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The Dorky Diva Show: Episode 3 with Brian Ballance

Dec 22, 2016


On this month's episode of The Dorky Diva Show, Savanna introduces her new co-host Brian Ballance and they share a spoiler-filled discussion about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. 
If you'd like to check out Brian's podcast when Savanna guest starred on his show, click here- https://soundcloud.com/jedibrian/ep-26-savanna-kiefer-1
You can also find Brian's new Clone Wars discussion podcast here- Soundcloud.com/BDStarWars
Feel free to support The Dorky Diva Show at www.patreon.com/thedorkydiva


The Belonging You Seek Is Not Behind You, It Is Ahead

Dec 19, 2016
Let's be real. 2016 was a rough year for a lot of us. I'm pretty transparent with my life online through my blog and social media, but I struggled with something over the last few months that I didn't display publicly. If you've been following The Dorky Diva since this summer, then you may remember that I went through a pretty tough breakup back in August. I later found out that I was cheated on, which is not something I'd wish upon my worst enemy.

In the following months after that unsettling event in my life, I dealt with a great deal of anxiety and depression. Not only was I embarrassed to admit that I was struggling with these issues, but I felt alone. I would talk to my close friends and family about what I was dealing with emotionally, but nothing they said helped me. I didn't want to talk about it online because I feared that my followers would think I was fishing for attention. I personally decided to hold off on talking about this tough time until the darkest days were over and I felt like I had recovered. So here we are in the middle of December. I feel happy again and I'm willing to talk about how lessons from Star Wars got me through this tough season of life, just like many of my other phases of life in the past.

I've heard about anxiety from many people, but I had never experienced it first hand until a few months ago. One day I was working on a photo project for one of my final classes. I was on a tight deadline and my camera battery died mid-shoot. For some reason, that threw me into a panic attack. Yes, something as mild and unimportant as a battery dying made me freak out. I felt like I couldn't breathe while the stress of the deadline ahead of me seemed to be dashing closer and closer to me. Things like this happened almost every day. Little issues that I could normally brush off with no problem turned into crippling moments that ruined my entire day.

At night, I would cry myself to sleep for no reason. I felt sad, alone, and defeated in every way. Why did I feel like this? Some people assumed it was because I missed the relationship I once had. That was definitely not the case. If someone has the audacity to leave me for someone else or just to leave me in general, I don't have the time or energy to miss them, not even for a second. I believe I was mostly upset and thrown into a spiral of depression because my entire life made a complete 180 degree turn in the matter of an hour. My wedding plans, my plan to move up north at the end of the year, the rest of my life had changed immediately and I was left to figure out everything alone. I was scared and sad at the same time. Not for being dumped, but for having to figure out a new life plan when it had taken me two years to figure out the one that had just been destroyed.

After dealing with these issues for a solid couple of months, I decided to seek out help. Not only was I experiencing emotional pain, but I started to experience physical pain as well. I talked to a doctor about getting my hormones in balance and went to physical therapy for a month to mend my body. Now that I've fully adjusted to these treatments, I feel better than ever. I have energy, I feel motivated to do the things I love, and I've been spending more time with the people who were there for me during those tough times. I don't think medical help is the answer to everyone's problems, but if you feel like you need help with things that are out of your control, definitely go chat with your doctor and see if they can help.

So, why am I writing this? Why am I discussing the most personal moments of my life with complete strangers who will read this? Well, I wanted you to know that if you're dealing with something similar to this, you are not alone. Even though you may feel alone, you're not. Those words by themselves will not heal you or make you feel happy again, but I hope that you can find peace in knowing that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel. You will find happiness again. You will figure you what to do with your life. You will realize who your true friends are and life will be better than ever.

There is a quote from The Force Awakens that brought me a lot of peace on those nights when I cried myself to sleep and felt like there was no purpose to my life.


This message from Maz Kanata applied to my situation in so many ways and taught me plenty of lessons. Don't hold onto the past. There are so many great things ahead of you and even though you may feel like you've been rejected over and over, there are people out there who will love you exactly the way you are. If one situation rejects you, be confident and know that there's a better opportunity around the corner. Most importantly, don't ignore the friends that drop everything to be there for you. Just like Finn went back for Rey after she was captured by Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, your true friends will be there for you in real life too. I'm insanely blessed to have several people in my life that would do anything for me, no matter what time of day it is or how far away they are. Also, never pass up the chance to hug a Wookiee. It's the best form of therapy. As always, if you truly feel completely alone and need someone to chat to about these types of issues, my email is always open. May the Force be with you all.

48-Hour Shoretrooper

It's no secret that I love the costumes of Star Wars. I've written about them in the past here on The Dorky Diva, I'm a member of the 501st Legion, and I've helped create costumes for Star Wars fans who want to get involved with charity work through the 501st. Many of my friends know that I'm addicted to projects, especially building armored costumes, so a couple weeks ago I got a text from my friend Wes right before I was about to get some sleep for the night. He asked if I would be willing to drive all the way from Jacksonville, Florida, down to central Florida the next morning to help him build a Shoretrooper in two days. Why such a short deadline? Well, there was a special event coming up for the premiere of Rogue One and the costume needed to be complete by Monday in order to get approved for the event.


Of course I said I would help him, so I woke up at 5am on Saturday morning and drove three hours across the state to get to my parents house where we have a huge shed full of all the tools and space I would need to help complete this costume. Wes showed up around 10am with a dozen donuts (my only request for helping with this build) and all the armor pieces we needed. 


Day 1
Thankfully, all of the armor was trimmed and ready to be assembled, which shaved a good two or three hours off our build time. The first thing I worked on was the helmet, which was a piece of cake because I only had to Dremel out the eyes and neck opening. Then I started assembling the forearms and biceps while Wes assembled the complex shins. After that we both worked on the chest and back pieces, both hacking away at little details that had to be added to the overall set that fit together to create one piece. We struggled with the ab plate at first and then finally figured out how it was supposed to look and assembled that. By the end of the first day, we had all of the pieces primed and ready to be painted the next day. We called it quits before midnight to let Bondo dry on the ab plate and managed to get a full 8-hours of rest before working again the next day.

Day 2
Wes and I were fortunate enough to know what brand and shade of spray paint that was actually used on the Shoretroopers in Rogue One. However, this created a problem because the specific type of paint we needed was sold out in all the stores near us and we only had two cans on hand to use. We needed two more cans so Wes drove two and a half hours round trip Sunday morning to get the beige paint we needed along with the can of red for the bicep armor. While he drove to Tampa and back, I sanded down the Bondo on the ab plate, primed it, and glued on all the greeblies. As soon as Wes got back, he applied small bits of liquid latex to all of the pieces so that paint could be applied over the latex and peeled off to create a chipped look. 

When the latex dried, I started to paint those pieces beige while Wes painted the belt boxes that didn't need liquid latex. This is when it really started to look like a Shoretrooper! After hitting the armor with a second coat of beige, Wes grabbed a wire brush and some steel wool to weather the armor while I added the final touches to the helmet. By the end of the night, the costume was 95% complete. The fabric part of the belt was delivered the next day so we quickly attached the belt boxes, made some hip armor from scratch, and threw it all together for submission photos. 

I felt so relieved when the submission photos were sent off and we quickly heard back that he was approved to troop the premiere event. This was an insane accomplishment and I was overjoyed to be involved with the project! It was even better seeing Wes stand on the red carpet during the opening night event with Star Wars fans swarming around him for a photo. 

This project taught me that teamwork really does make the dream work! There's no way this Shoretrooper could've been built in two days single handedly. Now if only I could summon the help and motivation to get my Sabine costume done so quickly. 

Rogue One Review

Warning: This post contains spoilers. Do not read if you haven't seen Rogue One!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story made a spectacular debut last week in theaters across the world. Walking into my 7:40pm showing on December 15th, I had no idea what to expect. Sure, I had seen all of the trailers and TV spots that Disney had released over the past year, but I hadn't spent time speculating about who these Rebels were and what struggles they would encounter while capturing the plans to the Death Star. I thought Rogue One was near perfect so I really don't have too many negative things to say, but I wanted to break down what I loved about the film and the minor things I would change.


The Good: What I Loved

Star Wars: Rebels References
There were plenty of Rebels Easter eggs scattered throughout the movie including several shots of the Ghost flying in the Battle of Scarif and parked on the Rebel base at Yavin 4. Chopper, my favorite sassy droid, can be spotted on the Rebel base when the communications officer runs to inform Mon Mothma about the group that went to Scarif. I think my favorite reference was when General Syndulla was summoned over the loudspeaker at the Rebel base. I love knowing that Hera was involved with the Battle of Scarif and even made it out alive. One of my favorite things about Star Wars is how the story group ties together the films with the television shows, books, and comics. These subtle references to Rebels might not be picked up by all viewers, but it means a lot to fans who will spot the quick cameos. It helps show that Star Wars is one universe and all the characters can cross over into different mediums as long as the story goes together.

Shadow Scout Cameo
As a girl who's been cosplaying as a shadow scout in the 501st Legion for almost three years, I was thrilled to see a new rendition of the shadow scout when Bodhi Rook was being captured and delivered to Saw Gerrera. I'm looking forward to modifying my costume after the Blu-ray version of Rogue One is released and I can take high quality screen caps of the outfit. This cameo won't mean much to all Star Wars fans, but I personally squealed when I saw such a familiar helmet in the background. Shadow scouts are no longer considered "canon" since the comics and books after Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm were deemed uncanon, so I'm glad shadow scouts have a legitimate history in Star Wars now.

CGI Characters
Two words- Governor. Tarkin. I'd like to think that Peter Cushing was brought back to life for this role, but obviously I know that the people who work at ILM are visual effects wizards who made this concept a reality. Prior to the premiere, I was hoping to see Tarkin in Rogue One, but I had no idea they would actually show his face and he would look exactly like Peter Cushing. My jaw had to be lifted from the ground after staring at his face in disbelief for 10 minutes. I was absolutely astonished. With that being said, L-E-I-A. I'm thrilled she made an appearance too! While I would've been just as happy if her face hadn't been shown, I'm glad they did such an awesome job with the CGI rather than casting someone with a similar face and not perfectly matching Carrie Fisher's look.

I've seen tons of conflicting opinions from other fans about Tarkin and Leia saying that just because ILM could make these characters look realistic doesn't mean they should have been in the movie. I disagree. Not only was this a technically impressive feat, but I think it helps tie Rogue One together with the original trilogy.

Darth Vader
If you had asked me a month ago what I thought of Darth Vader, I would've said, "Meh, I wish he wasn't going to be in Rogue One." My reasoning for this was that I wanted the movie to focus on the new characters including Jyn and Cassian rather than shine the spotlight on characters like Darth Vader that we've seen in multiple Star Wars films. However, I've never seen Vader in more of a truly horrifying form than what we saw in Rogue One. Everyone speaks of how utterly terrifying Vader is and how he's such a huge threat to the Rebels. Growing up watching Star Wars, I was never afraid of his character, but goodness, if I had seen this version of Vader as a child I would've had nightmares about him for weeks. He was relentless, unforgiving, and exuded a sense of unmatchable power, which are all qualities Vader possesses. Gareth Edwards perfectly captured his character and did Vader the utmost justice.


Ponda Baba and Dr. Evazan
Ever since I was a little girl, I've loved the back and forth bickering between Luke Skywalker and Dr. Evazan in the Mos Eisley Cantina. It's my favorite scene out of any Star Wars movie and when I saw this legendary duo make a short appearance on Jedha, I actually teared up and laughed at the same time. It's the little things that impact me the most.

In addition to all of the things I mentioned above, Rogue One captured my heart because of the diverse range of characters fighting for the Rebel alliance. It was interesting to see a movie without Jedi and I particularly enjoyed how Chirrut Imwe felt such a strong connection with the Force even though he was not a Jedi. I also think racial diversity is important because Star Wars is universally loved across the globe by all sorts of people. When I was younger, I loved seeing characters that looked like me so I know how important it is for young fans to feel like they can relate to one of these rebels.


The Bad: What It Lacked

Lyra Erso
Before I pick apart the reason why I didn't enjoy Jyn Erso's mom, I will note that I've heard Lyra is discussed in Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel. I realize that some of my issues with her character may be addressed in the book, but as far as the movie goes I felt she was a little cold-hearted to be the mother of such a precious daughter. I was surprised she didn't tell Jyn how much she loved her on screen, as she must have known they may never see each other again. I think mother/daughter relationships are very important to show in movies so I wish Rogue One had included a little more detail about the bond Lyra and Jyn shared in addition to Jyn's relationship with her father. The fact that Jyn watched her mother get murdered must have been tough, so I also wish they had shown how that affected Jyn in the future. With that being said, I understand why Lyra was a very minor character in the movie so it's not a huge deal to me, but this might push me into reading Catalyst to learn more about Lyra.


Saw Gerrera
As much as I love that Lucasfilm made the decision to bring a character from Star Wars: The Clone Wars into a live-action film, I wasn't crazy about Saw Gerrera. I never got attached to him in The Clone Wars and I was hoping that Rogue One would make me like him more, but that wasn't the case. I disregarded him after finding out that he deserted Jyn in a bunker when she was sixteen. He will be returning in Star Wars: Rebels later this season so I'm hoping that we'll learn more about what thrusted him into the fighter we saw in Rogue One.

Overall, I have to say that I was extremely impressed by Rogue One. I really didn't expect to fall in love with this movie as much I did. Kudos to Gareth Edwards, Kathleen Kennedy, and every single person that was involved with the making of this crucial component of the Star Wars story. The success of this movie makes me even more excited for the Han Solo standalone in 2018!

Floral Helmets

Dec 2, 2016
This week I celebrated completing my final project for the last class of my photography minor. For the series, I explored the contrast of masculine and feminine elements between Star Wars helmets and flowers. As a woman who paints prop replica helmets in a male-dominated industry, I thought the flowers and greenery would represent my personal approach to prop making. All of these images were shot with natural light in front of a window with minimal editing in Lightroom. 

I'm offering very limited 8x10 prints of these photos while supplies last. Each print is $15 or you can buy the set of 5 for $60 plus shipping. If you're interested in placing an order, please email me at savannaakiefer@gmail.com with "Print Order" in the subject line. These would make great Christmas gifts for any Star Wars fan!




The Dorky Diva Show: Episode 2 with Amy Ratcliffe

Nov 19, 2016


In this month's episode of The Dorky Diva Show, I was joined by Amy Ratcliffe to talk about how she became a Star Wars fan, what fandom means to her, and even a little bit about our shared obsession with Disney. Enjoy this episode and don't forget to follow Amy on Twitter at @Amy_Geek.


Spoiler-free Ahsoka Book Review

Oct 20, 2016
Star Wars: Ahsoka by E. K. Johnston hit bookstores around the nation on October 11, 2016, and completely blew my mind. I wanted to share my excitement about this book in a way that didn't spoil the story if you haven't pick it up yet. If you haven't read the book and want to know why you should, please check out my spoiler-free review below. If you have read Ahsoka, I would love to hear your thoughts about it. Leave a comment in the comment section towards the end of this post and let me know if you enjoyed it.


The Dorky Diva Show: Episode 1 with Ashley Eckstein

Oct 3, 2016


I'm stoked to announce that I've started my very own podcast called The Dorky Diva Show. This monthly podcast will be a place for me to chat about anything and everything related to Star Wars in a fun environment. Tune into October's episode where I talk with Ashley Eckstein from Her Universe about her character, Ahsoka Tano, and an upcoming book tour. Enjoy and may the Force be with you!


Rogue One Apparel from Design By Humans

Sep 30, 2016
Happy Rogue Friday! Multiple retailers released their new merchandise bright and early this morning for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which debuts in theaters on December 16, 2016. One of my favorite apparel brands, Design By Humans, unveiled their line of Rogue One shirts at midnight and I must say they look incredible!


This collection features dozens of new shirts spotlighting all of the new characters from Rogue One including some of my personal favorites- Jyn Erso, K-2SO, Captain Cassian Andor, and Orson Krennic. You can proudly wear your heart (or alliance) on your sleeve by choosing a Rebellion tee or one featuring dark side characters like the elite Deathtroopers.

Not only do these shirts look amazing with their subtle designs and earthy hues, but they are made to last. I have several tops from Design By Humans and they've lasted many trips through the washer and dryer while still looking brand new. Don't miss out on these officially licensed apparel items and take advantage of their free shipping offer for orders over $75.


What I Wore: September 24

Sep 24, 2016

As all Saturdays should be spent, I treated myself to a day of shopping and indulging in desserts with some friends. Not only did I find some awesome Star Wars collectibles along the way, but I also found a way to subtly incorporate Star Wars into my casual outfit. I paired a Darth Vader burnout T-shirt with a black maxi skirt and my favorite Imperial logo earrings. Of course I needed a way to carry around my vintage action figure scores, so my Stormtrooper sugar skull tote bag came in handy.


Outfit Details

Shirt and sandals from Target

Skirt from Wet Seal

Sunglasses from Walmart

Tote bag from Loungefly

Necklace from Ann Taylor


How do you incorporate Star Wars into your every day outfits?

Podcast and Radio Appearances

Sep 19, 2016
Over the last month, I've had the honor of appearing as a guest on several podcasts and radio shows. I thought it would be fun to share these with my readers if you're interested in hearing me talk about Star Wars with some awesome folks.

Rebel Force Radio


In this episode of Rebel Force Radio, I join hosts Jason Swank and Jimmy Mac to discuss in depth the full-length trailer for Rogue One that was released during NBC's Olympics coverage.

Galactic Fashion


In episode 15 of Galactic Fashion, I had the pleasure of chatting with Johnamarie Macias and Teresa Delgado about the latest Star Wars fashions and how I became a fangirl.

Star Wars Collectors Cast


I also had the chance to sit down and talk with James Burns of the Star Wars Collectors Cast to go over the latest Rogue One products and discuss the new merchandise. 

The Kris Cruz Program


Most recently, I had a great time getting to chat with Kris Cruz about my passion for Star Wars cosplay and how I created The Dorky Diva. 

This Star Wars-Themed Crepe Café Will Take Your Tastebuds to Outer Space

Sep 8, 2016
Located in the Latin Quarter of Paris between libraries and coffee shops, Odyssey attracts a crowd of foodies and sci-fi fanatics with their delectable variety of crepes and, of course, their elaborate Star Wars decor.


From the moment you step foot into Odyssey, all of your senses tingle. Aside from the sweet smells fuming from the kitchen, there is so much to enjoy. From the sleek Death Star corridor walls gracing the interior of the cafe to John Williams' score playing while you eat, there's no denying that this place is the creperie you've been looking for.


Not only is the menu translated into Aurebesh, the most common language in the Star Wars universe, it also features crepes for whatever craving you may have. The homemade salted buckwheat crepes are perfect for a savory lunch or dinner, while the sweet crepes hit the spot for any dessert enthusiast. Ranging at a reasonable price from 3,50 to 12,90 Euros per crepe, there's no excuse for not trying an array of them for a full meal.


Although Odyssey doesn't serve droids (or Gungans or Ewoks, for that matter), Anthony Daniels, also known as C-3PO himself, left his stamp of approval and an autograph which is proudly displayed in the dining room. If C-3PO enjoyed his food, you know it's gotta be good. He's a feisty one, and probably a picky eater too.


If crepes aren't your thing, Odyssey offers a great selection of ice cream flavors, ranging from passion fruit to Speculoos. Don't let the Imperial Star Destroyer looming through the window scare you away from their ice cream bar full of sundaes and waffle cones though.


Star Wars fan or not, Odyssey is a delightful cafe full of all sorts of yummy foods sure to his the spot between visiting Notre Dame and the infamous Eiffel Tower in Paris. Grace some Rebel friends and an appetite before heading to this galactic dining experience.


How to Paint a Sabine Wren Helmet

Aug 30, 2016
Costuming Comlinks is still on a bit of a hiatus while I start my final semester at college, but I do have two videos about the beginning process of prepping and painting my Sabine Wren helmet for her season three design. Enjoy and please leave a comment below if you have any questions!



How Star Wars Helped Me Through My Breakup

Aug 5, 2016
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. 

Star Wars at Disneyland Paris

Aug 4, 2016
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! 

Star Wars Celebration Europe Overview

Aug 3, 2016
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

Dorky Diva of the Week: Brittany Hughes

Jul 12, 2016
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.