‘Boy Meets World,’ ‘Star Wars’ casts feel the wrath of DC’s Awesome Con

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Awesome Con (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — Get your Topanga and Skywalker questions ready!

“Boy Meets World” and “Star Wars” are among the pop culture staples represented at the sixth annual Awesome Con at the Washington Convention Center from Friday to Sunday.

“I used to just sell comic books at other Comic Cons,” co-founder and C.O.O. Ben Penrod told WTOP. “I had been to the ones in San Diego, New York, Baltimore, Charlotte and Orlando, but there wasn’t a big Comic Con in Washington D.C., so I figured why not start one?”

Founded in 2013, the annual convention has grown tenfold since its humble beginnings.

“In 2013, we had just over 7,000 attendees,” Penrod said. “We grew a little bit every year. … Last year in 2017, we had over 70,000 people, so we have grown by ten times the attendants in just five years. … The city of D.C. and all the geeks, nerds and fans really showed up for us.”

While past years saw Sean Astin and William Shatner, this year brings the “Star Wars” cast.

“For the first time ever, we’ve got some really big ‘Star Wars’ guests,” Penrod said. “We’ve got John Boyega, who is Finn from the new ‘Star Wars’ films. As far as I know, this is the first time any convention in the entire North America — or United States — has gotten one of the main stars from one of the new ‘Star Wars’ films to be at their convention. This is a really big deal.”

You’ll also see Joonas Suotamo, who took over the role of Chewbacca from Peter Mayhew.

“He did some of the Chewbacca work in ‘The Force Awakens’ and I believe he did all of the Chewbacca work in ‘The Last Jedi’ and ‘Solo,’ the new Han Solo film that’s coming out in May,” Penrod said. “We’ve also got Jeremy Bulloch, who was Boba Fett in the original trilogy.”

If you’re more of a fan of Star Lord, get ready for the cast of “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014).

“We’ve got Dave Bautista, who was a former WWE champion multiple times … but he’s also probably better known at this point for being in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ as Drax,” Penrod said. “We’ve also got Michael Rooker and Sean Gunn, who are also both in ‘Guardians.'”

In addition to Bautista, you’ll also get to meet several other WWE superstars.

“We’ve got Christian, Tommy Dreamer and The Hurricane,” Penrod said.

TV sitcom fans will also be treated to a special “Boy Meets World” reunion between actors Ben Savage (Cory Matthews), Will Friedle (Eric Matthews) and Rider Strong (Shawn Hunter).

“It’s going to be the first time all three of us have done a convention together,” Strong told WTOP. “Will, Ben and I will each have our own little table, so we can sign autographs and take selfies. Then, the Con itself sets up a professional photo booth. … Then, we’ll be doing a Q&A, so we’ll get up, answer questions, talk to fans and reminisce about the good old days.”

That nostalgia is shared by a whole generation of fans who grew up in the 1990s and 2000s.

“When we were shooting ‘Boy Meets World,’ I really thought that when the show was over, I would never hear about it again,” Strong said. “I pretty much left the industry and went to college, Ben went to college, we all pretty much went back to normal life. … But I think people really resonated with watching us grow up. When you invite somebody into your living room every Friday night [you bond with them], then it kept getting repeated on Disney Channel.”

Just like “Fuller House” and “Roseanne,” “Boy Meets World” returned for “Girl Meets World.”

“That gave us a chance to see how many people were watching the new show as a family,” Strong said. “People who grew up with ‘Boy Meets World’ and now had their own kids, it was important to pass the show on because it really meant something to them. To its credit … the show was always very smart and it took on issues and had a positive message.”

Strong directed 18 of the “Girl Meets World” episodes, a new passion he’s explored alongside his brother Shiloah, with whom he made home movies growing up in Northern California.

“We were making movies in our backyard when we were like 4 or 5-years-old with our dad’s video camera,” Strong said. “It was detective stories, ghost stories. We did one [where] we enlisted our neighbor and made him an art thief who stole a famous painting and we were the detectives who had to go find it. We managed to combine cowboys and superheroes.”

The duo recently co-directed the short film “Irish Twins,” which shined at D.C. Shorts in 2008.

“That was such a great moment,” Strong said. “It was my first real attempt at going behind the camera. … We were like, ‘Let’s just take a chance and throw everything into a short film,’ which is kind of crazy in retrospect. We probably could have made an entire feature film, but it was a different time. We shot it on 33 millimeter film, which is unheard of nowadays. We premiered at Tribeca in New York, then we went to D.C. Shorts. … The audience was so supportive.”

Now, D.C. audiences welcome him back for Awesome Con, where the “Boy Meets World” cast can expect to field questions about co-star Danielle Fishel’s engagement last week.

“I finally just met her boyfriend like maybe a month or two ago and he’s the greatest guy,” Strong said. “When I saw that she tweeted out they got engaged, I was so happy for them.”

You can also ask about William Daniels, whom Strong only knew as Mr. Feeny, not realizing until years later that he had played Dustin Hoffman’s father in “The Graduate” (1967).

“I had no idea who he was,” Strong said. “I realized, ‘Oh, my God, he was the voice of KITT in ‘Knight Rider!’ That’s all I cared about. I didn’t see ‘The Graduate’ until I was in my late teens. But he brought it up because right at the end of the ’90s, the [American Film Institute] released a list of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time and ‘The Graduate’ was [No. 7]. I remember he came into work and was really proud that he was part of a film in the Top 10.”

Anecdotes like this that make Awesome Con so amusing and unpredictable.

“It’s like Disney World for nerds,” Penrod joked. “It’s the most fun vibe you can possibly have.”

Find more on Awesome Con’s website. Hear our full chats with Ben Penrod & Rider Strong below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Ben Penrod (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)
WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Rider Strong (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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