A couple of weeks ago, I was at Star Wars Celebration in London. This is the first time I had attended a Star Wars Celebration since its inception in 1999 – which was originally held in conjunction with each prequel film, then started happening more frequently, eventually becoming an annual event. It’s almost weird that I like Star Wars as much as I do, but had never gone before. But, this year I went, but it was for work.
Now, I’ll say this as someone who loves Star Wars: Star Wars Celebration is a lot. By the third day, I was Star Wars’d out. I think I said out loud, “I may hate Star Wars.” (This wasn’t true: but take something you love and mainline a concentrated version of that for three days and a human being can start to dislike anything.) Celebration isn’t as daunting as something like, say, San Diego Comic-Con (it’s not nearly as big), but it’s still three days of being surrounded by lots and lots of people, all of whom love Star Wars. As I get older, my patience for being in a large crowd of people has dissipated. I used to look at reclusiveness as odd behavior, but now I’m starting to think recluses have the right idea. Crowds are for suckers. Even if half the crowd is dressed as a Sith Lord.
(And I’ll add this about living in New York City: I have gotten used to everything being super fast. Politeness means nothing to me, just give me what I ordered as fast as you can. It’s a deal we have all made to live here: People aren’t going to be chatty, but in exchange you won’t be standing in that Dunkin’ Donuts line very long. In London, it seems the opposite. People take a long time to place an order and then it takes a long time to get whatever it is you ordered. This was not unique to Star Wars Celebration – this seemed to be the status quo everywhere I went – but it added to my frustration. It would take 20 minutes just to get a bottle of water. My point is, as Ryan Adams once said: I still love you, New York.)
Anyway, there was a lot of downtime between the important panels, which led to plenty of time to wander the floor of the convention hall. It’s not quite as interesting as you might expect. The cosplay is fun…
But most of what people are selling in the booths is the same stuff you can find at your local Target, just more expensive. Put it this way: finding a unique gift for a friend who was cat sitting that (a) he couldn’t just pick up a few blocks from his apartment or (b) didn’t cost £10,000 was difficult. It’s about this time I became obsessed with meeting Yak Face.
Yak Face is probably the most infamous of the original Kenner line of Star Wars action figures.* Yak Face appears ever so briefly in Return of the Jedi, but his action figure was issued so late in the original Kenner run that he was never sold in the United States, only in Canada and Australia. Because of this – and because people weren’t buying Star Wars action figures anymore in 1985 – some of the most valuable toys come from this last line, especially Yak Face. I’ve had a somewhat major infatuation with Yak Face.
*If we want to go way too deep down this hole, the answer to “most infamous” would probably be a character named Vlix that you’ve most likely never heard of. In 1985, ABC aired Droids, a short-lived animated series that featured the adventures of C-3PO and R2-D2. A toy line was created in support of Droids and the action figure of Vlix was only released in Brazil. If you’re going to the Olympics, you may be able to find a few Vlixs buried there in-between the toxic sludge.
During this aforementioned down time, a colleague of mine suggested we take a look at who was signing autographs in the back of the convention floor. I didn’t even realize this was happening, but sure enough, there’s a line a mile long (this is a mild exaggeration) for people to pay £175 to get an autograph from Mark Hamill or Carrie Fisher. I don’t begrudge the people in line, that’s not a bad souvenir to come back home with. It’s certainly more exciting than a Funko Pop. (But I couldn’t help but think what it would be like if Harrison Ford was sitting there, too. The imaginary expressions of annoyance on his face made me smile.)
Regardless, around the corner from Hamill and Fisher sat, let’s say, people who were in Star Wars, but who weren’t members of the principal cast. Captain/Admiral Piett (also known as Kenneth Colley) was there! And looked pretty great! But, just then, I heard this voice in my head: “Oh, man, it’s Yak Face. Mike, you have to meet Yak Face.”
At first I thought this was my inner conscious, but then realized it was a colleague of mine, Erik Davis, whispering into my ear – I realized this when I remembered my inner-conscious doesn’t have a Long Island accent.
He was right, though. I had to meet Yak Face. It was fate that brought me to London so that I could meet the person who was in the Yak Face costume that was on screen in Return of the Jedi for maybe three seconds.
I told myself I’d only do this if I happened to see a Yak Face action figure somewhere on the convention floor to purchase. (One of the newer, cheaper editions. Not the original version. Also, Yak Face goes by the name of Saelt-Marae these days. I can only assume “Yak Face” is some sort of slang that is probably problematic in the Star Wars galaxy.) Not surprisingly, this didn’t take long to find. It was later in the day, so that might have played a role in this, but I was legitimately shocked no one else was in line to meet Yak Face. Mark Hamill is everywhere, but how often does one get a chance to meet the rarest of action figures?
The man who played Yak Face is named Sean Crawford. When I approached Crawford’s table, he had it covered with some sort of custom embroidered tablecloth that would look like it belonged to a crazy person if anyone else owned this other than the person who played Yak Face. I’m sure Crawford looks at this as a way to make some extra cash (I forked over 10 pounds), but it’s nice that he seems way into Yak Face. I’m glad he didn’t become one of those people haunted by his past as Yak Face, declining all interviews, “I’ll talk about anything you want, but no Yak Face questions.”
I must have looked like such an idiot. I’ve met a lot of famous people in my life (it’s my job), but I felt legitimately star struck. I’m meeting Yak Face! The conversation went something like this:
“Oh my gosh, this is the greatest thing. It’s so great to meet you.”
“Yeah.” [Signs autograph.]
“It was so great to meet you!”
“Okay, yeah. You, too.”
Anyway, I met Yak Face. My Star Wars Celebration dream came true. It felt good. I felt like all the other people in the hall, doing something for fun. It’s just a very different experience to be at something like this as a fan (even briefly) than it is for work. For a few seconds there, I didn’t even mind the crowd.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.