By MARK DIAZ & BRIAN WILLIAMS

The final chapter in the Star Wars Skywalker Saga will hit local cinemas tomorrow, the culmination of more than 40 years of epic space adventure storytelling that began with way back in 1977 with the first entry in the franchise, what would eventually become know as Episode IV: A New Hope, but at the time was known simply as “Star Wars.” 

The film was the vision of revolutionary filmmaker George Lucas and would go on to spawn seven more movies in the main saga along with several spin-offs and TV shows and even a theme park attraction at Disneyland. Lucas sold his rights to the franchise, along with creative control, to Disney in 2012 for $4 billion. Disney has since released four new Star Wars films to critical acclaim, mixed fan reactions and billions in box office revenues, already recouping what they spent to purchase LucasFilm. 

We spoke to three North County residents about their love of the Star Wars franchise, how the movies have changed their lives and their anticipation ahead of Disney’s fifth Star Wars release, “Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.” 

Photo by Luke Phillips

LOCAL FAMILY BONDS OVER STAR WARS

At the tender age of 7, Deanne LeMoine-McEwen started her journey to a galaxy far far away. When “Star Wars” hit the silver screen at Century Cinemas in Atascadero back in 1977, it set Deanne on a course that would play a major role in her life.

Deanne said it’s not an easy thing to pick her favorite movie, but she would have to go with the one that started it all.

“It’s like picking your children, but how can you not pick the one that introduced you to the whole universe?” Deanne said. “But I also really, really loved ‘Rogue One’… I love epic stories in the literature I read and everything, and I thought it was amazing how they took a one-liner from “Episode IV” and they made a whole movie out of it.” 

Deanne said that several movies have affected her, but arguably the most profound one was the first prequel, “Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” She said watching the story of Anakin Skywalker’s origins and how the sweet little boy would become one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history left a lasting impression on her view of motherhood.

“I was very fond of that one because it touched my heart and set me on a course to be a mom of boys with a purpose,” Deanne said. “It was very important to me to raise gentlemen with empathetic hearts.”

The stories and characters of the Star Wars universe played a vital role in her interaction with her two sons. Deanne said that she purposely made it into a lasting and relatable interaction with her boys. 

“I needed to build a connection, being a mom of boys,” said Deanne. “It was important to me to become ‘the Star Wars nerd’… but I wasn’t nearly the geek I was until I realized that I needed to build that connection with my sons.”

Deanne forged a tradition of taking her kids to the opening midnight showings of the movies, something that was frowned upon by some people. At the debut of “Episode 2: Attack of the Clones” (the fifth movie made), she brought her 5- and 6-year-old boys to the late-night show, on a school night. 

The bond constructed in their childhood remains strong. When it came time to pick songs for her oldest son’s wedding, Star Wars demonstrated its influence. “The Throne Room” song was chosen for the couple’s recessional walk. To her surprise and delight, Deanne said her son picked a cha-cha version of “The Cantina Song” from Episode 4 for their mother/son dance. Though popularly referred to as the Cantina Song, its actual name is “Mad About Me.”

“We were the hit of the wedding — people were screaming and hootin’ and hollerin’ and it was a blast,” Deanne said.

Of the myriad of characters that fill the Star Wars universe, Deanne said picking her favorite was easy — Princess Lea.

“She was fierce, feisty and unforgettable,” Deanne said. “More than anything, I loved her independence and loyalty.”

Local Star Wars fan Sedale Collins holds a replica of the character Ahsoka Tano’s lightsaber at his home in Atascadero last week. Photo by Mark Diaz

ATASCADERO MAN HAS A WEALTH OF STAR WARS KNOWLEDGE

Atascadero resident Sedale Collins was introduced to Star Wars through the merchandise, namely a Darth Maul action figure accompanied by a speeder and a battle droid. His first movie memory of the Star Wars universe starts with “Episode II: Attack of the Clones.” 

“I remember the audience cheering when Yoda was fighting the first time,” Sedale said. 

As one would expect of a mega-fan, Sedale’s room is full of Star Wars paraphernalia. The neat and tidy space is full of merchandise, artwork and books all pertaining to the space fantasy series. One Sedale’s favorite things to collect is lightsabers. He said he doesn’t know how many he owns, indicating his numerous laser swords leaning against the wall. 

“Lightsabers and books are my thing,” Sedale said. 

His most expensive lightsaber is a replica of the one carried by the character Ahsoka Tano, who plays a crucial part in the Clone Wars canon. She is the main character in the animated series and Anakin Skywalker’s padawan. He said the most difficult saber he has collected so far was the dual Darth Maul replicas due to their popularity.

Yoda being his favorite good guy in the series, Sedale has received and purchased Yodas and merchandise pertaining to the little green Jedi master. Giant green-eared bobbleheads and action figures look down from the top shelves of his room. Sedale even has a set of four Yoda coffee mugs.  

However, when asked what is his favorite item that he owns, Sedale immediately displays a snowglobe depicting the “Episode IV: A New Hope” movie poster. Sedale did not buy his most cherished item but received it as a Christmas gift a long time ago. 

Sitting in front of a significant collection of books and graphic novels, Sedale showed off more than merchandise. He retains a wealth of Star Wars information, both legend and new cannon, that he keeps hidden like a magician who hides flowers and handkerchiefs up his sleeves but are readily produced upon request. At the age of 13, his knowledge got him into a special 3D showing of “Episode One: The Phantom Menace.” Answering the question, who said, “At last we will have revenge?” At the special showing, he answered even more questions and won free tickets to Lego Land.

Besides the latest addition to the saga hitting the theaters Friday, Dec. 20, Sedale is looking forward to the Star Wars Celebration 2020 taking place in Anaheim this summer. The event is a gathering of fans that celebrate the space opera adventure, allowing them to be privy to the latest and greatest developments, buy merchandise and meet the actors who breathe life into the iconic characters. 

Templeton High School Band Director David Landers is a big fan of the Star Wars saga. He was 7 when the first movie came out and is enjoying watching the newest movies in the series with his family.  Photo by Brian Williams

FORCE IS STRONG IN TEMPLETON

It’s no secret around Templeton High School that Band Director David Landers is a big fan of Star Wars. His T-shirt with a trombone-wielding stormtrooper on the front gives you an idea of the depth of fandom.

He’s grown up with the Star Wars saga and today is happily sharing it with his family, specifically his 13-year-old son Grayson.

He’s rewatched the movies with his family and taken them to the latest releases. They will be there on opening night for “Rise of Skywalker” this week. It will mark the end of a long journey for many.

“The most recent trailer when they ask C-3PO what are you doing there bud and he says ‘I’m taking one last look at my friends,’ each time I watch that I’m like man stop it because it is the last one,” David said.

His favorite movies of the canon so far are “Return of the Jedi,” “Revenge of the Sith” and “Rogue One.”

“With all of the griping and poo-pooing that went on with regards to the prequels, for me, I never really griped or poo-pooed because to me it was about the story,” David said. “I just wanted to know more about the story of these characters regardless of how it’s told or why Jar Jar Binks is even a character.”

David has been the band director at THS for the past 18 years and is known for including music from Star Wars composer John Williams in their band performances. He also plays in San Luis Obispo Symphony and brings Star Wars into the mix.

“When we do the children’s concerts with the SLO Symphony, and they go around and introduce all of the instruments and have them play something, I always play ‘The Imperial March.’ Dum dum dum, dum-te-dum, dum-te-dum. All of the kids instantly recognize it and just go crazy.” 

David was 7-years-old when “Star Wars” first appeared on movie screens in 1977.

“I saw it five times at the theater when I was a kid in Nashville, Tenn.,” David said.

David was 10 when “The Empire Strikes Back” came out and 13 when “Return of the Jedi” was released. He saw each multiple times.

A lot has changed over the past four decades since movie-goers first met and became enamored with Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Darth Vader.

David subscribes to Disney Plus and has been rewatching the movies as well as the new series, “The Mandalorian.”

“I found myself sitting there watching ‘New Hope, Episode IV,’ on my phone,” David said. “I remarked to myself ‘holy cow I’m sitting here watching this on my phone’ and remembering when it came out in ‘77. Back then, after it was out in the theaters, we had no more exposure to Star Wars until the next movie came out.”

David said he and his friends bought and played with Star Wars action figures. And when they didn’t have the exact playset, they created one with styrofoam and markers.

“I would make my own playsets that my brother, sister and I would play with,” David said.

David doesn’t have any of the Star Wars memorabilia from when he was a kid. 

“You don’t think about things, the collectible culture, when you are 10 or 11,” David said. “I was never into that. I was a kid playing with them, not just keeping them.”

He did have a lot of the action figures. His prized figure was Boba Fett, which he got before “The Empire Strikes Back” came out by sending in five proofs of purchase.

“It was before anybody had seen Boba Fett,” David said. “Nobody knew who that character was. It was this cool looking character, and you got it for free. I definitely did that. That is the one that man if I still had that I could pay for his (Grayson’s) college.”

Getting through this together, Paso Robles