ForceFest2020: Star Wars Fans Succeed at Creating Their Own FanFest


ForceFest from a volunteer POV. This is what happens when Star Wars fans come together to create a fan-run event in the absence of Star Wars Celebration.

When I received the email about volunteering at ForceFest 2020, I couldn’t sign up fast enough! The excitement alone was enough for me to join. It excites me when people come together to achieve a goal. Maybe that feeling comes from my love of sports or watching the rebellion defeat the oppressive Empire. Anyway, teamwork makes the dream work, right? My history with Star Wars also plays into my experience with ForceFest 2020. For most of my adult life, I celebrated Star Wars as an individual. In 2014 I discovered podcasts, and then a year later I started writing about it.

With that in mind, you can understand how excited I was at the idea of joining with other fans to create a fan-run Celebration. I didn’t have a hand in creating it. Leave that to those brave folks who love Star Wars and have the technical skills to organize a fan-run event such as ForceFest2020. I, however, was a volunteer. What that entailed at the time, I had no idea. All I knew was a bunch of my friends were doing this, and I wanted in. While this was coming together, I was also in the middle of reading JW Rinzler’s new book, All Up, with a follow-up review.

The Calm Before the Storm

I received my invitation through email in mid-July (I don’t remember exactly when). Everything seemed a bit quiet, I thought maybe they had enough volunteers. I even mentioned it to my friend Amanda to see if she wanted to apply for a podcast stage (that’s a negative). Early in August, things started to ramp up—I’m now a volunteer! I downloaded GetVokl and created an account, and lastly, attended the information sessions on 8/10 and 8/17. When I joined the first info session I thought there would only be a few of us, so I grabbed a spot on camera. I saw my friends Connie, Richard, and Sarah. I realized there were way more people off-camera. The chat was full of more volunteers! That’s when it hit me that this was going to be huge.

ForceFest Admin Instructions

GetVokl’s tech team (Liz, Kira, and Lokesh) and GetVokl met every challenge, putting out fires left and right. They were Johnny on the spot every time an issue arose. Everyone was super friendly and so helpful! With GetVokl supporting ForceFest2020 and Richard and Sarah doing an incredible amount of work organizing the event, I knew it was in good hands. Courtney and Kelly Turckel, Kevin Toft, Tyler Bucks, Christy Morris, and Frank D. Rich all worked so hard coordinating the volunteer duties, sharing on social media, and getting our Slack channel set up. Honestly, they all did a fantastic job because they treated it like it was a paying job. I can feel how dedicated everyone is. And if I forgot someone please accept my apologies.

ForceFest Is On The Horizon

Once the GetVokl info sessions passed, Courtney and Kelly made themselves available for any of the 30 volunteers who wanted to practice. The fact that we all came together to help ForceFest2020 be a success really made us all want to be there for each other. We all took part in the info sessions and practice run-thrus multiple times because we didn’t want to let each other down, or be the one who goofed (although it’s live and things happen). We came together as a team to make ForceFest2020 work because it meant so much to everyone. And I am really proud to work with so many great people.

The Friday night before the panels started, we celebrated the ForceFest 2020 opening ceremonies with trivia and hanging out with friends talking about the upcoming weekend. I’m always more comfortable hanging back and letting everyone talk. I might chip in a comment now and then, but I have to work up to that point. I write so I don’t have to talk. Despite my preferred state of hermit-ism, I made myself available 24/7 to any panelist I was working with. Whatever they needed, I’d do my best to help them, and I told Stephen and Melissa, “if I don’t know the answer, I will find someone who does.”

Today’s The Day – ForceFest!

My first panel on Saturday was Celebrating the Ewok Adventures (plural, right Richard?) hosted by Richard and Sarah Woloski with Eric Walker (Mace Towani) and Kevin Thompson (Ewoks) as guests. On the morning of this panel, I felt pretty cool, calm, and collected (a little tense but I tried to ignore it).. About an hour before the panel began to set up. I had my tables setup, my laptop was open with GetVokl in one tab, and my volunteer instructions were open in my Google Docs. My instructions are in front of me printed out. I got my bottle of water, my laptop is charged. I even had my copy of The Ewok movies next to me. I’m good to go!

WiFi NoFi

Just as Kevin and Eric joined the panel, before I hit record, my WiFi decided it needed a break. Why? I thought, not now! Don’t do this to me now! I immediately told Courtney and Kelly, and they said they’d send another admin to my panel to cover just in case. My WiFi came back just as I hit record, and then it died again. I haven’t mentioned yet that I’m sitting further away from the modem than I usually am when I’m on my laptop. Hence the weaker signal. So I quickly picked up my setup and moved everything back to my usual location. It was smooth sailing from there.

The weekend could’ve been stressful, but it wasn’t at all. Once I went through my first panel, I felt more confident about what I needed to do. I adjusted the instructions a little to make the panelist feel more comfortable. Such as at the end of the panel, I’d give them more notices how much time they had left. At the start, I’d count them in to give them a solid starting point. Every 15 minutes I’d post the Make-A-Wish link.

Smartypants Star Wars Fans

Before my next panel, I hopped around other stages, but I didn’t want to watch too much because I was afraid it would make me overthink what to do as an admin. Lawyers on the 40th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back was my second and last panel on Saturday. Hosted by Stephen Tolaifield, Bethany Bangfort, Steve Chu, and Nari Ely. This was such a cool panel that explored the legality of how the Empire treated its members, how bounty hunting worked, among so many other exciting topics. I definitely recommend this panel. Legal terms were flying through the air like blaster bolts.

Science in Star Wars

The last panel that I was the admin for was Wildlife in a Galaxy Far, Far Away, hosted by Melissa Miller with panelists Terryl Whitlach, Frank Santana, Angela Zoumplis, Traci Degerman, Jake Lunt Davies. This was another super fascinating panel about the various wildlife in Star Wars, how they lived, what they ate, their anatomy, and adapting to multiple environments. What isn’t surprising, but still amazes me, is how incredibly smart Star Wars fans are.

After my last panel, I browsed #ForceFest on GetVokl to join other panels as an attendee. I hopped on to watch the Fandom Through Generations panel, A Hero’s Journey with artist Fernando Del Rosario, Star Wars: A Literary Language hosted by Dan Zehr, and Thank You, Grant Imahara! A beautiful tribute panel to the life of Grant Imahara. Panelists Don, Nelson, and Adam Savage waxed poetic about memories of Grant as a friend and coworker. This panel was, I think, a late addition that was first pitched by Melissa Miller, and I believe the most attended panel of the weekend. This speaks a lot about the kind of guy Grant was. Those who knew him considered him a friend, and to Grant, everyone was a friend.

Bittersweet Ending to a Fun Weekend

The closing ceremonies wrapped up a great weekend. I was so proud that we actually pulled it off. We exceeded our $3000 fundraising Make-A-Wish goal, which was the icing on the cake. During the closing ceremonies, we had trivia and talked about how the weekend went. Aside from a few technical glitches, everything went pretty smooth on my end. After it was all over I was relieved, but also sad because it was so much fun! I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the instructions I printed out so I folded them up and put them inside a book.

Personally, meeting new friends this way is easier for me to do because it comes in smaller doses. Celebration Anaheim 2020 would’ve been my second Celebration, where my goal was to meet more people. That wasn’t an option this year, but thanks to Richard and Sarah, I met more people and made more new friends during ForceFest than I ever would have at a Celebration, and that’s what it’s all about. ForceFest2020 is the result of the best parts of Star Wars fandom.

Before I finish I want to name all of my fellow volunteers. Bryn MacKinnon, Jess Walz, Megan Rickards, Jeffery White, Trevor Fitzpatrick, Adam Goswick, Dan Boris, Chase Hauser, John Zancanaro, Jeffery Fischbach, Nicole Anderson, Peter Heitman, Justin Steinkamp, William Magalio, Tracey Ziemba, Anthony Welling (Ruralfarmboy), David Drennan, Dave Skale, J. G Carse, Connie Shih, Leann Nelson, and Amanda Bond. I hope I didn’t miss anyone. I couldn’t ask for a better group of friends to work with.

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