By Sean O’Connell
Editor’s note: Charlotte Weekly originally published this story in the May 13-19, 2005 edition leading up to the release of “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.” Little did we know that there would be a lot more “Star Wars” films to come. We are reprinting it today, May 4, when fans celebrate the franchise’s contributions to culture.
Jimmy Fallon hit the nail on the head when he summed up fan obsession in the romantic comedy “Fever Pitch.” A lifelong Boston Red Sox junkie, Fallon tries to explain to girlfriend Drew Barrymore why his passion for the baseball team runs so deep. “Twenty-three years,” he rationalizes. “Do you still care about anything you cared about 23 years ago?”
“Star Wars” fans can relate. Twenty-eight years have passed since they first embarked on a journey to that galaxy far, far away where they met fresh-faced farmhand Luke Skywalker, learned about The Force and came face to face with pure evil – Darth Vader. Since then the original film and its subsequent sequels and prequels have shattered box office records, spurred an unprecedented merchandising frenzy and influenced a generation of present and future filmmakers.
Three decades after he released “Star Wars,” creator George Lucas concludes his cosmic saga with “Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,” which opens across the nation Thursday, May 19.
The third installment in Lucas’ recent prequel trilogy promises to answer questions that have lingered in fans’ subconscience since the moment Luke learned his father’s true identity. It also concludes a series many have adored almost their entire lives.
“It hurts,” said Kevin Parks, a 32-year-old project manager from Concord. “I have identified with ‘Star Wars’ for 28 years now. It has always been in the present. Now it will be in the past.”
Fans find friends in Force
Certain films have cult followings, but the level of fan worship surrounding “Star Wars” is unprecedented. What other film franchise inspires such slavish devotion? With all due respect to any Trekkies, no series even comes close to the hold “Star Wars” has on its supporters.
And yet, there’s a certain level of alienation that comes with membership to Lucas’ inclusive fan club. Mention in mixed company that you are an avid “Star Wars” fan, and people will automatically assume one or more of the following: You dress up like a Stormtrooper; you drain your bank account to attend annual “Star Wars” conventions; and you camp out for weeks at a time in front of a movie theater to guarantee choice seats at the very first “Star Wars” screening in your hometown. While these nuggets may in fact be true, most do not apply to your normal, everyday “Star Wars” worshipper. By and large, they’re normal people who hold down day jobs and take classes at area colleges. Very few of them attend national gatherings like Celebration III, which recently took over the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis.
“I’ve been wanting to (go), but I generally don’t have the time,” said James Traver Jr., a 21-year-old waiter who lives in the Cotswold area.
His sentiment of regret is echoed by Gregory Harbin, 19.
“I have nothing against them and plan for sure on visiting them in the future; but as of now, they have not been financially or timely feasible,” Harbin said.
Instead of hitting the road to interact with fellow enthusiasts, local “Star Wars” fans meet online. Harbin and Traver co-founded an online community of Charlotte-area fanatics, collectively dubbed the Charlotte Separatists. They congregate with a handful of dedicated followers in the Fan Force forum sections of TheForce.net, a popular Web site for all things “Star Wars.”
On these message boards the Charlotte fans discuss the films, trade information on upcoming movie-related toys and merchandise or make plans to attend the same midnight screenings when a new “Episode” opens.
“I like the anonymity of the Internet,” Parks said. “You can talk to fans all over the globe.”
Area members have formed a tight society that frequently takes its discussions off the Web.
“A few years ago, when our local Fan Force chapter was more active, we would just pick a time to meet and then spend the entire time quoting ‘Star Wars,’ raving about the new information we were hearing about the new movies,” said Harbin, who collected money from forum members to buy advance “Sith” tickets to guarantee that the Separatists all made it to the same theater.
“I remember one meeting at the KFC in Matthews where I and a few others flipped through a recently released ad circular, studying each detail of the new ‘Attack of the Clones’ toys. … ‘Star Wars’ fans are very fun people, and even when we weren’t discussing ‘Star Wars,’ we would have a fantastic time.”
York County resident Sherman Burris, 34, has seen all five “Star Wars” films in a theater but has yet to camp out in line for an opening-day screening.
“It has been a matter of time and expense,” he said.
Parks shares his realistic view on sleeping out prior to a movie.
“It’s not that important for me to be the first person in one particular theater to sit down in what is sure to be an elbow-to-elbow viewing,” he said.
Harbin puts a modern spin on the notion.
“In this day and age, the idea of ‘camping out’ is a little outdated,” he said. “I’ve bought all my tickets online … so I know I, and around 20 of my friends, will have seats.”
Harbin admits there’s something special about seeing the latest film with a group of fellow fanatics.
“The communal experience of waiting for a ‘Star Wars’ movie is excellent. It is a large grouping of people who share a common interest with you. You don’t have to worry that you won’t fit in … these are your people. You make new friends, you share stories, and you have memories that sometimes eclipse the experience of the movie itself.”
Anticipation runs high for “Sith,” even though most fans already know what to expect. Because this is a prequel that builds up to the events that take place in the original “Star Wars,” certain circumstances must occur in “Sith” to properly bridge the trilogies and complete the cycle. The fact that rabid devotees know what’s going to happen has not dampened their enthusiasm.
“The main reason I’m looking forward to (‘Sith’) is what we tend to call ‘The Duel,’” Harbin said. “Anakin Skywalker versus Obi-Wan Kenobi, dueling to the death. We all know how it ends, so I hope Lucas put as much work as possible into making the path to getting there as riveting as possible.”
Traver holds different hopes.
“I want to see some Jedi live,” he said. “Vader can’t kill them all.”
And Parks takes it to another level altogether.
“I hope to see great battles, but more important is what I hope to feel,” he said. “This movie is about emotions. It is the tragedy of a good man (Anakin Skywalker) whose emotions become manipulated to the breaking point, and he makes his deal with the Devil.”
Choosing an ‘Empire’
Ask Separatists to name their favorite “Star Wars” film, and almost all of them respond with “The Empire Strikes Back.” Though “Empire” currently sits behind “A New Hope,” “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” on the all-time box office list, the film’s darker tone and deeper character work seem to have struck a chord in the “Star Wars” community.
“It’s a perfect tragedy because it sets up hope,” Traver said.
Parks agrees, though he likes it “because Vader is at his best. He wants to be united with his son, and he is unstoppable in his attempts to achieve this. We are also given Yoda, who is an awesome character and gives Luke what he needs to defeat the emperor.”
Only Harbin leans toward the original “Star Wars” as his favorite film.
“I see (‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’) as a pure ode to the old serial movies from the ’30s,” he said. “I really like ‘Empire’ as a sci-fi/fantasy film, outside the context of what the first movie means to me, but ‘Star Wars’ is a pure expression of a love for cheesy, fun, loud, funny space operatics.”
Near the end of “Fever Pitch,” Fallon’s character takes comfort in the fact that his beloved Red Sox will always be there for him. Year after year, he knows there will always be spring training, opening day and home games to enjoy over the summer months.
“Star Wars” fans are facing the exact opposite, and it has them in the dumps. After “Sith,” there are no more episodes to anticipate, no more secrets to learn, and no more stories to tell. For most, saying goodbye will be the final hurdle.
“I’d like to say I’m really sad, or really elated … but I’m really neither of those,” said Harbin. “I’m very excited that there is a new ‘Star Wars’ movie coming out, but I don’t think my brain has fully processed that this is the last one.”
Burris feels a hint of sadness, but also “some excitement, to see if (‘Sith’) will measure up to my expectations.”
And Traver, one of the franchise’s younger fans, simply feels appreciative.
“If this is the last one, I’m grateful to see it and grow up in this so-called second era of ‘Star Wars.’”