I’ve met the real Chewbacca.

I’ve posed for a picture with the guy inside R2-D2 (he came up to my hip).

I’ve ridden in an elevator and traded wary hellos with an unmasked Darth Vader (David Prowse has an unfriendly rep, even in real life.)

And it was so cool.

This sounds like the sort of confession that ought to be made in a darkened room with a paper bag over my head.

I love Star Wars.

To clarify: the original trilogy, not the two overly teched, poorly acted movies in the second trilogy.

Give me miles of plain ol’white PVC Stormtroopers and stage crews rocking the hull of the Millennium Falcon to simulate an asteroid hit any day.

Who could stand the pie-faced brat in Episode I? Or the uncomfortable love scenes in Episode II? (That pair is supposed to parent Luke and Leia and the chemistry is so strained conception must take place five feet apart.)

But maybe George Lucas will redeem himself with Episode III.

It’s that sort of fanatic ownership inspired by the trilogies – how could he have messed up my movies so badly? – that has kept the franchise so amazingly popular.

I’ve had those un-costumed encounters over the last few years at – wait, wait, let me get that paper bag again – comic conventions. For one long weekend every year, civic centers in San Diego, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and elsewhere turn into trade show floors with comic shop vendors selling every book and memento imaginable. There are artists, celebrities and thousands of attendees, a good portion of whom dress up as their favorite characters.

Peter Mayhew (Chewy) has got wild, long curly hair, incredible baby blue eyes and he looks really achy when he moves. (He’s 7’4″.) The size of his hands were just awe-inspiring.

Kenny Baker, the man inside R2-D2, tooled around the convention center floor on a little foot-powered scooter, conducting business on a cell phone.

Guys inside Greedo and Boba Fett look entirely unremarkable out of character. Not much risk of being stopped at the grocery store there. But they were part of the original magic, so they’re appropriately adored.

Ray Park (Darth Maul) oozed ego. He put on a stunt show in Philly one year, sparring with another man who ended up cutting Park’s bicep in an unchoreographed move. Stunt show ended early.

In one vacation snapshot, I grabbed a picture of a beaming little person with a sign identifying him as Rusty Goffe. Ewok? Jawa? Probably both.

At the conventions, “Star Wars” stars cluster together, each one to a table, surrounded by bold pictures of film alter-egos. They make easy eye contact with fans, eager to sell an autographed picture for $20. Brought your own picture? Still $20.

They’ve got to make a living.

I idolized these guys as a kid, popping in the Star Wars movies my dad taped off HBO whenever I stayed home sick.

It didn’t get cuter than Han Solo. There was nothing more beautiful than Leia.

At Wizard World Chicago, we came down to our hotel lobby to eat breakfast one morning at the in-house restaurant and sat at the table next to Mayhew and Baker, sizable opposites, eating together. Two men getting a bite of nourishment before another day of work.

We stared, they ate.

So cool.


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