“How did Star Wars change your life?” is one of the questions posed to the panellists at Iceland’s first ever Comic-Con. Present are prop-makers, minor actors and the commander of the local chapter of the 501st Stormtrooper legion, in full regalia. In front, Boba Fett is snatching a selfie with Darth Vader.
One of them recounts seeing ‘Return of the Jedi’ at the cinema at the age of five. For our generation, it’s not so much how Star Wars changed our lives. It’s impossible to imagine life without it. One of my first memories is getting a Darth Vader figure as a shoe gift (we get one on each of the 13 days leading up to Christmas as the Yule Lads come to town). I didn’t know what it was, but a few days later I was taken to see ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’
Things arrived late here, the film had premiered in the U.S. in the summer of 1980, but only came here in late 1981. I later saw ‘Star Wars’ on VHS at a friend’s birthday party. It was easy to sympathise with a farm boy who grew up on a planet farthest from the bright centre of the universe in Iceland in the early 80s. Darth was not to be my last action figure and the subject of Luke’s true paternity was hotly debated in the playground of Ísaksskóli as ‘Return of the Jedi’ arrived a mere half year late in the Christmas of 1983.
Orcs vs Vikings
Fast forward 35 years, and the bright spot of the universe seems to have moved a lot closer to home. Iceland frequently pops up in ‘Star Wars’ movies now. Mads Mikkelsen did his ‘Rogue One’ scenes here and is a guest at this year’s RIFF. And just last weekend, the Midgard Comic-Con was held in Laugardalshöll.
It’s a sold-out event and many of the guests are arriving dressed in full regalia. I am almost trampled by a group of Orcs who are on their way to single combat. Rimmugýgur, the Hafnafjörður Viking fight club, have their own corner. There are booths manned by local comic book artists like Lóa and selling books by Hugleikur. But the major event is the Star Wars panel. We’ve come a long way from the films arriving a year late and puzzling over figurines in our shoes.
Kick for the vets
One man who can legitimately claim to have had his life changed by Star Wars is Brian Muir, who in 1976 was asked to work on a small sci-fi film and wound up sculpting Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers. He says he never expected to be paid for signing autographs 40 years on.
The man who seems most excited to be here, however, is Spencer Wilding, who first came here to be in the Icelandic version of ‘Beowulf’ (see our Grapevine cover story from 2004) and again for ‘Batman Begins.’ Now, though, he is best known for being Vader in ‘Rogue One.’ The former kickboxing champion can hardly contain his impressive physique, doing kicks and push-ups onstage, ostensibly in support of British Army veterans.
Darth and the troops arrive to the tune of the Imperial March and swivel around so we can admire the handywork. This is an ‘80s childhood fantasy come true. The young man next to me, however, is watching cat videos on his iPhone. It sure is hard to keep the attention of the young ‘uns these days. But Midgard made a valiant attempt.