“I like…to share the love of ‘Star Wars,’” said Andrew Rinier, through his menacing red and black Darth Maul makeup, spiky horns dotting his head.
He shares this love of “Star Wars” through the Central PA Jedi Sith Alliance (JSA). To bring the non-Star Wars versed into the conversation, Jedi’s represent all that is good in “the Force,” while the Sith choose to use this power for evil.
JSA performs choreographed Jedi/Sith fight scenes, complete with light sabers, elaborate costuming, and audience participation at events in central Pennsylvania—all for no charge.
Jason Baker explained that, because it’s a Star Wars Fan Club recognized by Lucasfilm, Ltd., they can’t charge for appearances. However, they do accept donations for local charities and to cover their expenses. Though money has zero to do with why they do, what they do.
“How often do you get to say, ‘I own a light saber, how about you?’” said Eryka Ward, who performs as the character, Ja’En Nexu.
At a recent practice, the yellow, red, blue and green light sabers swooshed through the air with their distinctive whirring sound, as Nick Marquette, fight director, guided the group’s movements, followed by the clack, clack, clack of contact.
JSA requires no experience to join the group, but some folks arrive with skills.
Cindy Hanwell had sword-fighting experience and discovered JSA at a PA Farm Show Complex Comic-Con event. She tried out the group.
“We came to a practice, and they couldn’t get rid of us,” said Hanwell dressed in her Ashoka Tano costume, with orange and white face makeup and a handmade, blue-and-white, foam, fabric and papier mâché headdress that dropped over her shoulders like pigtails.
Members can challenge themselves to increase their skills or keep it simple.
“We can incorporate any skill level into what we do,” Hanwell said.
It’s not only adults who participate. Five-year-old Vera Lenker performs as a Wampa and Baby Yoda. She prefers the dark side of the Force “because my dad likes the dark side, “she said.
“Generally, Sith don’t like Jedi. They have too many rules,” said Vera’s dad, Curtis.
He brings her along to the hour-long, weekly practices, which involve dinner afterwards.
“You can blame me for her nerdiness,” he said.
The group embraces its Star Wars nerdom, and members agree that making people smile is their favorite part of it all.
“When we go to events, people love it, kids love it, and a lot of adults are interested,” said Baker.
Children are often a bit scared, but they still muster up the courage to hug the imposing Darth Maul, and folks are always drawn to the light sabers.
“We got to go to parades and everything, and people cheering us on,” Ward said. “I wanted more of that in my life.”
Group members also enjoy the camaraderie, learning new skills, and the active, overall fun of participating.
“You see something you loved as a kid, and now you get to do it as an adult,” Ward said.
For many, it’s a family affair. Baker and his two sons have performed for about five years.
“It is something I thought my son would like, and it was something we could get out and do,” Baker said.
Folks don’t need to be “Star Wars” super-fans to participate. Baker enjoyed “Star Wars” about as much as the average person before he joined, but the group has elevated his interest.
“This has put us over the top,” he said.
While there’s much fun to be had, the group also needs to consider safety. The fight director choreographs the saber battles, and there’s lots of practice. The costume supervisor makes sure that the costuming allows for movement in battle. Scenes are recorded and uploaded to YouTube so that members can work on them at home, as well.
In his persona as Darth Maul, but with his blue eyes and soft-spoken nature letting his real self shine through, Rinier summed up JSA’s mission.
“To share the love for ‘Star Wars,’ and give the best performance we can give,” he said.
To learn more about the Central PA Jedi Sith Alliance, visit www.centralpajsa.org.
If you like what we do, please support our work. Become a Friend of TheBurg!