LOS ANGELES, Nov 27, (Agencies): 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 non-profit 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.”
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, paintings — are 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 glass-encased coffee table with Star Wars figures and the list goes on and on. 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 five-month 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 jewellery.
“I mean my day is pretty much all Star Wars,” she added. “It’s part of my daily life.”
LOS ANGELES: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” led a crowded field of box office contenders heading into the Thanksgiving holiday. The final film in the popular futuristic series nabbed $13.7 million on Wednesday, pushing its domestic haul to $136.3 million.
But two other films threatened to dethrone the blockbuster — “Creed,” a euphorically reviewed “Rocky” reboot, and “The Good Dinosaur,” a Pixar release destined to launch a thousand toylines.
Globally, “Mockingjay – Part 2” has earned nearly $320 million. It is expected to top stateside charts for the second weekend in a row with $75 million, despite debuting last weekend to a weaker than expected $102.7 million, the lowest opening for any “Hunger Games” installment.
“Creed” punched above its weight, picking up $6 million from 3,350 locations in its opening day. The Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”) drama focuses on the son of Rocky Balboa rival Apollo Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan. Sylvester Stallone dons the monosyllables once again to play Balboa, the embodiment of Philadelphia fortitude. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer co-financed and produced the $37 million film with New Line, while Warner Bros. is distributing.
“The Good Dinosaur” racked up $9.8 million across more than 3,600 locations. The story of a young dinosaur separated from his family cost just under $200 million to produce and marks the first time that Pixar has released two films in one calendar year. The other picture, “Inside Out,” was a favorite with critics who ranked it among the studio’s best. Reviewers have given “Good Dinosaur” solid notices, but they have been more muted in their appraisals.
Both “Creed” and “The Good Dinosaur” are poised to gorge over the five-day holiday period. The opening of The Good Dinosaur” appears to be roaring to $63 million for the long weekend and “Creed” will weigh in around the $35 million range.
Fox’s “Victor Frankenstein,” the holiday’s other new wide release, will be left out of the feasting. The attempt to revive Mary Shelley’s scientist with a god complex is stillborn, earning $620,000 from 2,797 locations. The $40 million film should end the holiday with a paltry $7 million. James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe co-star.
The studio had better luck with “The Peanuts Movie,” which has added $2.4 million to its $105.6 million bounty.
“Spectre,” the latest James Bond adventure, burnished its $160.6 million domestic gross with an additional $2.7 million on Wednesday. It should pass the North American totals of “Casino Royale” ($167.4 million) and “Quantum of Solace” ($168.4 million) by the end of the week, but seems unlikely to match the high-water mark set by Daniel Craig with “Skyfall” ($304.4 million).
Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the busiest periods of the year for moviegoing. It arrives as exhibitors are despairing that films like “Spectre” and “Mockingjay – Part 2” are failing to match the results of previous chapters in their franchises and as a number of adult dramas, such as “By the Sea” and “The Secret in Their Eyes,” have bellyflopped.