Bagpipes fill the early morning air in Atlanta, Georgia. Rather than playing a traditional Scottish tune, the players are dressed as Imperial Stormtroopers and playing the Star Wars theme. The band leads thousands of elaborately dressed sci-fi and fantasy fans and cosplayers (short for “costume players”) down Peachtree Street to a rapt crowd about five people deep on the sidewalk.

There are the ever present Star Wars fans, but Dragoncon runs the gamut of literature, games and pop culture. I have seen a gaggle of Lady Gagas, retired Spartans (men with beer bellies and dangling cigarettes wearing 300 gear), various “Dudes” from The Big Lebowski and Bert and Ernie with hyper-realistic features. There are always “Doctors” from Doctor Who, superheroes, wookies and the one guy who looks like Ferris Bueller. It is always interesting to see what phases out (the Mad Max crew were woefully absent from the 2012 parade) and what gets huge (2012 finally saw a group of The Venture Bros. characters).

The four day festival spreads out between five downtown Atlanta hotels every Labor Day weekend. Guests follow tracks to optimize their panel viewing and choose the right fit from the thousands of hours of programming. Options include YA Lit, Robotics, Alternate History and Horror, among others. Some stand in line for photos of their favorite actors and entertainers ranging from FX master Tom Savini to Luke Perry (who couldn’t have been cooler). There are many special events during the weekend, too, like dressing up and going to the Georgia Aquarium and indie wrestling at night.

My favorite thing to do is walk around downtown after the parade on Saturday, after people have filed away to eat at the food court or find a panel. The city bustles along—you can even see a stray Macho Man Randy Savage strutting around or find Waldo in his signature red stripes running across the street.

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