Friday, August 5, 2016

How Star Wars Helped Me Through My Breakup

This is not a fun topic to write about, but it is one that I think needs to be shared. I've been very public with the relationship between my fiancé and I from the very beginning, all the way to when we got engaged at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, and to now. Unfortunately, he decided to end our relationship this week. The feeling was not mutual, so I was completely devastated when I heard his decision. However, I have found that Star Wars continues to be my comfort during hard times, and I wanted to share that with you.


While I could have laid in bed for a week with a gallon of ice cream and sobbed my eyes out, I did not want to take that path. Since I heard this upsetting news, I've been determined to handle this with as much poise and strength as I can muster up.

The first thing I did to seek comfort was call upon my friends- my Star Wars family. I've met so many wonderful people through Star Wars, whether it be through the internet, at conventions, or in other situations. I received hundreds of heartfelt messages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram from friends that I love dearly to followers I've never met, expressing their encouragement for me. This was incredibly humbling. My friend Calli even drew me this precious image of Sabine and Rey, two of my favorite characters in the Star Wars universe, sharing a hug. It brought tears to my eyes, but in the best way. Speaking of tears, yes I cried. I cried a lot. However, only half of the tears I shed were out of sheer disappointment and sadness. The other half was out of complete love and gratefulness to everyone who took a moment out of their day to check on me. It meant so much.


The other thing that brought me comfort was thinking about a favorite Star Wars character of mine- Ahsoka Tano. How could Ahsoka help me through this difficult time? Well, her story is similar to mine. Remember when the Jedi council betrayed Ahsoka when she was framed for murder in season five of The Clone Wars? I'm sure she felt very heartbroken and confused at that time. She probably cried a lot too. She probably didn't know what to do after she left the Jedi Order, just as I'm feeling now. But the important thing to remember is that Ahsoka came out on top. She became even stronger through these struggles and used them as learning experiences. As I'm dealing with my own heartbreak, I'm holding Ahsoka's story close to my heart and remembering that I will come out of this stronger than I was before. 

So I will leave you with this...


When things go wrong, when your lifelong plans are changed, or if someone close to you rejects you- don't lose hope. Ever. Out of darkness always comes light and everything will be okay. Be grateful for the happy times you had and don't let betrayal make you bitter. Everything happens for a reason, and don't close your mind to all the amazing things that are waiting for you right around the corner. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Star Wars at Disneyland Paris

While on my adventures to Star Wars Celebration Europe in London, I also spent a week in Paris to enjoy the sights and visit Disneyland. I'm a huge Disney fan so I enjoyed comparing the Paris parks to my home away from home, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Star Wars has always been one of my favorite aspects of going to Disney- from riding Star Tours to attending Star Wars Weekends. I wanted to share all of the Star Wars details that I saw at Disneyland Paris. 


Star Tours
Disneyland Paris is celebrating their 25th anniversary next year, which means some of their most popular rides are under renovation right now for a new look. Star Tours was one of these beloved rides. Since it was closed for refurbishment, I didn't have the opportunity to ride it, but the new ride will be just like the ones in Walt Disney World and Disneyland, so I wasn't missing out on too much. The ride had a construction wall around the premises with all sorts of posters on it from various Star Wars planets that Star Tours passengers will be able to see next year on their travels. Although I didn't get to check out the ride in Paris, I'm happy that visitors will be able to go on galactic adventures next year. 


Jedi Training Academy
This is another attraction that is shared with other Disney parks including Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Kids are able to join a Jedi master and learn the ways of the Force during this show. They even fight a special villain at the end to test their skills and face their fears. In other Disney parks, Jedi Training Academy takes place outside, which is not fun for those who take their vacations in the summer. However, JTA in Disneyland Paris takes place in a huge indoor auditorium that is air conditioned and has seats for everyone to get a great view of the show. The Jedi master in the show speaks his lines in French and then again in English while the villain only speaks in English. Padawans are given Jedi tunics, robes, and a light-up lightsaber for their training session. After learning about how to activate and use their lightsaber, they are taught to channel the Force to levitate R2-D2 on stage. After those lessons, they face their biggest trial- Darth Vader. They practice their new lightsaber moves, harness the Force, and defeat their enemy. It was great seeing this show in a different format, especially hearing "May the Force be with you" in French. 


Merchandise
If you've ever been to any Disney park, you know that every corner is covered in merchandise. There was no shortage of Star Wars souvenirs at Disneyland Paris and they even had some exclusives. In addition to T-shirts, hats, and artwork, there were dozens of trading pins that you could only find at this park. I ended up getting three pins- a Star Tours attraction pin, Stormtrooper, and Rey (this one is also found in other Disney parks, but I bought it because the card said "Paris"). I also found a Chopper figure from Star Wars Rebels, which is a little tough to find in the states now. 


If you're a fan of Star Wars and Disney, I would definitely recommend going to Disneyland Paris. The park is beautifully designed, there are smaller crowds than at Disney parks in the states, and there's no doubt you'll have a great time. Make sure you have tons of luggage space for bringing back souvenirs! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Star Wars Celebration Europe Overview

As my first experience at an international convention, Star Wars Celebration Europe was incredible. I had high expectations for this convention because hello- it's all about Star Wars! It really exceeded my wildest dreams in many ways, but just like any convention, there were a few cons along with the many pros. Here's an overview of my thoughts on Star Wars Celebration Europe.


Atmosphere
As for the convention atmosphere, I have nothing but good things to say. The ExCeL London Convention Center was laid out in a way that was easy to navigate. The center is just a straight shot from the north side to south side entrances with exhibit halls and panel halls on each side of the main stretch. There was no need to go upstairs or downstairs for any of the panels or convention features. While most conventions have one large exhibit hall with all of the merchandise booths and artist alley in one room, SWCE had the exhibit hall divided into two rooms, which I found worked great for dividing the massive crowds and solving the typical crowded entry/exit point in the hall.

The ExCeL Center had a variety of food vendors down the main hall leading from the north and south entrances. This was wonderful because it provided a lot more options for breakfast and lunch as opposed to the limited choices at the food court inside the exhibit hall. Plus, the food and drinks were not crazy expensive so that's a huge bonus. The only downside in the realm of the food/water situation was that the convention center didn't have a single water fountain. Refilling my bottle became an issue so I ended up just buying water bottles when I needed them, which was a tiny drawback.

The final thing that I have to say about the overall atmosphere is the queueing situation. This was a great change to Celebration because it was so well organized. In past years of attending Celebration, I've had to sleep in the queue hall overnight in order to get a wristband for an upcoming panel. This time around, you could get there at 6am as soon as they started handing out wristbands and still get a guaranteed spot in the panel hall. Inside the large queue hall, there were four sections with roped off line systems for the four biggest panels of the day. Also inside the room was a large screen with information about the status of the panel wristbands. For example, you could walk in at any time of the day and see if there were still wristbands for the panel of your choice or if they were all given out. My only suggestion for future Celebrations would be to have the wristband status in sync with the official Star Wars Celebration app. It would be great to view that information before leaving your hotel for the day to make sure they weren't already given out before you arrived at the convention.


Panels  
There were tons of panels at SWCE that covered everything from the latest news on Rogue One to how to become a Star Wars collector. I attended a handful of panels, but I'm only going to touch upon three of them here.

Untold Tales of Ahsoka- When Pablo Hildago, Dave Filoni, and Ashley Eckstein are chatting about Ahsoka Tano with host David Collins, you really can't go wrong. I will admit, when Ahsoka Tano was introduced to the world in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, I really wasn't a big fan of her character. However, as Ahsoka grew older and eventually appeared in Star Wars: Rebels, I found myself loving her more and more with each episode. In this panel, Hildago and Filoni shared stories and sketches of Ahsoka that were supposed to be told in The Clone Wars, until the show was cancelled. They also played an unfinished clip of Ahsoka with her so called "boyfriend" Nix. My favorite moment was when Filoni showed the audience a sketch of Ahsoka with the 501st clones, who had repainted their armor to resemble her coloring and face tattoos. Heartstrings were definitely tugged on from beginning to end in the Untold Tales of Ahsoka.


Rogue One- Okay guys, here's where I'm going to sound a little negative. While the Rogue One panel was great and it was cool to see in person, I was underwhelmed. When Gwendoline Christie walked out on stage as the panel host, I leapt out of my chair and started screaming. I thought it would only get better from there. Unfortunately, it did not. I thought that the cast wasn't as charming as the new faces of The Force Awakens so I had a difficult time getting excited about them on stage. A behind the scenes "sizzle" reel was played for the audience, which was awesome, but it froze halfway through and ended up diminishing the thrill of the clip when it was played a second time around. Gwendoline read off her que cards far too much and one of the stars slipped a spoiler on stage- I won't say what it was. Overall though, I was grateful for the experience and the exclusive trailer that only SWCE attendees were allowed to see. The underwhelmed feelings may have been my fault because I had built it up in my head to be as goose-bump inducing as The Force Awakens panel from SWCA.


Star Wars Rebels: Season Three- The best panel I've EVER attended, which is saying a lot because I was one of the 5,000 people who saw The Force Awakens panel in person at SWCA last year. Dave Filoni, Tiya Sircar, and Sam Witwer were hilarious and entertaining while divulging details about the upcoming season of Rebels. Attendees of the panel were able to view the season three trailer along with an exclusive screening of the season premiere. I loved everything about this panel, but my favorite part was the crowd reaction to Grand Admiral Thrawn's debut in the new trailer. I've grown up hearing about Thrawn and while I'm not the biggest Thrawn fanatic, I really appreciated the fact that this character was brought back into Star Wars canon for the fans. Going into this panel, I expected to see a trailer and the season premiere, but the great conversation between host Warwick Davis and the panelists was just the cherry on top of an awesome Star Wars Rebels sundae.


Merchandise

One of my favorite things to do at Celebration is shop. There are always so many different vendors with all sorts of products ranging from vintage to brand new. The official Star Wars Celebration Store knocked it out of the park with their merchandise selection this year. They had all sorts of T-shirts for men, women, and children. There were a couple of high-quality canvas tote bags, exclusive posters, and a crowd favorite- the Lothcat plushies. They also had sets of emoji pins that featured cute Star Wars characters. Most of these pins came in blind packs but some of the pins came as sets of four that you could see before purchasing. I had a great time buying some of the blind packs and trading with other fans and volunteers at SWCE to get the characters I wanted. As far as the exhibit hall merchandise goes, I was shocked at what a great variety they had. I ended up buying eleven shirts at Celebration, a vintage C-3PO necklace, and some exclusive artwork featuring my favorite aliens from the Mos Eisley cantina. The only downside to shopping was that the official Celebration store always had a long line to get in. If you were willing to wait though, it was definitely worth the time.


Star Wars Celebration Europe as a whole was an incredible experience. I had a great time meeting fans from parts of the world that I had never seen before and buying products that you could only find at SWCE. It was well-organized and fun for Star Wars fans of all ages. I would definitely attend an international Celebration again in the future!

Ashley the Mermaid Jedi

During Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios a few years ago, I was lucky enough to encounter a young girl named Ashley. I spotted her while sitting on the sidewalk in anticipation for the Legends of the Force afternoon parade. She and her older sister, Lindsey, were both seated in wheelchairs with huge smiles on their faces while chatting with their mom and dad. It was obvious that these girls were ecstatic to watch their favorite Star Wars characters and celebrities in the upcoming parade. While it didn't bother me much, I silently wondered to myself why these girls who looked so healthy and happy were stuck in wheelchairs.

Fast forward to the next year of Star Wars Weekends and I saw them again. This time it was in Darth's Mall, the Star Wars themed shopping center where I was helping out at the Her Universe booth. I noticed that Ashley and her sister were dressed in the cutest handmade T-shirts and matching tutus themed after their favorite characters, Chewbacca and R2-D2. I complimented their outfits and coordinating accessories while their mom took a photo of us together.

Lindsey (left) with Ashley (right) and I at Star Wars Weekends.
Sometime along the way of seeing them at Star Wars Weekends every year, Ashley's mom, Mary, explained to me that Ashley and Lindsey suffer from Juvenile Arthritis, which is why they use wheelchairs most of the time to get around. Both girls receive Remicade for their arthritis to prevent their spines from fusing. They also have an immune deficiency in which they must receive monthly infusions of antibodies via ports implanted in their chests to help mend their systems. Their lives have always revolved around regular hospital visits and treatments, but they were still able to live fairly regular lives like most kids.

Unfortunately, Ashley's health started declining rapidly about two years ago. She is now 13 years old and faces many new challenges with her body. In addition to her arthritis and immune deficiencies, she's been diagnosed with Epilepsy, Vasovagal Syncope, Colitis, Crohn's, and Gastroparesis. Her body isn't metabolizing pills and recently had a feeding tube put in to assist with that. She started experiencing weakness in her upper legs, which has now progressed into complete weakness and numbness in both legs. While she used to have the ability to transfer out of her wheelchair and walk around, she is unable to walk anymore and also struggles with loss of bladder function.

Ashley with a very special visitor during one of her most recent hospital visits.
Ashley receives IV saline at home to keep her body functioning due to the fact that she's been close to kidney failure multiple times. She's been hospitalized six times since April and her body is getting weaker by the day. Something I love about Ashley is that she turns this horrible experience into a positive one by comparing herself to her favorite Disney princess, Ariel from The Little Mermaid. She says she has "mermaid disease" because she struggles with walking and needs saltwater (saline infusions) to function. She tells everyone she's a mermaid as a way to cope with her failing body and changing life.

In an effort to figure out a treatment plan for all of these issues, Ashley will be going to Boston Children's Hospital next month for a six week long trip. She's also scheduled to have spinal surgery in October, which has 50/50 odds of helping and has been told that the feeling in her legs may not return. As you can imagine, her parents face many hospital bills that are becoming harder and harder to keep up with. If you'd like to support this family and help Ashley with her battle against these health problems, please consider visiting their Go Fund Me page and donating.

Ashley with Chewbacca at Disney's Star Wars Weekends before her health plummeted.
Ashley is one of the brightest stars I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. Always smiling, always positive, and always radiating with beauty inside and out. It breaks my heart to know that she is unable to live a "normal" life because her body is failing. No 13-year-old should have to miss their favorite summer camp because they are stuck in a hospital and having a feeding tube put in. She is stronger than any Jedi in the Star Wars universe, but I know know the recent months have been super tough for her family and they would appreciate any donations, prayers, or kind words you can give. If you'd like to send Ashley well wishes or encouragement, please leave a comment below and cheer her on.

Here is Ashley's Go Fund Me page- https://www.gofundme.com/2ha4r98

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dorky Diva of the Week: Brittany Hughes

Brittany Hughes, a 24-year old Disney travel agent, always has one thing on her mind- Boba Fett. This dashing Mandolorian bounty hunter hooked her into the saga of Star Wars which turned into an endless passion that continues to inspire her family from generation to generation. 

Hughes in front of the Tatooine Traders store at Walt Disney World.
As a young girl, Hughes was never into science-fiction. Her interests mostly swayed towards Disney movies and that was about it until her stepfather came into the picture when she was 11-years-old. After making fun of his Star Wars fandom, Hughes finally sat down on the couch with her stepdad to watch Episode IV: A New Hope.

"I was hooked. From that moment, my stepdad and I shared Star Wars as a very special bonding tool," said Hughes.

Then there's her main man- Boba Fett. She's always been the kind of girl that likes a mysterious man, and Boba Fett definitely checked that box in Star Wars. While her friends were all gushing over Han Solo's wit, Hughes was crushing on Fett's style. Once she learned about his backstory in the prequels, her love for Fett intensified even more.

Hughes with her boyfriend and Kylo Ren at Walt Disney World. 
While her love for Star Wars is massive, her interest in Disney is just as expansive. By day, Hughes is a Disney travel agent that helps people plan vacations to a galaxy far, far away. She also runs a Youtube channel where she posts vlogs about Star Wars, Disney, and her daily life. She also recently launched a clothing line called Fett&Co. where sells all sorts of Disney and Star Wars inspired T-shirts that you can't find anywhere else.

"I decided to start Fett&Co. mainly because I could never find Disney or Star Wars shirts from other online shops that fit my style. I wanted unique shirts for Disney trips that you don't see everywhere, and were comfortable and affordable," explains Hughes.

Hughes wearing one of her Disney and Star Wars mashup tees from Fett&Co.
Hughes looks at Star Wars for more than just a movie series. For her, it's a bonding experience between a girl and her stepfather. It's a story of love, politics, hate, and everything in between. It's about the precious balance of good and evil, just like the balance of our real world. Just as she learned about Star Wars from her stepdad, she is now passing on the saga to her own little girl, Madalyn.

"I'm happy to say that I've spread the love of Star Wars down to my 5-year-old daughter, who is literally obsessed! She lives, loves, and breathes Star Wars," says Hughes.

Ironically, Hughes thinks her daughter has the attitude and spunk of Princess Leia while she is stubborn like Padme. She enjoys knowing that Star Wars has an abundance of characters to relate to, which she and her daughter can learn from.

Madalyn, Brittany Hughes' little padawan, riding the speeder bike at Walt Disney World.
You can follow Brittany on Twitter, Instagram, and subscribe to her Youtube channel.

All photos courtesy and used with permission from Brittany Hughes.