Star Wars: The Last Jedi opened with the bang of a thermal detonator this weekend, becoming the second-highest grossing opening weekend for a film ever in North America.
But your local theater isn't the only place where aspiring Jedi knights can be found learning to wield a lightsaber.
Chad Eisner co-founded a group called Terra Prime Light Armory in 2012. The group promotes traditional martial arts and weapon arts by sparring with lightsabers.
The swords, which are custom-made of round polycarbonate, are designed to withstand a real beating.
Stateside's Sarah Leeson went to a workshop with the Light Armory last Saturday at Liberty Athletic Club in Ann Arbor. Listen to the audio postcard she brought back above, or read highlights below.
“We wanted some way that we could get people of differing weapons arts backgrounds to kind of mix up and fight each other and spar and have fun and stuff like that, because it’s just not so common to have people fighting with weapons nowadays,” Eisner said.
The local lightsaber scene is a certain point of pride for the group.
“In Michigan right here we have extremely high quality makers — Darth Alice and Solo’s Hold — who are really famous the world over for making extremely high quality lightsabers,” Eisner said. “They’re very accurate to the screen and really, really, durable.”
For some participants like Alex Kostrzewa, it's not the fandom that's the draw, but the unique martial arts element.
“My main interest was in the traditional Chinese weapon arts. Finding Chad, who knew what he was talking about, was a rare treat,” Kostrzewa said. “Fighting with swords is fun! I think it’s kind of weird that this isn’t like a more common hobby. Who doesn’t want to go sword fighting on the weekends?”
That's not to say that Star Wars doesn't appeal to him, though.
“I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, like I haven’t read any of the extended universe stuff or whatnot, but it’s good — I like it. I find its place in pop culture canon pretty interesting because, as far as I can tell, it kind of invented the Hollywood blockbuster," Kostrzewa said, "So, in terms of measuring the impact of a piece of media by the amount of media that exists in relationship to it, Star Wars is kind of a keystone work of modern film because it changed the way that film was made. You can kind of break the history of cinema into a pre-Star Wars and post-Star Wars era, kind of like how you can break into a pre-Wizard of Oz and post-Wizard of Oz era.”
Other participants, like John Solomon, are here for Star Wars above all. When asked if he'd always wanted to be a Jedi, Solomon said, “Always. Ever since I was three years old. Maybe even before that.”
Solomon does have a background in Japanese swordsmanship though, and can appreciate the martial arts side of the workshop.
“The interesting thing about martial arts in general, and when you apply this to something unusual like a lightsaber, it’s more interesting to see the similarities than the differences,” Solomon said. “For instance, I see a tiny bit of Italian longsword here, and the similarities between the martial techniques there and the martial techniques in Japan are remarkably similar.… And it’s really interesting to see the techniques we use which are different in Japanese swordsmanship which are used in a new and exciting way with the lightsabers and the blending of the Chinese styles into it, it’s very interesting.”
One participant, Rob Cocsis, has an extra reason for attending: spending time with his daughter.
“She’s 13 and she’s been coming for about a year now, on and off,” Cocsis said. “We started this out as more of a daddy-daughter thing, so it’s cool. It’s great. I don’t make her do it, it’s totally on her, but it’s kind of a family thing.”
Some participants are even coming from across the state to attend. Dalton Smith who is from Grand Rapids drove for hours in fairly snowy conditions to make it to the workshop.
“I come as often as I can — at least a few times a year — but I come from almost three hours away, so sometimes it’s hard to make it,” Smith said.
In his eyes, though, it's worth it. “I don’t get to do anything like this anywhere else, really, and I’ve always been interested in sword fighting," Smith said. "So now I get to do it, and I get to do it with laser swords.”
Listen above for the full audio postcard.