Dragon*Con: Fans let their freak flags fly

Only on Planet Dragon*Con might you see Ernest Borgnine signing an autograph for a Death Eater or a red stormtrooper hoisting a beat box and grooving along to Run-D.M.C.’s “It’s Tricky.”

But that’s the beauty of the four-day sci-fi convention – or, more affectionately, a fun freak fest – currently overtaking downtown Atlanta.

It’s a place where nobody knows your name, but everyone wants to you if you’re dressed outlandishly enough.

In its 25 years of existence, Dragon*Con has expanded from an underground gathering in a suburban locale to completely saturating five hotels downtown, filling the streets with colorful comic book creations brought to life. More than 45,000 people are expected to check out this year’s extravaganza.

Jeff Breedlove, 44, is a more sedate attendee. At the Marriott Marquis Saturday morning, he and his 11-year-old son, Jack, gawked at the posse of “Box Heroes”– superheroes donning impeccably painted cardboard outfits – and waited for anyone dressed at Captain America, Jack’s favorite, to wander by.

“As an in-town resident, I can say that when the city supports this, it really speaks for the image of Atlanta, and that’s a good thing,” Breedlove, sporting a Superman polo, said.

Though he didn’t buy passes to this year’s event, choosing instead to take Jack to the free Saturday morning costume parade that stretched from Woodruff Park to downtown and then to engage in people/creature-watching in the hotel lobbies, Breedlove has been coming to Dragon*Con in its many forms since 5th grade.

“It’s grown to so many genres – it used to be ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Dr. Who’ and comic books. But it’s great to see it expand. It’s an important part of the economy for Atlanta and for Dragon*Con.”

Indeed, throughout its tenure, the event has magnified in scope and in level of guest speakers and performers.

This year’s conference, which runs through Monday, includes more than 1,600 hours of programming and despite the swarms of people clogging the hotels, so far seems impressively organized.

On Saturday, the must-go panel, judging from the line that wrapped around the hotel several times and the thousand or so people filing into the Marquis’ massive ballroom, was a Q&A session with “Star Wars” alums Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett) and Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano in “The Clone Wars."

Fisher was in typical ribald form, her searing sarcasm peppering every comment.

When asked which scenes in the original “Star Wars” trilogy were hardest to shoot, she remarked that during endless hours sitting on speeder bikes in front of a blue screen for “Return of the Jedi,” she’d peruse books. And that famous hologram speech she delivers in “Star Wars”?

“We had to reshoot that scene so many times, which is why I can’t forget it. That’s why I get the electroshock.”

Fisher has frequently spoken about her regular use of the form of therapy to cope with her clinical depression.

Newly slimmed and wearing tinted glasses while puffing on what looked like an electric cigarette, Fisher also dished on kissing Harrison Ford (“When he first walked onto the set, I was like, wow, he’s like Bogart. He’s going to be a star. There was something epic about Harrison. I was glad to be his…whatever I was. Not his sister!”) and joked about some of the stilted dialogue in “Star Wars.”

“ ‘I thought I recognized your foul stench.’ How the hell do you say that without that stupid British accent? It just sounded so arch and so British and so non-human,” she said.

Meanwhile, the sweet-natured Mayhew, looking a bit like Ozzy Osbourne and sitting in a wheelchair behind the panel table, noted that he had the third most difficult costume in the films – after Darth Vader and C-3PO – but he never allowed himself to think he was Chewbacca, “unlike the others.”

Both Fisher and Mayhew had difficulty finding something kind to say about the much-reviled 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special” until Fisher just gave up.

“They use that now instead of waterboarding, I hear.”

Both actors also made appearances Saturday afternoon in the sprawling Walk of Fame room at the Hilton, where fans could see and get autographs and photos from dozens of sci-fi and fantasy stars including Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson, Howard Hessman and Loni Anderson, Lou Ferrigno, Elvira, Kristin Bauer and Tom Felton, whose autograph line stretched out the door.

Prices ranged from $5 to $10 for a photo with Mayhew and Hessman, respectively, to $60 for a Fisher autograph and $70 for William Shatner.

Sunday’s Dragon*Con itinerary includes panels with Stan Lee, Martin Landau, Shatner, Fisher, Lloyd and Felton as well as a full day of programming panels ranging from European Animation to the resurgence of goth to a Q&A with the cast of “The Walking Dead.”

For a full lineup and information about day pass prices and how to download the Dragon*Con app, visit www.dragoncon.org.

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