CliffsNotes From Comic-Con: SDCC 2019

The 50th anniversary of San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), as expected was a cornucopia of sound, smells, sales and of course, Star Wars! Though, less than excepted.

With The Rise of Skywalker mere months away, I was hoping for some hints on the new film, whether via product and merchandise reveals or announcements related to upcoming publications. By this time for The Last Jedi, we had promos, behind the scenes reels, and information about upcoming related publications. And while at this convention we did get a peek at some upcoming books, comics, and new toy “Sith Troopers”, there really wasn’t much by way of actual information.

But Kevin Smith assures that the ending will “melt” our minds!

There were major teases, but ultimately a lot of those felt empty. Like a drumroll that never ends. And, though I do understand the logic Lucasfilm has for keeping most of their upcoming material shrouded in mystery, their lips might be too sealed.

For the first time in many years, I find myself more hyped for Star Trek (my first “Star”-love) than I am for Star Wars. Though that might also be because of that really cool Picard trailer…

These concerns aside, San Diego Comic Con is always a blast and covering it for the Shadow Council in real time was a treat!

Here’s the rundown:

Stormtrooper Toys near an illuminated Star Wars sign

A Time of Transitions

While San Diego Comic Con is always growing and changing, this 50th anniversary occurs at a time of major transitions in the broader genre entertainment landscape. Looking at franchise and visual media, many of the once dominant draws to SDCC are changing. The line for the infamous Hall H, historically the home of all the heavy hitting panels, was gasp a day shorter??? Well, maybe not that much shorter, but there seemed to be a noticeably muted showing from some of the typically popular franchises, allowing smaller and newer properties to have some time to shine.

While they are charging forward with new announcements, with Endgame, Marvel Cinematic Universe just finished up over a decade of story building. Though there is more to come (Black Widow, Thor 4 and more), there’s a sense of completion with many characters we know. Game of Thrones was once another heavy hitter, and has just finished up it’s final season. The Walking Dead seems to be winding down too. Upcoming productions like Carnival Row, The Boys, Picard and Snowpiercer all had strong showings and not long after, Disney+ announced a slate of new material as well. I wonder what the next ‘big’ comic con draws will be in the coming years?

So, where does Star Wars fit in to this mood of transition? Well, big picture that is difficult to say. There was plenty of presence at SDCC though slightly fewer officially related panels. As I mentioned last year, official Star Wars SDCC presence is far from the triumphant return to film we saw the franchise in 2015, with a Hall H panel for The Force Awakens. In the intervening years, the franchise’s presence has been largely based in products and publications. Which is great! We love merchandise, books, and comics.

But, I do have to wonder whether more information about The Rise of Skywalker, film as well as the upcoming television project The Mandalorian is being reserved for Disney’s own D23 convention.

Once the must appear convention on the circuit, is San Diego Comic Con becoming the Netflix to D23’s Disney+? Only time will tell.

Marketing and the Goldilocks Effect

This year plenty of Star Wars merchandise was on view, (keep your eyes out for a guest post coming soon focusing on the merchandise and collecting side of Comic Con), but Hasbro had no major new announcements. Television outings, like the continuation of The Clone Wars and Resistence as well as the new Mandalorian for Disney+ had appearances in passing, but will likely be showcased at D23 in August.

Outside of toys and collectibles, there were several exclusive book releases from Del Rey and Disney Lucasfilm Press. This included a convention exclusive cover of Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston, in addition to convention only early releases of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn: Treason and Star Wars: Myths & Fables. That said, though there was a lot on offer, it is clear that Disney and Lucasfilm are working on striking a balance between stoking audience interest, without giving too much away about stories to come.

George Mann, author

I was able to meet George Mann, author of Myths and fables and snag a signed copy of the early release. He, like all the authors and Lucasfilm colleagues present, seems very proud and excited to be a part of creating Star Wars lore. Mann, like the rest of us enjoys how rich the tapestry of world-building forms the universe. I am taking an early look at Star Wars: Myths & Fables in advance of it’s release, to give you a sense of the “Grimm’s Fairly Tales” of the galaxy far, far away before you buy it.

The official panels I attended were the Star Wars Audiobooks: Behind the Scenes, Step Inside ILMxLAB’s Star Wars Stories, and (my most anticipated) Lucasfilm Pubslishing: Stories from a Galaxy Far, Far Away. As ever with SDCC, it’s usually logistically impossible, so I did miss some Star Wars offerings. One of the things I enjoyed most about all the panels I attended, is how enthusiastic and excited all the participants are to be working on Star Wars projects.

The Audiobook panel was small but mighty, featuring Janina Gavankar and Catherine Taber, who spoke about their experiences narrating and Cavan Scott, who spoke about writing the audioplay Dooku: Jedi Lost. They discussed how the nature of audio story telling is unique and differs from traditional acting or writing a book. There wasn’t much by way of announcing impactful upcoming releases. More audiobooks are coming of material already out from Disney Lucasfilm publishing.

Scott, who would also appear at the traditional publishing panel hinted about being one of the five authors involved with Project Luminous, something he can’t talk about “for reasons”.

It was far from the last time the mysterious project, first mentioned at Star Wars Celebration in April, came up in a panel.

ILMxLAB’s presentation, while not something I was initially interested in learning about, was an interesting peek into an experimental aspect of visual (and physical) effects that could indeed change our experiences of storytelling. Their Vader Series and ‘Project Porg’ are really quite innovative. I don’t own an Occulus Rift, but I have experienced one of their projects in a VOID Virtual Reality facility (so cool!). But the great folks at the xLAB are perhaps, slightly ahead of their time. Virtual Reality is something not as attainable to the mass audience and at times it seemed as though the panelists were not only trying to promote their own projects, but to sell the idea of VR in general. It’s uncertain in what way VR will grow and develop beyond the niche sector it now occupies.

As ever and with much of Star Wars these days, not much concrete, but keep an eye on them.

Still in the Dark on Project Luminous

In the Lucasfilm Publishing panel, a renaissance painting of authors crowded together to say largely cryptic things.

Again, I was struck with the excitement expressed by all of the others for their work in Star Wars. It is clear that all these people love their jobs, which hopefully bodes well for the future. The group just can’t seem to be allowed to say much about that actual future.
The excitement in the room was palpable and as this panel featured more authors from the mysterious “Project Luminous”.

“Let’s talk about Luminous.”

*crowd gasps*

“We can’t.”

-the gist of the publishing panel on repeat

The author’s spoke about how many of them have had the chance to write for different audiences and age groups. Indeed, a lot of the publishing panel featured children and young adult literature. Creatures Big & Small by Katie Cook, Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: A Finn & Poe Adventure (Choose Your Destiny) by Cavan Scott, and Spark of the Resistance by Justina Ireland are all coming for young (or young at heart) readers. There’s also an adult pop book (but not that kind of adult) in the works, that is apparently a marvel of paper and illustration.

Generally speaking, most of the visibility of the heroes of the sequel trilogy, seemed relegated to children’s or youth books. Finn particularly but even Rey, were only mentioned in passing and appear in publications geared more toward younger audiences. I have to wonder/hope, that the Lucasfilm Pavilions tribute to troopers, might signal something coming in the new material related to Stormtroopers that would also be deeply intertwined with Finn’s arc.

Even Poe and Leia loom larger than Finn or Rey on the cover of Resistence Reborn, by Rebecca Roanhorse, the adult novel in the Journey to The Rise of Skywalker releases. When asked, about all Roanhorse could say was that Poe was in it. And Leia. And Rey and Finn. In that order.

Hmmm…

Not much to go on in terms of piquing interest, but again Roanhorse and the whole author crew seemed very excited.

Much of the material presented actually related more to the newly opened Disney theme park, Galaxy’s Edge. Books like Delilah Dawson’s Black Spire (“Brooklyn 99 in Space”) and Crash of Fate by Zoraida Cordova (described as a YA romance set in Star Wars) evoke the space and atmosphere of the theme park’s location of Batuu, allowing reader who might not be able to visit the park in person to get a taste of what it’s like. Timothy Zahn described how amazing it felt to see blaster marks visible in the park cantina that exist because of the a fight he wrote in one of his books. He also explained that his newest Thrawn book Treason occurs during season 4 of Rebels and before Rogue One.

Dawson also spoke about another of her projects The Skywalker Saga, out in October, an illustrated book that will “retell Episodes 1-8 through Anakin, Luke, Leia, and Rey’s points of view”. She spoke eloquently about what the saga means to her and how the epic “starts with a little boy born on a desert planet with a dream”. Since Rey “kind of inherited [that] side of the Force” we look through her eyes in the later episodes in the saga.

HMMM….

As we neared the end of the panel, (which ran long, despite having no space for audience questions) the teasing and hints grew even stronger about the mysterious Project Luminous. Just when it seemed like they were going to end the panel with some information on that, instead Charles Soule announced that he would be writing a 4 part comic series The Rise of Kylo Ren, purportedly answered “the questions you have” about how “Ben became Ren”. The announcement is interesting, both in that it is in comic book form, and is an obvious mirror to Episode 9’s title. Should be an interesting read, but there was little time to reflect as that was the end of the panel. Maybe we could have spent more time on this than Project Luminous?

Still can’t talk about Project Luminous

-authors as they exited the panel

for real:
What is Project Luminous?

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