By Albert Park
A long time ago in a hotel not so far, far away, a motion picture was pre-screened at a humble comic book convention in San Diego. That motion picture was "Star Wars." The convention was the formerly named San Diego Comic-Con. The year was 1976.
Ten months before its eventual premiere, Charles Lippincott, publicist for "Star Wars," gave an exclusive screening to a roomful of unwitting, wide-eyed sci-fi fans at the El Cortez Hotel in downtown San Diego. The inextricable link between Comic-Con, Star Wars and San Diego was forged. The movie would not only help change the scope and potential of that convention and redefine the standards of an entire film genre. It would also bring about one of the most devout alliances of fans in the galaxy.
The rest of Hollywood and just about every form of the popular arts have taken a cue from such initial grass-roots efforts to reach would-be fans. The convention - Comic-Con International - has since blown up into the annually sold-out media behemoth it is today. And with this expansion the need for a dedicated community of Star Wars devotees, harkening back to the simpler spirit of early support, seems evident now more than ever. But one might imagine that the ubiquitous marketing machine of the entertainment industry has rendered obsolete the demand for a local Star Wars fan community.
Enter San Diego FanForce and the San Diego Star Wars Society to prove otherwise. Both founded in the spring of 2002, these separate nonprofit organizations of fans-turned-philanthropists provide a way for Star Wars enthusiasts to not only get together and have a good time, but to give back to the community and make a real difference.
No longer the mere know-it-all aficionados, rabid fanboys and zealots of science fiction, fantasy and all things geek, those first wave supporters of Star Wars have all grown up. According to cofounder of San Diego Star Wars Society, Linda Crispien, they have become "doctors, lawyers, teachers, ministers, moms like myself or grandmothers, like our oldest member who is 63."
And with that maturity comes a Jedi-like respect for matters such as altruism, charity and a sense of community.
"We've been active in team fundraising efforts for the National Multiple Sclerosis Walk and National Autism Walk the past few years," said James Floyd, club president of San Diego FanForce. "We've also worked with Make-A-Wish Foundation and often team up with other regional Star Wars fan and costume clubs to help benefit different charities."
Likewise, Crispien of SDSWS said: "Our favorite charities and events are those that benefit children."
Some of those are Maxapaloosa and Alex's Lemonade Stand, both of which benefit childhood cancer research, as well as Make-A-Wish Foundation. Additional charities and events that SDSWS has been involved with include Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego, Humane Society Walk for Animals, ChildhelpUSA, Toys 4 Tots, YMCA and Miracle Gathering at the Gaslamp, a holiday event for homeless children and families, among others.
The common bond shared, which allows for these meaningful gatherings to occur in the first place is an undying passion for a common mythology. For Crispien, the sheer enjoyment of each other's company plays an integral role in her organization as well.
"We have get-togethers in members' homes, play laser tag, see movies or have barbecues and bonfires at the beach," she said. "We have a lot of fun together no matter what we do. The people I have met through this club are the most amazing people you could ever meet."
Just as the face of Comic-Con has evolved since that seminal 1976 preview screening of the original "Star Wars," burgeoning groups like the San Diego Star Wars Society and San Diego FanForce continue to broaden the tradition of the local fan community. These selfless squadrons of Stormtroopers and noble Jedi Knights have created a culture of making a lasting impact in the San Diego community raising funds, awareness and spirits by helping worthy causes, having fun all the while.
And that's a life of conscience that would make even Yoda green with envy.
San Diego FanForce at Comic-Con
- July 23-26
- SDFF booth on the Mezzanine Level
- Prize drawing for Star Wars LEGO merchandise
- Facebook group: San Diego Fan Force
San Diego Star Wars Society at Comic-Con
- 2 to 3 p.m. July 26
- Room 7AB
- Star Wars Trivia Game Panel with prizes sponsored by Lucasfilm