Highlights from Emerald City Comicon 2013: Patrick Stewart, Walter Koenig, and Billy Dee Williams

Williams hopes to play Lando again, Koenig will once again play Chekov, and Stewart looks forward to being Professor X again.

By , Contributor

Emerald City Comicon 2013 is now history, having packed all manner of comic book, sci-fi, and general pop culture fans into Seattle’s Washington State Convention Center, March 1-3. It was my first experience attending such a convention and I suspect my rookie status was likely easy to spot for veterans. Rather than brave the crowds, weaving in and out of elaborately costumed attendees, I found myself seeking refuge in the main hall. I wandered around the exhibitor and vendor booths, of course, but couldn’t resist the nonstop lineup of great celebrity guest panels. Looking back at the history of Emerald City Comicon, it was clear the organizers really worked hard to outdo themselves this year.

With Carrie Fisher cancelling only days before the convention, the Friday afternoon appearance by Billy Dee Williams was easily the top draw for Star Wars buffs. The 75-year-old actor charmed the audience with stories of working with George Lucas while portraying Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I have no idea how many of these conventions Williams has done (I’m guessing quite a few), but he still seems a bit bewildered—and deeply appreciative—of the attention he continues to receive for these roles.

So what about the upcoming seventh episode of Star Wars? All Williams said when directly asked if he will be reprising his signature role was, “They’re still writing [the screenplay],” but added that he would gladly play Lando again if approached. Regarding Disney’s recent acquisition of the franchise, Williams said there was “no better home” for Star Wars than The Walt Disney Company. During the Q&A period, a fan asked Williams’ opinion of the proliferation of computer-generated imagery in modern films. “All new tech is useful, I welcome it,” Williams explained, but cautioned that “it can’t override the storytelling.” He offered no comment when asked for his thoughts on all the digital tinkering George Lucas has done to the original trilogy of Star Wars films.

Touching on different periods of his career, Williams recalled that kissing Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues was a “big moment.” He also spoke about the dangers of working in the subways in New York City while shooting Nighthawks with Sylvester Stallone in the early ‘80s. Moderator Dave Mahler even mentioned his controversial Colt 45 beer commercials, quoting Williams as having once said he would do a commercial for marijuana if it was legal. After the predictable smattering of applause (Washington State recently passed a measure to legalize the drug), Williams emphatically stated, “I never said that.”

Williams received big cheers when he recreated his jubilant exclamation from Jedi (as Lando and Nien Numb blow up the Death Star). He also humorously cited Numb, his co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon, as his favorite Star Wars co-star. The panel concluded with several members of The Lando Society, all decked out in Lando's blue Empire cape, formally inducting Williams as a member.

Representing Star Trek: The Original Series, 76-year-old Walter Koenig—who portrayed Pavel Chekov in the second and third seasons of the original television series and seven big screen adventures—spoke with fans Saturday. The panel was moderated by Seattle talk radio host Dave Boze, who began with a discussion about the correlation between Cold War attitudes of the ‘60s and Koenig’s portrayal of the Russian Enterprise crew member. “The people out there who were anti-Russian just kind of ignored [the character's background],” Koenig casually explained. On a more personal level, he later discussed his own father’s outspoken support of the Communist party.

When asked how he would’ve written a death scene for Chekov, Koenig admitted to not having any specific conception. He did say such a scene would certainly have to be better constructed than the death of Captain Kirk (in the 1994 film Star Trek Generations), calling Kirk’s death “a sorry excuse for an ending” and “an insult” to the venerable character.

When the subject of Babylon 5 came up, in which Koenig was featured as a recurring guest star, the actor fondly looked back on the experience as “the most fun I’ve had an actor on TV…a terrific experience in every way it could’ve been.” For comparison’s sake, he referred to the treatment of the actors on the original Star Trek television series as a “caste system.” He expressed displeasure in the way the supporting cast’s names were weaved into the end credits around the names of various guest stars. According to Koenig, the actors on Trek were treated as pieces of “moving furniture.” On Babylon 5, he remembered, “Every time I was on the show, I had something to do. I felt significant to the story.”

During the audience Q&A segment, one particularly impolite fan asked Koenig for details about an episode of Kraft Suspense Theatre that co-starred James Caan and was written by Harlan Ellison. Koenig politely corrected the fan, saying that the television episode in question was in fact from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. As he was relaying the experience of working with Caan, with whom he had attended the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, the fan rudely interrupted the story, insisting the TV show was Kraft Suspense Theatre. This was an unfortunate example of the “I know your career better than you do” syndrome that affects some people at these events. To his credit, Koenig waved it off, dismissively saying, “Then they must’ve changed the name.”

One uncouth fan certainly couldn’t put the damper on a superb hour of stories. Interestingly, Koenig’s current project is a film called Cowboys & Engines: A Steampunk Film, which recently met its fundraising goal on Kickstarter. Of the many projects Koenig has been tapped for via the Internet, most are turned down. One independent production offered him above-the-title billing, but the film carried a political message the actor “could not tolerate.” Another was turned down due to a scene in which the character Koenig was to play is decapitated, only to have his head eaten by a dog.

Perhaps most exciting for Trek fans, Koenig will don a Starfleet uniform once again, reprising his signature role in the Kickstarter-funded Star Trek: Renegades, an unofficial entry in the Trek universe (and a follow-up to the 2008 mini-series Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, also co-starring Koenig as Chekov). For more information, visit their official website.

Star Trek lovers were again in hog heaven with Sunday’s closing appearance by Sir Patrick Stewart. “It feels so good to be back here in Canada,” were the iconic star’s first words as he took the stage before a capacity audience. He was, of course, joking—later explaining that he is trying to learn to be funny after years of playing serious, dramatic roles. The audience hung on his every word, whether telling well-worn stories (his initial fear of signing a six-year contract to portray Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation) or sharing recent information (he will be on Broadway later this year, starring with Ian McKellen in Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land).

Stewart also touched on his upcoming reprisal of his other iconic role, Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men film series. When asked during the audience Q&A period whether Hugh Jackman is as charming in real life as he seems in the media, Stewart emphatically answered in the affirmative. He then drew huge cheers by adding, “I will be nose-to-nose with him in about six weeks,” on the set of Byran Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. He also got uproarious laughs as he confessed to his total ignorance of who Sting was during the shooting of David Lynch’s Dune. “Oh, you play in a police band,” Stewart gamely offered when the singer-songwriter told him about his “other” profession. The discussion took a far more poignant turn as Stewart shared the source of inspiration for his authoritative performances: “My father is in every role I play.”

As the Q&A period came to a close, one fan attempted to get Stewart to deliver his famous Captain Picard line, “Make it so.” Stewart declined, explaining that the last time he uttered the phrase in a public forum was while introducing Tony Blair at a 1997 rally by imploring the audience to elect Blair as Prime Minister by saying…“those three words.” The fan was disappointed Stewart wouldn’t say it, but the audience thundered with laughter and applause as the hour, which flew by, came to an end—along with Emerald City Comicon 2013 itself.

Photos: Sherry Lipp

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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