On stage for the opening press conference of the 2016 Salt Lake Comic Con, co-founder Dan Farr referred to the plans for the original 2013 event that had assumed Sandy's South Towne Expo Center would be big enough to hold all the interested attendees. He made that remark in the middle of Vivint Smart Home Arena, to a crowd that would top 10,000 people by the time featured guest Mark Hamill took the stage an hour later.
The Salt Lake Comic Con events at the Salt Palace—including the spring FanX gatherings—have become a phenomenon, combining celebrity appearances, fascinating panel conversations and a kind of geek-culture love-in. But the arena show on Thursday morning took the circus to a new level. The Utah Jazz mascot Bear blasted confetti, streamers and Silly String into the crowd. Bboy Federation dancers showed off their hip-hop street dancing skills while dressed as competing Jedi and "Dark Side" forces. Lou Ferrigno (of the 1970s The Incredible Hulk
TV series) was sworn in as a Salt Lake County deputy, with a tacked-on oath about how he would "smash" any other organization that messed with with Salt Lake Comic Con (a reference to ongoing legal disputes with San Diego Comic-Con). As amazing as this event's growth has been, there are cautionary tales in anything becoming too huge too fast—including losing track of why you got huge in the first place.
That focus was quickly restored when Hamill took the stage at around 11:15 a.m., accompanied by a deafening roar. Alone on the elevated platform with nothing but a microphone and a folding chair, he spun anecdotes about the way the last few years have seen him circling back to his most popular roles: Luke Skywalker in the new Star Wars
films; The Trickster in The Flash
TV series; the voice of Joker in various animated film and video-game Batman
projects. In a way, it was a story about fandom itself, the way fans' love of certain characters and franchises guarantees them almost eternal life. And Hamill showed his appreciation for that fandom throughout his hour on stage, through gestures as simple as turning periodically so that fans on all sides of the stage would have his attention. It was even the reason, he insisted, that the Star Wars
universe was so tight-lipped about revealing plot elements from the upcoming films: because it made the fan experience of watching those movies richer and more exciting.
The logistics of putting on such an event will continue to be a challenge, as organizers attempt to satisfy demand while preserving an experience that doesn't feel over-stuffed and over-crowded. As long as they can continue to deliver moments of fan rapture—showcasing both the local panelists and national celebrities who understand what it means to fall in love with a creative work—the confetti and circuses aren't necessary.