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Employee Spotlight: Chris Rehm

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Lucasfilm’s senior events manager shares his journey to helping run Star Wars Celebration.

It was a busy afternoon at Star Wars Celebration 2023 as Lucasfilm’s senior events manager Chris Rehm made his rounds. Already past the halfway mark, the London-based convention was proving a great success, but there was still plenty to attend to. Planning is essential, but things always change on the day, so much of his time was spent walking the showfloor, stopping to check in with respective teams and installations.

“There’s only three of us on the Lucasfilm events team, but we’re a strong and mighty group,” he noted. Rehm, along with his events specialist Michelle Phung and head of fan relations Alex Vargas, divided and conquered their responsibilities, partnering with teams across Lucasfilm, Disney, countless licensees, the ExCeL Center, and event producer ReedPOP. One of the important challenges, Rehm emphasized, is to be able to speak to each group with a “fluency” for their own needs and procedures.

His stops around the event included the Kids Stage where fans from the Saber Guild costuming club were leading youngsters in a lightsaber demonstration. Next he proceeded to the show’s biggest venue, the Celebration Stage, where he ensured the ReedPOP team was ready to welcome nearly 4,000 queuing fans into the Obi-Wan Kenobi panel. “I want to be  present, I want to make sure people know I’m there if they need something,” he remarked as he made his way to the Live Stage.

With that Celebration nearly finished, Rehm was already starting to think about the next one. The following day would conclude with the announcement of Celebration 2025 in Tokyo, Japan.

As Rehm now tells, his first professional visit to Celebration actually came before his hiring at Lucasfilm. Back in 2019, he was working for Premiere Displays, “an experiential marketing company and fabrication house,” as he explains. “We would do booth builds for any clients at trade shows or conventions. One of the big clients was Electronic Arts. They were doing Celebration Chicago to promote a mobile game, Galaxy of Heroes. So that was my first Celebration. It’s interesting now to understand the other side. I had just one booth to focus on.”

Rehm’s professional journey might seem like a well-planned, predetermined route to his current Lucasfilm position, each role providing another essential skill or bit of experience. But it all happened organically as he refined his career goals. “Going through my career in events, I wanted to be very intentional in terms of next steps and now how those could apply to being an event manager in some capacity,” he says. “I didn’t know that this was the position I was training for, but in hindsight it makes great sense.”

Rehm’s first step was in music. “I was actually a Music Management major at the University of the Pacific,” he explains. “I played the alto sax and music was always in the family, so I did marching band and jazz band and all of that. I was trying to stick with the arts, but I never thought I would be a professional saxophone player. That was not my aspiration. But I loved that world of entertainment in general, which is why I looked at the music business side.”

Out of college, Rehm found a position in the Disneyland Resort’s guest talent program. Throughout a given year, dozens of choirs, bands, dance groups and related workshops visit the resort to perform. For Rehm, supporting those efforts “made perfect sense,” as he puts it. “I knew those things. Artists gravitate towards other artists. You can speak the language, if you will. With that, I broadened out, and worked with events, such as anytime we had guest talent, like a military band for the Fourth of July or a filming where they needed a children’s choir. We even did the races, like the Star Wars Half Marathon, and we cast the 501st Legion for that.”

In addition to guest talent, Rehm worked with Disneyland’s atmosphere talent, musical groups that perform regularly around the park. After about six years at the resort, Rehm took the job at Premiere Displays, where he had his first introduction to Star Wars Celebration in 2019 in addition to countless other conventions and tradeshows. His first impressions of Celebration were an exercise in contrast. “I just thought it was fascinating to have everything be Star Wars,” he recalls. “Working at Comic-Con, it’s this melting pot of pop-culture. It can be anything. The who’s who comes out for it, and I don’t even necessarily know who or what that is. Then to enter Celebration, I know and love Star Wars, and all the people who are there love it. It’s this community, a family of people who made it a priority to come.”

Though Rehm valued his experience with Premiere Displays and enjoyed the travel, he also was newly married and looking to stay closer to home. “So I became senior manager of events at the Ontario Convention Center,” he explains. “Again, it’s the same world, but rather than being the client coming into the center, I was helping operate the actual center as a home base. After about a year, the Lucasfilm role opened up. How could I not apply? I had a love for events and for Star Wars and this world.”

Rehm became Lucasfilm’s new senior events manager in March of 2020 in what proved to be an unusual moment. “It was right before everything changed,” he says, recalling the start of the pandemic. “It was crazy timing, not the most ideal start to an events position but thankfully, it all worked out. With the extra time, it was great for me, Michelle, and Alex to really think outside the box. With events, you’re problem-solving all the time, constantly trouble-shooting and thinking of ways to keep the show going. It’s inevitable that you’re going to hit speed-bumps or hiccups. This was one of those. So how could we think of new ways to think of events? We did some virtual things, and then we really started to focus on the Anaheim Celebration. It was nice to have extra runway to feel confident to bring the best event forward in 2022.”

It’s poignant to realize that Lucasfilm’s events team all have strong backgrounds in theme parks, what Rehm describes as “essentially a never-ending event.” Whether it’s Celebration or a local activation on a smaller scale, their team understands the necessity of quality, attention to detail, and good show. “Each day at the theme park presents its new challenges, but no matter what’s going on, that day could be someone’s first time visiting, so what can you do to make it special?” Rehm says. “We try to remember the same thing for Celebration. People know Disneyland is the premier theme park experience. How can we keep Celebration as one of the great pop-culture events in the world?”

The recent experience in London was eye-opening for Rehm who developed an even fuller appreciation for the international scale of Star Wars fandom. “I remember thinking how special it was to be part of something so large and being able to provide it to the fans over in Europe, and on the same scale that we do in the United States,” he recalls. “It was a feeling of, here we are; we’re in London; we’re doing it. You take that long walk down the hall, go inside the arena and the Celebration logo is up on the screen as they’re testing everything. It’s before the show opens, and you know it’s going to be packed with fans, most of whom are local to the region and they haven’t had this opportunity for years. And with all the new titles and shows that have been coming out, there are new fans, and this is their first opportunity to come and see the show.”

That first panel in London, the Studio Showcase, is among Rehm’s favorite parts of the overall experience. “You don’t know that energy until you’re in the room,” he says. “You’ve been through the dress rehearsals, and then everyone is in there.” Rehm adds that the whole experience is not something one finds in every kind of job. “The beauty of events is that it’s like running a race. There’s a finish line and you get that medal and can tie a bow on the project, then move onto the next project. You put in lots of hard work and there’s a payoff, which is really satisfying. Assuming it goes well, of course!”

That momentum is now carrying the team towards Japan, already less than two years away, with plenty of work still to do. Rehm is “just as excited” as he had been for London, and notes frankly that Japan will be full of new challenges, something he relishes. “There’s a lot more to learn and adapt. London was a version of that, and now we’re doing the same thing with Tokyo on a new scale. There’s a new language and new customs. We want to put our best foot forward and offer a culturally-relevant show that’s unique to the region.”

Looking back on the journey thus far, Rehm again emphasizes the value of having that sense of where you want to be in your career trajectory. “Try to be as intentional as possible,” he concludes. “Not every position will be a dream job or a forever job, but does it serve a purpose? Does it ultimately give you knowledge, training, or skills to add to your professional toolbelt? If you can have that vision of where you want to be, make sure you take those steps to get there. Everything can serve a purpose.”

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