Collecting at the "Star Wars" Celebration: video histories of the fans

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 5, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Ever since "Star Wars" hit theaters in 1977, fans have felt passionately about the series. For many, it broadened their horizons, excited their imaginations and provided new friends.

Lucasfilm, Lucas' production company, has started a project aimed at capturing — and promoting — the ongoing obsession with the "Star Wars" brand. Called the "Stories Project," the effort consists of videotaping fans' memories of how the six-film saga has touched their lives.

"Everyone's got a story; we've been hearing them from fans — and sharing them amongst ourselves internally — for years," said Josh Kushins, 32, the head of Lucasfilm communications, who was born a year after "Star Wars" debuted. "We are dedicated to collecting as many as possible. . . . It's really eye-opening to see how 'Star Wars' has affected people's lives throughout the years."

Kushins will be taping at the mega-"Star Wars" convention, Celebration V, Aug. 11-15 in Orlando, Fla.

George Lucas, the creator of the series, recognized what an icon "Star Wars" has become in the prologue of a new book, "Star Wars: Year by Year."

" 'Star Wars' has become so ingrained in the cultural psyche that world leaders have defined themselves with reference to it," he said in a statement that would seem egomaniacal if it weren't true.

Some fans remember vividly when the movie first came out.

"I saw it in June 1977, saw it on a Saturday," said Brian Mix, 49, then of San Diego. He became a huge a fan, however, with "The Empire Strikes Back," the 1980 sequel. He used to take days off work to watch the filming of the sand barge scenes of "Return of the Jedi" in 1983.

Some fans, such as the late Bev Clark in Seattle, published fan magazines that Lucasfilm collected. Some editors even framed the checks Lucas sent them instead of cashing them to pay their sizable printing costs.

Christopher DeGrazio, 35, an online support specialist at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla., which specializes in entertainment media, was 6 when he first saw "The Empire Strikes Back" in a theater. He first saw "Star Wars" on a laser disc. He's shared his enjoyment of the series with his two children, though he hasn't shown his son, Bryant, 9, the darker "Revenge of the Sith."

"I just felt it was a bit too much with all the 'good' characters . . . being executed, and our 'hero' turning so violently into a killer," DeGrazio said.

His son is a fan of the animated "Clone Wars" series, the latest from Lucasfilm. "The clones look cool," Bryant DeGrazio said.

For younger fans steeped in all six "Star Wars" films, the slowly unfolding storyline has an otherworldly quality. Mix recalls the reaction of the younger set when he was standing in line in 1999 to see a rerelease of the original "Star Wars."

"There were kids in line doing video interviews asking us, 'What was it like not knowing that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father?' They've spent their whole lives knowing it."

Why, three decades later, is the series still a great attraction?

"I think it has to do with how old you were when that movie crossed your life," Mix ventured. "If you were between 14 and 17, that's when you got the big whoosh; that's probably the movie you're going to like the best."

Kushins said that Lucasfilm hadn't decided yet what it intended to do with all the video it was collecting of fans.

"The project's still very much in its early stages," he said. "Right now, we are focused on speaking with fans and gathering their stories."

There's little doubt, however, that there will be a market for their stories, if only among those serious fans for whom anything "Star Wars" is worth both time and money.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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