THE FORCE IS WITH THEM

Star Wars fans share love, obsession of franchise as another episode awaits

Story by Blake Bacho
Photos by Dana Stiefel

Machieste Demiro remembers the stifling heat and the long, winding line of people streaming into the movie theater.

The next thing the Monroe resident remembers is laser fire lighting up the silver screen as that iconic, impossibly huge Star Destroyer chased the miniscule rebel ship away from camera.

It was the summer of 1977 and Demiro – then just five years old – had just become a Star Wars fanatic.

“I remember being really transfixed,” Demiro, now 46, said. “I had never experienced anything like it.”

For the first generation of Star Wars fans, the sights and sounds of George Lucas’ original trilogy are imprinted into their memories. They’re untouchable pieces of nostalgia, incomparable in their impact and unaffected by time.

But the legendary fantasy franchise has not remained stuck in the past. The Star Wars universe has expanded exponentially, adding a controversial prequel trilogy, multiple television shows and, most recently, Disney’s perspective on a galaxy far, far away.

The latest installment, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” opens on May 25. It will be the 10th film in the franchise.

The fans have been there through it all. Each and every one of them has their own jumping-on point; their own personal story about how Star Wars grabbed hold and never let go. Many, like Demiro, have been there since the beginning – original generation fans as they like to call themselves.

Others, like 20-year-old Monroe native Kimberley Ellison, latched on later. But no matter the entry point, the passion is the same.

“The first Star Wars movie I remember seeing in theaters was ‘Revenge of the Sith,’” Kimberly explained. “But growing up, me and my siblings watched ‘Episode Two: Attack of the Clones’ the most… With me being only 20, I am told all of the time that I am not a real fan because I wasn’t around to see the originals in theaters, or because I love the sequels more than I do the originals.

“I think that the thing that people of any age enjoy about Star Wars is that it really is a family drama. They make the characters realistic and relatable despite their force abilities… They struggle in their daily lives just as we do.”

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You can’t talk about Star Wars without talking about the swag.

From the original 12 action figures — that notoriously didn’t release until almost a year after “A New Hope” first reached theaters — to today’s electronics-infused collectibles, Star Wars merchandise is as sought after today as it was four decades ago.

Tara Slupczynski and Nick Brown boast a few prized gems in their collection.

The first thing that visitors to the couple’s Dundee apartment usually notice is the area rug that depicts Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Equally cherished are their VHS copies of Lucas’ original trilogy that omit the much-maligned digital additions retconned into later releases of the films.

Each Christmas the couple sets up a Star Wars-themed tree topped with a Darth Vader helmet, the tree skirt underneath wishing everyone a “Merry Sithmas.”
Slupczynski’s car is coated in Star Wars decals, and on any given day she’s usually wearing at least one article of Star Wars-themed clothing.

“We’ve had people come over and they’re just blown away by how much random stuff that we have,” Slupczynski said. “It’s pretty crazy, but I think that when you find something you really like you get super obsessive over that and try to bring it into your everyday life.”

Slupczynski and Brown’s shared love of Star Wars was one of the first things they bonded over.

“It was the second question,” Slupczynksi said. “We kind of met through mutual friends talking online, and the first question was something about the Detroit Tigers… The second question was ‘How do you feel about Star Wars?’ and we kind of got into a minor argument over which is the best film.”

Slupczynksi – who prefers “The Return of the Jedi” to Brown’s favorite, “The Empire Strikes Back” — admits that Star Wars has essentially taken over her and her boyfriend’s lives at this point. Each new film rekindles the passion and sparks the same frantic cycle as the couple desperately tries to obtain tickets for one of the first showings on opening night.

“Every year I begin preparation for the next Disney installment by scoping out when presale tickets for the films are set to be released,” she said. “Then typically at midnight or the applicable time, I set up three devices – laptop, phone and iPad – to try and secure the best seats. I purchase ten tickets for my closet friends and me for the early IMAX release of the film. We typically have the ten seats in the center of the theater for optimal IMAX experience.”

But what is it about this fictitious universe of green puppets and laser swords that so fully entrances people, like it has Slupczynski and Brown?

“I think I just like the idea of this fantasy world that possibly could be out there,” Slupczynski said. “I guess, looking back, it kind of gave me an outlet and showed me this different type of world.”

Milan native Jason Gibner likes to focus on the obscure aspects of the Star Wars universe with “Blast Points,” his weekly podcast. The show attracts anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 listeners a week, and Gibner, 42, and his cohost – and former college roommate – Gabe Bott cover topics ranging from discussions about early script drafts to the hidden influences of George Lucas’ ex-wife, Marcia.

For Gibner, the attraction to the Star Wars universe is the depth.

“The fans grow with the stories,” he said. “The layers can be peeled back and the saga can grow with them. George Lucas made these stories for children to learn about the world, heroes and the old myths, and to see that there is a world of imagination beyond their own. In between those important ancient lessons are moral stories that continue to speak to people of all ages and from all backgrounds.

“At its core, Star Wars is a positive story that good is always stronger than darkness and that, if you want to, dreams and imagination can become reality. That’s what keeps bringing me back.”

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Demiro saw Star Wars as an escape when he was that enchanted five year old leaving the theater in 1977.

Growing up in an abusive home, Demiro was able to imagine that he was running across Tatooine with Luke Skywalker, or flying in the Millennium Falcon with Han Solo. It helped him mentally — and emotionally — defeat his real world problems.

“Star Wars saved my life, literally,” Demiro said. “It was like whenever what was going was going on, yeah I might be stuck here kind of like Luke was on the moisture farm on Tatooine, but he had this great destiny with his blood line and just had no idea. So I could imagine I really was a great person and just kind of stuck here, but really I was an incredible Jedi warrior. It was Star Wars that kept me from running away from home.”

Now Demiro works to bring that same magic he felt at five years old to children today. At his own cost, he dresses up in full costume and entertains fans in line at the theater on opening night for each new film.

This is the legacy of Star Wars, the fuel for the passion. What began as three films about space adventures has evolved into one of the largest components of pop culture as a whole.

But it’s not about the special effects. It’s not about the costumes, weapons or space ships.
It’s about the shared experience.

Photo by DANA STIEFEL Tara Slupczynski (left) and Nick Brown in the Star Wars themed dining room of their apartment in Dundee.

Photo by DANA STIEFEL Star Wars curtains and glasses collected from the Burger King promotions for the first three movies belonging to Måchiësté Davis of Newport.

Photo by DANA STIEFEL A blanket and pillow belonging to the Star Wars collection of Måchiësté Davis of Newport.