An unknown man in full body armour wielding a sword approaches the metal detector and raises his arms before walking into an arena filled with more than 10 thousand people.
The uniformed officials standing guard don’t flinch. Next, a mystery woman wearing body combat gear puts two semiautomatic firearms on the conveyor belt and clears security within seconds.
But there’s no cause for alarm.
They’re in costume for the biannual Star Wars convention in Chicago, US, where superfans from all over the globe have converged for the five-day affair, lightsabres and plastic guns in tow.
The event includes discussion panels with Star Wars cast members, interactive displays, attractions, exhibitions, a merchandise store and even speed-dating, at Wintrust Arena. The detail and scale of fanfare on display is remarkable.
Swathes of people have skipped work and travelled from across the country and overseas to be here. Many of them are lathered in bodypaint and dressed as their favourite characters — from ewoks and stormtroopers to Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. The streets of south Chicago become a spectacle in their own right as fans pour in and out of the convention.
“Coming in costume gives you a sense of community,” Star Wars fan Dimity Lewis tells news.com.au.
“A lot of people that started off liking Star Wars started when it wasn't cool and were outcasts who weren’t really normal but they found each other with these movies and this collective thing that they all love.
“It’s a worldwide community we can all be a part of.”
STAR WARS: EPISODE IX TRAILER
American television host Stephen Colbert appears before the audience on stage ahead of the most anticipated part of the event: the first glimpse of the Episode IX trailer. The search term for the clip has been trending on Twitter before doors to the convention even opened.
“Star Wars fans are the greatest fans in the world,” Colbert says.
“I know because I’m one of them.”
Audience members raise their glowing light sabres in solidarity and roar with cheers. And they’re just the ones who can be seen.
So many fans have descended on the venue that they are split between three arenas with the live action at the Celebration Stage beamed into the other rooms. Those who missed out on tickets wait on standby outside in hopes of a seat becoming available at the last minute. Millions of others around the world will watch the spectacle on livestream.
The Rise of Skywalker, the official title of Episode IX, will wrap up the 42-year-old Skywalker saga and the current movie trilogy. Star Wars stalwarts have been starving for a glimpse of the film, slated for a December release, for hints as to what happens next.
Its midmorning and some audience members are drinking alcohol.
“It’s a celebration,” one says into a roaming camera played to the crowd.
Another fan dressed as an ewok tells the audience she’s here to “bring back ewoks” and receives a standing ovation from others in support of the idea. Star Wars cast members are soon rolled out on stage as anticipation for the teaser trailer reaches fever-pitch. The lights dim and the crowd falls silent.
“No one is ever really gone,” the voice of Luke Skywalker says.
Mark Hamill’s Skywalker may have died at the end of the most recent instalment but his voice dominates the teaser trailer.
A villainous cackle signals the end of the screening. It’s voiced by Ian McDiarmid who played Palpatine in previous films. McDiarmid then walks onstage to a loud applause from a live audience of about 10,000 hardcore fans.
“Roll it again,” McDiarmid says in his character’s signature voice.
The trailer replays and a livestream audience is shown the reactions of cast members including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac. The crowd goes wild.
Superfan Sandra Jones, 43, from Houston tells news.com.au she “loved” what she saw.
“I feel like with the Last Jedi, Episode 8, it took a bit of a detour from the Star Wars we all know and love,” she says.
“Episode 8 was great but definitely not the high point of the franchise.
“This feels like it’s coming back to the best of itself.”
Star Wars is such a global phenomenon that within 24 hours of the new trailer being released, its clocked up more than 11 million views worldwide.
Among those who have travelled far and wide to take part in the convention is Australian business development worker Chris Long, 22. He booked flights from Melbourne to Chicago the moment he heard about it. Like so many others, Mr Long grew up with Star Wars, and the franchise holds sentimental value.
“My pappa showed me the VHS when I was very young,” he tells news.com.au.
“It’s been a huge part of my life for a very long time. It’s something people can get lost in which I think is very cool.”
He’s decided to mark the occasion by getting a “chosen ones lightsabre” on his right ankle in the exhibition hall at the convention.
It’s a decision he made spontaneously, he says. And he’s not the only one. An entire corner of the hall is set aside for 44 tattooists from Ink Fusion to provide their services to fans during the convention. The space is buzzing with customers who register on waiting lists to get tattoos of everything from lightsabres to Darth Vader helmets.
Ink Fusion Tattoo artist Jake Swift estimates that about 220 Star Wars tattoos are done on site each day of the convention.
Accountant Madigan Ray, 33, and retail worker Danny Rosales, 28, have travelled from San Diego to Chicago to attend the event. They’re best friends who’ve decided to get inked to mark their “10 year friendship anniversary”.
Ms Ray already has a “pin-up version of slave Leia” tattooed on her ribcage.
“Today I’m going to get a storm trooper helmet on my arm,” she tells news.com.au.
“One of my parents’ first dates in 1977 was to go and see Star Wars, so I was never not going to be a huge nerd.
“They’re just such iconic movies and even though they take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, they’re very accessible stories and very human stories.”
Mr Rosales gets his first tattoo of a “Rebel Alliance insignia” in the same place as Ms Ray.
“All the ladies in star wars kick butt,” he says.
“I’ve always been such a fan of ladies in sci-fi and Princess Leia is everything.”
HOW WILL CARRIE FISHER BE FACTORED IN?
Carrie Fisher’s Leia Organa is back in the next movie, despite the actress’s untimely death in 2016. Lucasfilm had previously stated that the star’s death wouldn’t deter them from using her character in the closing chapter of the Skywalker saga.
“The idea of having a CG character was off the table,” director JJ Abrams says in a panel discussion.
“You don’t recast that part and you don’t suddenly have [Fisher] disappear.”
The director says that he pieced together new Leia moments with unused scenes from The Force Awakens.
“There was actually a way to use those scenes to continue her story,” he says.
“Princess Leia lives in this film in a way that’s mind-blowing for me.”
Its a decision that pleased many fans who spoke to news.com.au at the event.
“It’s a very diverse fanbase because no matter who you are you will find something in the movies that speaks to you, that makes sense to you, something that gives you hope,” one fan tells news.com.au.
“Because hope is the through-line of all the trilogies.”