Feel the Force: Fans live and breathe Star Wars

Kuwait Times - - WEEKENDER -

Michael Ben­der was hooked by age two. Jen­nifer Landa got the bug when she was nearly six. Steve Sansweet was well into his 30s when the Star Wars pas­sion was born. All three are among the le­gions of hard­core fans the space epic has gen­er­ated over the years and who are champ­ing at the bit in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the saga’s lat­est in­stall­ment-”Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens”-that hits screens in De­cem­ber. From the United States, to Rus­sia, China and Saudi Ara­bia, the fran­chise has spawned a re­mark­able global fan base ar­guably un­heard of in movie history and span­ning sev­eral gen­er­a­tions.

“The fans have really played an in­cred­i­bly ma­jor role in keep­ing Star Wars alive and grow­ing,” said Sansweet, an avid fan and for­mer Wall Street Jour­nal re­porter who joined Lu­cas­film in 1996 as head of fan re­la­tions and con­tent man­age­ment. Now aged 70, Sansweet re­tired in 2011 and now runs Ran­cho Obi-Wan, a non­profit mu­seum north of San Francisco that houses the world’s largest col­lec­tion of Star Wars mem­o­ra­bilia.

He said the ge­nius of Lu­cas­film af­ter the first movie came out in 1977 was to lis­ten closely to its fans and to al­low them to claim own­er­ship of the fran­chise to some ex­tent. “Movies be­fore were seen as here and gone, there was no real at­tempt to bring in the fans,” Sansweet said. “Lu­cas­film let go to a large ex­tent when other com­pa­nies were go­ing out at con­ven­tions and hand­ing out cease and de­sist or­ders. “But Lu­cas was much smarter about it... and al­lowed (Star Wars) to spread into pop­u­lar cul­ture.”

‘First ever mem­ory’ Michael Ben­der, a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist, is one of those die-hard fans who be­came smit­ten with the saga as an in­fant. “I was two when I went to see ‘The Em­pire Strikes Back’, the sec­ond film in the se­ries, and this is my first ever mem­ory ac­tu­ally,” said Ben­der, 36, who lives in the Los An­ge­les area. There is no mis­tak­ing his pas­sion for the se­ries upon en­ter­ing the two-bed­room apart­ment he shares with his wife and two small dogs. On one ta­ble sits a lim­ited-edi­tion $3,200 book set that doc­u­ments each chap­ter of the saga.

An­other side-ta­ble has a Star Wars col­lectible chess set, and on dis­play nearby are four au­to­mated Star Wars books com­plete with light and sound. Other Star Wars items-fig­urines, prints, paint­ingsare scat­tered around the liv­ing room and many more are stored at his par­ents’ house. In a large roll­away chest, Ben­der also keeps the cher­ished stormtrooper cos­tumes that he wears as a mem­ber of the “501st Le­gion,” an in­ter­na­tional fan-based Star Wars cos­tum­ing group. Cre­ated in 1997, the group has grown into a world­wide phe­nom­e­non with 8,000 mem­bers who take part in char­ity events and other af­fairs re­lated to the film.

Ben­der says his mem­ber­ship in the “501st Le­gion” has al­lowed him to fully live out his pas­sion for the saga and meet fel­low fans, in­clud­ing in Tu­nisia where sev­eral of the Star Wars movies were par­tially shot. “It has cre­ated a lot of bonds,” he said. “When I went to Tu­nisia in 2011, I met some fans and... we all bonded in­stantly. “We were fin­ish­ing each other’s sen­tences be­fore the end of the evening.” For Jen­nifer Landa, 35, an as­pir­ing ac­tress in Los An­ge­les, the pas­sion for Star Wars bor­ders on ob­ses­sion. Her apart­ment is filled with Star Wars mem­o­ra­bilia - sheets, lug­gage, jew­ellery, cookie cut­ters, slip­pers, mugs, dresses, purses, a glassen­cased cof­fee ta­ble with Star Wars fig­ures and the list goes on and on.

‘Not gonna hide’ She even had a Star Wars-themed wed­ding last year at which her fa­ther dressed as Darth Vader, stormtroop­ers acted as ush­ers and the two flower girls dressed as Princess Leia. The wed­ding cake was topped with two Star Wars crea­tures-Wampa (a snow beast) and Taun­taun (a snow lizard). “I wanted some­thing that would rep­re­sent who we are as a couple,” Landa said of her wed­ding. “But we also didn’t want to alien­ate guests who weren’t nec­es­sar­ily fans.” Sport­ing Darth Vader tights and a Star Wars top, she said she real­izes her pas­sion may be con­sid­ered over the top by some but is com­forted by the fact that she is by no means unique. “I thought for a while that I was alone in feel­ing like that but then I went on­line and found peo­ple who felt the same way,” Landa said.

“So now, I’m just like why not go full force. This is who I am and I’m not gonna hide any­more.” Like Ben­der, she has bought ad­vance tick­ets to see the movie sev­eral times and hopes her five­month old daugh­ter Lucia will even­tu­ally share the same pas­sion. “Pretty much ev­ery­day is re­lated to some­thing Star Wars,” Landa said. “Whether I’m us­ing a stormtrooper spat­ula to make my break­fast, to lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic or to tweeting and shar­ing the lat­est trailer for ‘The Force Awak­ens’, to making jew­elry. “I mean my day is pretty much all Star Wars,” she added. “It’s part of my daily life.”— AFP

Photo shows Daisey Ri­d­ley as Rey (left) and John Boyega as Finn, in a scene from the new film, ‘Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awak­ens,’ di­rected by JJ Abrams. The movie, which re­ceived a PG-13 rat­ing, will be re­leased in US on Dec 18, 2015. — AP

Fans look at a model of a Mil­len­nium Fal­con at the Lego Star Wars ex­hi­bi­tion in Hong Kong. — AP

Fans pose for a pho­to­graph with the Star Wars char­ac­ter ‘Stormtroop­ers’ at the Lego Star Wars ex­hi­bi­tion in Hong Kong on Wed­nes­day, Nov 25, 2015. — AP

A boy poses for a pho­to­graph with the Star Wars char­ac­ter ‘Stormtroop­ers’ at the Lego Star Wars ex­hi­bi­tion in Hong Kong.— AP

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