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Pittsburgh Star Wars Fans and Disney

on Mon, 03/25/2013 - 00:00

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

The year was actually 1977 and the place was movie theaters across the country as the original Star Wars burst onto the scene and became not only a box office sensation but a “way of life” for millions of fans. The epic saga of George Lucas was inspired by the works of Joseph Campbell and his concept of the “monomyth,” which asserts that there are certain fundamental narrative devices that can be found within all world mythologies. Lucas studied a full array of science fiction classics, including films from the 1950s and the novels of Edgar Rice Burrows, and crafted a mythology for Star Wars that incorporated elements of the old but made them new again as well. The rest, as they say, is history.

It is a history, however, that will continue for many years to come. In October 2012, it was announced that George Lucas was selling his production company, Lucasfilm, to the Walt Disney Company for a reported $4 billion. The deal not only included the rights to the existing Star Wars movies, but personal notes made by Lucas that form the basis for a new trilogy of films that will further expand the Star Wars narrative. A steady stream of information and speculation flooded the World Wide Web shortly after that initial announcement, with fans around the world joining in on the discussion—including many located in the Steel City.

“At first I was a little apprehensive about the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney,” Pittsburgh resident and lifelong Star Wars fan Lauralynn Schueckler explained shortly after the transaction was announced. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Disney fan. But this is ‘The Wars’ we are talking about here—my Star Wars! Then I got really excited because I knew that probably meant more movies, cartoons, merchandise, maybe even a whole theme park dedicated to Star Wars. When they released the news about Episode VII, I was beyond excited. I already know it’s going to exceed my expectations. I think Disney realizes that they have some pretty big shoes to fill and they’ll make it epic. When I heard the news that J.J. Abrams is set to direct it, that pretty much sealed the deal for me. I’m a huge J.J. Abrams fan. It was like the planets were all aligning and everything was right with the world.”

Dan Beltz, another local Star Wars aficionado, offered a similar viewpoint. “I’m taking the stance that so far Disney has treated the Marvel franchise very well, opened some things up to a new generation of fans and delivered stories to the big screen with respect to the original property,” he said at the time. “I have to believe they will do the same for Lucasfilm.”

Like Lauralynn Schueckler, Beltz is also a lifelong fan of the epic saga. “It’s been important to me for different reasons at different parts of my life,” he explained. “When I was young, it was playing with action figures and just having fun with my own adventures with my brothers and sister. In my late teens it was reading books and being curious about what happened in the expanded universe. In my twenties, after I got my first real job, it was all about collecting. The thrill of the hunt was on! Now that I’m in my thirties, collecting has gone down and cosplay has taken its place—it’s more about watching other people light up and get excited about Star Wars when they see me or my friends. It’s also a time to look back on past Star Wars memories, like Grandma sneaking sandwiches into The Empire Strikes Back, or Dad taking us to the dollar theater for Return of the Jedi.”

In addition to a new trilogy of films featuring original Star Wars actors Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill, Disney also announced plans for standalone films centering on existing characters. Although the possibilities within the Star Wars Universe are endless, both Dan Beltz and Lauralynn Schueckler are in agreement about who they would most like to see get this big screen treatment—Boba Fett. “The guy has something like three minutes of screen time and two lines and he still has a huge following based on his coolness,” Beltz said of the bounty hunter who briefly appeared in The Empire Strikes Back.

“He is everyone’s favorite bounty hunter and to quote Darth Vader, ‘The best bounty hunter in the galaxy,’” Schueckler added. “You love to hate him, at least I do. I think his story could make a really interesting and fun movie. Not many people know a lot about him or his background. You see a glimpse of his storyline in Episode II: Attack of the Clones, but it doesn’t really go too deep and his story kind of gets lost among all the other events. Boba has a lot more to him then just being an awesome bounty hunter and I think the world deserves to see his story.”

Although Star Wars takes place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” it still resonates in the Twenty First Century and a city like Pittsburgh, which is home to local chapters of national fanclubs 501st Legion, Rebel Legion and the Mandalorian Mercs. “Pittsburghers are definitely the Rebel Alliance,” Dan Beltz offered as an analogy between residents of the area and the Star Wars Universe. “Made up of all races, backgrounds and walks of life, but when we rally behind a common goal—usually sports related—I feel sorry for whoever is not on our side.”

For Lauralynn Schueckler, meanwhile, being a Star Wars fan in Pittsburgh directly led to an encounter with her future boyfriend. “I met his friend one night at a bar in the South Side and he told me that I’m exactly like his best friend Ryan,” she explained. “I didn’t believe him, so he told me to text his friend Ryan and ask him anything I wanted. So I sent a text to someone I’d never met before that said ‘How fast did the Millennium Falcon finish in the Kessel Run?’ He texted back right away and said, ‘In less than 12 parsecs… haha!’ We’ve been together and in Geek Heaven ever since.”

Dan Beltz and Lauralynn Schueckler are just two of the thousands of Pittsburghers who have had their lives touched by the epic creation of George Lucas. As Schueckler points out, however, a person’s place of residence is irrelevant when it comes to Star Wars. “I don’t think it really matters where you’re from or if you’re a boy or a girl, anyone can enjoy Star Wars,” she said. “Young, old, male, female, American, Italian, a Sith Lord, a Jedi Master, or whatever—Star Wars has a unique way of bringing people together and helping them communicate and make friends like no other franchise out there today.”

Which is arguably the best reason that the Star Wars Universe will continue to expand in the hands of Disney.

Anthony Letizia

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