Although I’ve had some memorable New Year’s Eves in my life (seeing Jason Marsalis perform in New Orleans, “burning the old man” traditions in my homeland of Ecuador), I’d have to say my favorite was five years ago, when my boss--George Lucas--was named the Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade and a handful of Lucasfilm employees were conscripted to help decorate the two floats that the company was sponsoring. I didn’t know anything about the specific designs that had been created, but watching the parade was an annual ritual in my home growing up and I even spent the night in a lawn chair on Colorado Blvd in Pasadena once to see the parade in person the next day. That was in high school with some of my friends and whatever limited basketball skills I have can be attributed to spending hours trying to throw marshmallows into the open sunroofs of passing limousines that night.
So we showed up bright and early on 12/31/06 to a large hangar that had four floats in it—two of ours and the two floats of the college teams playing in the Rose Bowl that day (Michigan and USC). Our shift was the second-to-last, which meant that all the final mounting of foliage & greenery, herb gluing, veggie application, and other texturing and ornamentation would take place. The shift after ours (the final, late night/early morning shift) only had one job: applying all the actual flowers.
The work crews were a motley mix of my colleagues, elderly alumni from those rival universities, and volunteers from some of the local SoCal high schools. Our floats were of two Star Wars environments: the Endor forest moon and the Queen's palace on Naboo, essentially bookending the saga with locations from Episodes 1 & 6. Endor was mostly finished but there was still lots of detailing to be done on Amidala’s royal grounds, particularly on the towers which loomed above us, requiring a scaffold two-and-a-half stories high to reach them.
Since I’m not really afraid of heights, I clambered up this steel and wood frame and spent the next few hours adhering one bean after another (both red and white) into elaborate pre-stenciled patterns at the top of these towers. Then later, pinning branches and ivy to the walls. Or using seeds on the coats of some exotic Ewok pack-animals. Or finally patching up any bald spots with additional spices. In the meantime, my (now ex-)wife had coordinated all the volunteers into efficient assembly lines, because in addition to all these last-minute touch-ups on the floats, our shift had to stage all the flowers that the final crew would be installing.
This meant prepping thousands of these tiny conical vials, each with enough water for a single stem, which you’d then place a flower in. The flowers came bundled in huge floral boxes and so putting them in these vials quickly was critical so they didn’t start to wilt or fade before the final crew was ready to put them on the floats themselves. It was a pretty phenomenal enterprise, and because I was high above the ground, I had an eagles-eye view of the whole proceedings. It boggled the mind to think how many other hangers and workers and flowers were being strategically employed at the exact same time. But It was also honestly some of the most fun I’d ever had.
After our 8-hour shift was over, I picked up my Mom from the airport since we were all going to have bleacher seats to watch the parade the next morning. Not quite as much fun as my lawn chair, but still a good view—though because we had to get up so early to get to our reserved parking and seats, my favorite New Year’s Eve didn’t even include staying up until midnight. And then after the parade was over, we went to where the floats were publicly parked to get up close and look at the craftsmanship of all the remarkable creations. Because the floats remain stationary, any animated elements or moving parts are static, but it’s still a wonderful way to look at the floats and their intricate details and creative use of fruit or flowers without dealing with the crowds on the street. Check it out if you’re ever in the area on January 1.
Here's a picture of the Naboo float that year. All the USPS stamps are from the Star Wars issue from 2007: Queen Amidala (Scott #4143h), stormtroopers (#4143o), the Emperor (#4143c) and X-wing fighter (#4143m). The Yoda stamps were from a separate Yoda issue that occurred the same year—the winner of a fan poll. That’s Scott #4205. The St. Vincent and the Grenadines stamp was part of an officially sanctioned Star Wars foreign release from 1996.