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Celebrities come in, costumes come out for Salt Lake FanX convention

Stars say Utah fans are ‘fresh’ and ‘not jaded,’ according to co-founder

Axel Erickson, left, and Jay Williams, right, draw their lightsabers on John Rhys-Davies from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “The Shannara Chronicles” and the “Gargoyles” TV series, at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019.
Axel Erickson, left, and Jay Williams, right, draw their lightsabers on John Rhys-Davies from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “The Shannara Chronicles” and the “Gargoyles” TV series, at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Edgar Perez Quiroz couldn’t wait to meet Anakin Skywalker.

Sitting in his wheelchair at Primary Children’s Hospital, the Mexico City native smiled gleefully when he finally met Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin Skywalker (and, you know, Darth Vader) in the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy.

Quiroz had his flat-brimmed hat signed. He had a lengthy conversation with Christensen. His younger brother, Derek, asked for Christensen’s autograph on a “Star Wars” figurine, too.

Christensen, along with Ian McDiarmid, who plays Emperor Palpatine in those same “Star Wars” prequels, both visited Primary Children’s Hospital Thursday, spending about an hour with children and their families by signing autographs, taking photos and playing with plastic toy lightsabers.

The brief moment the celebrities shared with these families highlighted how fans and celebrities often come together for the FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention, which began Thursday and runs through Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center. Organizers expect somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 attendees for this year’s event.

Wyatt Page meets Hayden Christensen, who plays Anakin Skywalker in the prequels “Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones” and “Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith,” at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019.
Wyatt Page meets Hayden Christensen, who plays Anakin Skywalker in the prequels “Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones” and “Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith,” at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

FanX boasts a pretty strong lineup this year, including “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and “Avengers: Endgame” star Tom Holland (who will be there on Friday), NSYNC alums Joey Fatone and Chris Kilpatrick, “The Sandlot” star Patrick Renna and “Good Burger” star Kel Mitchell, among dozens of others.

The event kicked off with a red carpet event Thursday, where celebrities — like John Rhys Davies (Gimli from “Lord of the Rings”) and Jess Harnell (“Animaniacs”) — greeted a gathering of nearly 200 fans and media. Fans dressed as Thick Thor from “Avengers: Endgame,” Princess Daisy from “Super Mario Bros,” and even Colonel Sanders of KFC fame all attended the red carpet event.

The red carpet walk is a new experience for FanX, putting fans up close to celebrities.

Dan Farr, co-founder of Fan X, told the Deseret News that in previous years, celebrities often talk among themselves, vendors speak to other vendors and fans talk to fans. But celebrities who attend FanX have nothing but praise for Utah fans, he said.

“I‘ve had a lot of celebrities say to me that they feel that the fans are different here, that they’re more excited, but in a more contained way. It’s not like the fans here are crazy and they scare the celebrities. It’s like, they’re so sweet,” Farr said.

Farr said celebrities feel Salt Lake fans are “fresh” and “not jaded.”

“They just do a good job of understanding boundaries and they’re polite,” Farr said. “The fans are the No. 1 reason why we’re able to get who we can get to the shows.”

He added, “It’s just a great group of people (who) are interested in helping other people. They’re always looking for ways to help out.”

Utah State University English professor Josi Russell (dressed as a “Lord of the Rings” elf) and her husband, Mitchell (who was dressed as a pirate), said FanX has become an opportunity to spend time with their children.

“It’s a way for us to kind of share things that we loved with our kids because there are a lot of classic toys that we played with,” Josi Russell said. “It’s all about telling stories and stories that people love.”

Mitchell Russell said attending the event has become a sort of tradition for their family.

“There’s an energy about a bunch of people who love to do something together,” he said.

Idaho native Laura Gray (dressed as a character named Taco from a Dungeons and Dragons podcast called “The Adventure Zone”) said FanX is an interesting convention because it’s one of the bigger ones in the Pacific Northwest.

“We’re from Idaho, where a lot of (convention) culture has died, so traveling down here has kind of become our primary (convention),” Gray said, adding she has been going to conventions for 15 years.

Caitlyn Bridges (dressed as Hela from “Thor: Ragnarok”) said that she enjoys coming to FanX because of the community.

“I love that even if you don’t know somebody, it’s so easy to just make friends here,” she said.

In fact, Farr met a new family at an event a couple of years ago who moved to Salt Lake City but didn’t know many people. They struggled to find friends for years. They didn’t know their neighbors.

“But when they started coming to the convention, they started making a lot of friends. And they said at that point that all of their friends were people that they met through the convention,” he said.

Farr said FanX will try to bring in bigger names in the future by talking with studios and production companies to put the event on the same scale as other comic conventions across the country, like New York Comic Con.

“I think we can continue to push ahead. We’re going to see more and more growth with the convention.”

Utah, he said, has the right fans to make it happen.

“They’re just calm,” Farr said of Utah’s fans. “People can feel just that warm and friendly environment that we have here.”