STERLING HEIGHTS — Today’s youngsters were but a twinkle in their parents’ eyes when the inaugural “Star Wars” film debuted in 1977, but that hasn’t deterred a new generation’s enthusiasm for the franchise.
The turnout at an Aug. 23 Star Wars Day at the Sterling Heights Public Library, featuring costumed characters from the movies, proved that. Youth Services Librarian Tracy Harnish, who organized the event, said all 400 slots filled on the first day of registration nearly a month prior.
“We didn’t expect it to be quite so overwhelmingly popular,” she said.
The recent release of the “Clone Wars” animated movie, as well as last year’s 30th anniversary of the original film, were the main impetuses behind the celebration, which attracted adults and kids alike, said Harnish.
“The children’s part of the library does try to keep current with kids’ culture, whatever’s popular at the moment,” she said. “There was kind of a fever pitch building for ‘Star Wars’ again.”
Elaborately costumed members of the 501st Legion’s Great Lakes Garrison, representing “Star Wars” villains, and the Rebel Legion’s Midwest Base, portraying the series’ “good guys,” were the highlights of the event.
The actors led several activities during the pair of two-hour sessions, including a Blasting Range where participants fired Nerf darts at taunting Stormtroopers and an outdoor light saber training academy, where participants earned certificates declaring them “padawans” — young apprentices training under Jedi knights.
Attendees also could participate in a “Star Wars” Bounty Hunt, which sent them searching for photos of characters hidden throughout the library, and get their pictures snapped with the costumed participants against a background depicting the Death Star.
Sterling Heights resident Gino Prljaskaj — who took aim at Stormtroopers in the Blasting Range and learned how to properly brandish a light saber using moves “over your head” and “down on the ground” — declared the event “cool.”
Prljaskaj, 10, said Darth Vader is his favorite character.
“He’s like, evil,” he said. “He’s the best one from all the ‘Star Wars’ people. He always wins.”
Jon Leopold, the Great Lakes Garrison’s commanding officer, opened the event with a reading from the “Revenge of the Sith” novel.
“There’s a really great message at the end about believing in heroes,” he said.
Leopold, a Goodrich resident, said he became part of the 501st Legion about five years ago, after seeing people in Stormtrooper garb at several large “Star Wars” conventions.
“They looked like they’d stepped right out of a movie,” he said. “I was determined to join the group.”
The Great Lakes Garrison, which encompasses 79 members, participates in 70-80 events annually, ranging from parades and sporting events to birthday parties and charity walks, he said.
Some of the members play one character consistently, while others have multiple costumes, explained Leopold, who dresses up as a Stormtrooper or an AT-ST driver in a flight suit.
All are volunteers, he added, and can participate in as many or as few events as they want.
Leopold said the garrison’s appearances often have a charitable component. On Aug. 23, members sold light sabers to raise funds for the Friends of the Sterling Heights Public Library, the nonprofit organization that supports the facility’s programs.
“A big reason why we do this is to give back to the community,” he said. “Since the beginning of 2007, we’ve raised $29,000 for various charities.”
Leopold said he feels the trio of “Star Wars” prequels released in recent years appeals primarily to kids, prompting a renewed burst of interest in the franchise.
It’s amazing when children approach the actors and launch into in-depth discussion of minute details, like the names of the various clone commanders, he said.
“It’s just fantastic to see the love of ‘Star Wars’ that we had back 30 years ago is still around for the little kids,” he said.
Library Director Tammy Turgeon can empathize; she was a fan herself, as are her young twin sons.
“Obviously, there’s a big fan base for ‘Star Wars,’” she said.
Harnish said library staffers have already decided to host another Star Wars Day next year, shortening the sessions and adding a third to accommodate more guests. The plan, she said, is to move it to June and use it as the kick-off event for the Summer Reading Club, which sports a theme related to theatrical creativity.
But for some, that might not be soon enough.
“We’ve had a lot of people ask us if we could do it every weekend,” laughed Harnish.
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