DJ Franck H-Bomb is hunched over the decks on the upstairs stage of Los Globos, his tall frame shrouded in a Sith Lord's cloak. He drops tracks with big, marching beats and vocals as menacing as Darth Vader's choke holds. Electronic sounds shoot from the speakers as though they're on a mission to pierce and destroy Alderaan. If the Death Star had a rager, it would sound like this.
People dance with light sabers. Some twirl them like oversized glow sticks. Others start impromptu Jedi training sessions. Soon, every room in this venue is teeming with characters from the fictional galaxy far, far away, which has been embedded in pop culture for more than 35 years. There are bounty hunters, Jedis and droids. A Jawa and an Ewok walk through the room holding hands. One girl is dressed as Salacious B. Crumb, a lesser-known character who pops up alongside Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi. A guy wears a headpiece with long pieces wrapped around his neck, making him resemble another member of Jabba's entourage, Bib Fortuna.
May the Fourth, the now-massive Star Wars fan holiday, is still two days away. At Return of Das Bunker, though, the celebrations have already begun. The industrial dance club, which ended its weekly run earlier this year, has returned for a series of special events. For the first, tonight's Star Wars' themed bash, tickets sold out before the club opened its doors.
Das Bunker's May the Fourth Star Wars parties date back three years. Promoter John Giovanazzi had seen references to May the Fourth on social media, and when May 4, 2012, fell on a Friday, he chose Star Wars as the night's theme. It was a hit, and other Star Wars parties followed. They draw a mix of the club crowd and the fan-convention crowd – Giovanazzi acknowledges that there is some overlap between the two scenes – as well as those who simply like to hit up major events. People pose for photos in front of a prop AT-AT Walker. They check out one another's costumes. On the patio, there are Star Wars vs. Star Trek debates and discussion of plans for San Diego Comic-Con. Tonight, this corner of Silver Lake is nerd city, and that's just fine.
May the Fourth is a unique example of wordplay-turned-holiday. The date is unconnected to the release any of the Star Wars films, which hit theaters in the last two weeks of the month. Instead, it's derived from the way “May the fourth” sounds similar to the Jedi saying “May the force be with you.”
Not long ago, it was little more than a goofy greeting or a hashtag stuck on the end of tweets. Now, it's much more. In L.A. this year, Star Wars Day became Star Wars Weekend, with events Friday through Sunday. Online, retailers from Amazon to Hot Topic marked May 4 with related sales. Even Disney, now the franchise's parent company, got in on the action. At 12:01 a.m. on May 4, the company unveiled the trailer for Star Wars Rebels, an animated special premiering on Disney Channel this fall. They were also behind a weekend-long art exhibition, “Star Wars Legion,” in downtown Los Angeles.
“The fans are the ones driving it,” says Anita Castellar, licensing manager for Hardlines, a division of Lucas Licensing, which handles collectibles. “We're just along to help support and celebrate with them.”
Downtown artist Robert Vargas provided the Main Street space for the “Star Wars Legion” exhibit. On Saturday, the gallery features concept art, collectible figure displays and more than 300 small storm trooper helmets, each customized by an international group of artists. Some turned the helmets into designer toy vehicles; others transformed them into replicas of food. A large portrait of a storm trooper hangs on one of the walls. Below it are buckets and well-used brushes collected onto a blue drop cloth splattered with red and white drippings. Vargas has been painting for much of the weekend. “I don't trust anyone who doesn't like Star Wars,” he says.
Inside the gallery, the large, multigenerational crowd ogles the helmets. Even the little kids snap cellphone photos.
Star Wars is in a time of transition. In October 2012, The Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm. In the days leading up to May the Fourth, cast announcements came for the next Star Wars film, to be directed by J.J. Abrams. Old favorites, like Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford will return. New additions include Adam Driver (Girls), John Boyega (Attack the Block) and newcomer Daisy Ridley.
It has fans talking, but that's not why Star Wars Day is gaining momentum. It goes much deeper than that.
Das Bunker's Giovanazzi was born two months before the 1977 release of Star Wars. He knows that his father took him to see The Empire Strikes Back the day it was released but doesn't remember the event. As a kid, he collected the toys. He's still an occasional collector of Star Wars ephemera, who still gets related toys as birthday gifts from his cousin. “It's always been a culture that's been part of my life as long as I can remember,” he says.
Talk to enough fans and you'll hear similar stories. Some can remember exactly where they saw the movies, while others only have the vaguest of childhood memories of their first Star Wars experience. They only know they got hooked.
And Giovanazzi is in a position where he can bring people like himself together. In addition to promoting Das Bunker, he co-owns Glendale bar Complex, which on Sunday hosted “Let the Wookiee Win,” a nationwide Star Wars trivia quiz organized by Geeks Who Drink, followed by Super Bar, comedian Chris Gore's cosplay and entertainment event and also a May the Fourth event.
“I don't think there is ever going to be a series of movies that affects pop culture in this way again,” Gore says. He talks about fans who, like himself, never shed their love of Star Wars. He mentions the adult fans, now introducing their children to this world, and the multiple generations bonding over this collection of works. With episode VII in the works, he anticipates more new fans are to come.
“Star Wars is one of those movies I would describe as an epiphany movie,” Gore says. “It's a movie that makes you fall in love with movies and changes your life.”
That's how a film series begets a holiday.
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