “Who won Comic-Con?”
I was nowhere near San Diego this weekend. Aside from my Facebook feed, I have not been scanning the Internet for news since Thursday. (I’ll post my Watchtower reports on Monday.) But, there seems to be a clear winner, one fandom which raised the bar so high, I’m not really certain how other properties can top it.
This year’s winner of Comic-Con is…
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Here’s an unofficial panel video from Flicks and the City:
First, Kathleen Kennedy (producer), J.J. Abrams (director/writer) and Lawrence Kasdan (writer) came out and talked about the movie.
To illustrate how they used practical effects instead of CGI, they had Bobbajo (seen above) come out and take a stroll across the stage. Sure, you might say, no big deal. Star Wars did that with droids and Wookies forty years ago. Except this was an animatronic robot. A background character! WALKING ACROSS THE STAGE as if he was looking for an outlet to charge his cellphone.
Then, a few minutes after that, J.J. Abrams introduced a special film. The next trailer will drop in the Fall, so they screened a special “making of” film which shows how they use practical effects to add more realism and excitement to the actual filming.
The Star Wars channel posted the video, which you can watch below:
(Whoa… did you see that cameo? Maybe he’s undercover for the Federation?)
Then the cast was brought on stage, in triplets:
- John Boyega (Finn), Daisy Ridley (Rey), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron)
- Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma)
- Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford
Ms. Christie might be too tall to be a stormtrooper! Mark Hamill gave some background on his nerdish origins, including this photo from a SF convention in Kansas in 1976:
All had interesting things to say, and the questions from the fans were pretty good. (Nothing too cringe-worthy, even when Batman asked the first question.)
So then, at the end, J.J. Abrams announced that everyone in Hall H was invited to the secret concert at the Embarcadero Marina, located directly behind the Convention Center. Stormtroopers, assisted by San Diego’s Finest, led the 6500 attendees in an orderly fashion. There, fans chose one of three lightsabers upon entering. The cast was once again introduced, and John Williams, composer of all six (seven) Star Wars films gave a video introduction.
At sunset, Assistant conductor Sameer Patel led the San Diego Symphony in playing the greatest hits of the Star Wars soundtracks, ending the night with a finale of the Main Title and fireworks.
And the kicker? Star Wars proves to Comic-Con that you can clear Hall H in an orderly fashion between panels. As Kevin Smith discovered:
— Andrew Woods (@JimJarmuschHair) July 11, 2015
(The seats were eventually filled later in the panel.)
I don’t know how you top this…
For SW:TFA… you have George Lucas sneak into the question line. You have John Williams conduct the symphony, with a “sneak peak” at some of the new music. You unveil the new movie poster. You tease some production drawings with no explanation.
Events. 300 did have a free screening at PETCO Park. Maybe you offer a special video premiere? But you lose the element of surprise…unless you let it go viral… the Hall H attendees get VIP seating, everyone else is general admission. Or you hand out a pass to an offsite exhibition, like Flynn’s Arcade.
If you’re the first panel of the day (or the main panel), you can serve breakfast. Twilight did that a few years ago, utilizing the supporting actors. J.J. Abrams did that Friday. If you do that, you get early buzz on the West Coast, and hit the Noon feeds on the East, before everything else hits the newscycle.
Swag. I don’t know if current Hall H panels do this (since people have to leave to pick up the swag outside the Hall). With 6500 attendees, that’s a difficult operation to handle. Star Wars handed out lanyard passes for the symphony concert. Maybe a special text code with a GPS locator so that only those near/in Hall H get a special redemption code for pickup at the booth later?
Buzz. It’s old school, but it used to be that one had surprise guests appear at Hall H panels. I don’t know how many “virgins” are left on the A-list. Bill Murray, cosplaying as Hunter S. Thompson, made his first Comic-Con appearance on Thursday. George Lucas might be the biggest name on the list, although I suspect he has attended before, given his incredible collection of original art. Steven Spielberg? (I’m ignoring those who avoid the limelight, like Steve Ditko or Bill Watterson.)
Announcements can be made. New actors introduced. Actors interrupting panels.
Oh, and this one is so simple: livestream the panel. Post the video as soon as possible, so every website will link to you, and not some other site. This makes your fans who can’t make it happy, and doesn’t piss off the ones in attendance, since they get to be there LIVE. Even the exclusive trailers, because you know it will be leaked quickly and crappily.
That’s my pick for this year. I don’t know who got the most Facebook or Twitter traffic for this Comic-Con.
Which panels did you enjoy most? What’s got you excited? Or bored? Tell us below!
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!