It’s probably clear by now to many of my readers that I am a huge Star Wars fan and have been so since I was nine years old. So much so, that my dad, who was a small group leader, offered to let me skip Junior High Church Youth Group and go to an opening day showing of The Phantom Menace. I decided to be a good Christian and go to church. Later that week, dad still surprised the family after we piled into the car, and handed me his Commercial Drivers manual. He told me to turn to a specific page and that was where I found tickets to The Phantom Menace waiting for me as he drove us to the now long closed movie theater at Har-Mar mall. I even got to wait in the front of the line.
Dad and I would go on to see both Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones during their opening weekends. Watching Star Wars, and movies in general with my dad, was like going to a sporting event. It seemed that would remain the case when I started college, however much to my surprise I had found friends who also wanted to see the movie that weekend. Despite dad teasing about me going to an opening weekend showing of Revenge of the Sith without him, he was happy I had friends to share in my enjoyment.
However, he did not count on one sacred right of nerd passage: cosplay. Amongst nerd culture it is simply when people not only dress in culture but try to “act” like the character for the day. It seemed at the time that Revenge of the Sith was going to be the last Star Wars film ever, so my buddy Dean and I decided that it would be awesome to go to an opening weekend showing in costume. Plus it would be finals week so it would be a good way to relax and help kick-off our summer vacation.
I would go as Anakin, and Dean was initially going to be Mace Windu, but we couldn’t find good enough robes, so he decided to be Emperor Palpatine. After a trip to Savers thrift store and Target I had my costume ready. Between the electronic color-changing Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader lightsaber that cost $20.00, and the robes which were $5.00 at Savers, my entire costume was$25.00. I did get some guff from another Star Wars fan for not going to the midnight showing and instead waiting to see it the following day with Dean after finals were done. As far as I was concerned we’d be more able to enjoy the movie and relax more with finals out of the way, and it seemed like a nice way to kick off summer vacation.
We also made plans with our buddy Mark that we hoped would be the icing on the cake. Something big and public. I’m not sure if this is the case at other schools, but at our school, Bethel University, there was a tradition for the close friends of someone who got engaged to spray paint a giant rock in the middle of the court yard to congratulate them. It would be spray painted for other purposes too, including Welcome Week and graduation, but engagements were the big thing.
As such we decided that we would meet at midnight the night before the movie came out to spray paint the rock with “Anakin heart Padmé 1977-2005. The Saga Continues…” though Dean suggested we spray paint the rock with “Wife Beater” but Mark and I weren’t certain how that would go over. Our text was finalized and we pulled out the cans of spray paint and got to work. Moments later, it looked was coated in geeky goodness and looked 100% more awesome. Until someone else came along an hour or so later with a jocky statue and painted the rock with “We Love Buddy” hiding all our work.
The next two days Dean and I walked around campus dressed as Anakin and the Emperor, and it was hard for others not to get geeked out either and enjoy the costumes. I even tried to get one of my classes out of finals by using a Jedi Mind Trick. No such luck. Apparently teachers are immune to such things. The best part was the look on the faces of the young children of professors as they saw us and thought they were looking at the biggest Star Wars toys they ever saw.
That was rivaled by at lunch, Dean and I grabbing our meals from the schools grill under the names: “Anakin Skywalker” and “Emperor Palpatine” and the guy behind the counter calling those names out. To add to it at dinner that night in the cafeteria not only were they playing the John Williams scores from the films, but they handed out glow-sticks and served Star Wars themed dinners. A few guys even accused me of being a wayward Jedi for having dinner with a pretty girl while in uniform.
Dean and I felt like we were part of the experience. It made all the years of being bullied for being a nerd worth it to have cute girls compliment my costume and tell me I actually looked like Anakin. Only downside was the chump who kicked me in the shin guards, and the guys at the theater mocking us. Despite this, it did not dampen my excitement, as I went so far as to have a countdown for how many hours it would be until I saw the movie.
I got in the jeep with Dean and our friend known simply as The Duff and drove to the theater, with “The Imperial March” blaring loudly. A little kid at the theater was so enthralled by the sight of Anakin and the Emperor that he asked if we actually made Star Wars to which we said no, and admitted to ourselves if that were the case we would not have to worry about paying for college. There was a bit of time before the movie, so it was decided that Duff and I would have a lightsaber duel in front of the screens. I won both times, even after Duff urged me to throw the second battle. Then from the moment the 20h Century Fox fanfare began to the last frame of the end credits were in a galaxy far, far away.
On our drive back we were pumped.
I said, “Man, we just saw the last Star Wars movie! Can you believe it?”
“I know man, it’s like the feeling when I saw Return of the King. It’s over, but at the same time…it’s over!”
“I know man! Now, we need to get lives!” I said. “And except for Duff back there we need to get girlfriends!”
“But, Jono we’ll have new superhero movies coming out,” said Dean.
“That’s right!” I said. “And seven Narnia movies. We will have lots to geek out about. We won’t ever have to get lives!”
We headed back to campus, where it was back to reality and on to summer vacation, but not before pulling off an old Jedi Mind-Trick on the cute girl at the security shack. Here it is ten years later and while I am super-excited for The Force Awakens, no Star Wars experience will ever top the feeling of when my best buddy and I dressed like Anakin and the Emperor and walked around our college campus.
Some may mock the cosplay experience, seeing at is a silly and childish, but at its core, it’s no different than when someone dumps body paint all over themselves for a sporting event. It’s not only part of that community experience of the fandom, but it gets others excited about being part of this huge event. In the case of the Star Wars cosplay, it was about being part of this larger than life mythology. And for two days in my best buddy and I got to help do that a long time ago in college campus far, far,away…