This is no ordinary hummus. It’s the Great Pit of Carkoon, ringed with chips and peppers meant to be the teeth and tentacles of the sarlacc that almost snacks on Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi. From Jabba Jell-O spiked with gummy frogs to lightsaber pretzels dipped in blue chocolate, food isn’t the only thing screaming that it’s Star Wars Day—May the Fourth be with you!
Everywhere I look, kids and parents are nerding out among cardboard cutouts of beloved movie characters, vintage action figures and the distinctive sound of canned blaster fire. (Finally, I’ve found my people.) Some of the revelers are in full costume, like the 7-year-old Darth Vader and 8-year-old Obi-Wan sparring on the patio with light-up plastic Jedi weapons. Others are in T-shirts paying homage to Chad Vader (Darth’s unappreciated brother from a satirical web spinoff), the Millennium Falcon and even Boba Fett, as this crowd appreciates the balance of good and evil in the realm of Star Wars.
They are the Jedi Scouts, a local Meetup group launched in December by the owner of this house, Glen Toussaint. He and his wife Sandy are both devoted fans of Star Wars, going back to the original film.
“It came out when I was 5, so it was such a big part of my childhood,” Toussaint says. “There’s pictures of me on my 6th birthday playing with the land speeder and Luke and Obi-Wan, Darth Vader and some Stormtroopers. I’ve still got those toys. That R2 is mine,” Toussaint says, pointing to the top of his TV, where a ’70s-era figurine contrasts the CGI of 1999’s Episode I flashing on the screen below it. I ask if he considers himself a hard-core Star Wars nerd, and Toussaint chuckles. “I’m getting more into it just because of this.”
Starting Jedi Scouts was about creating something constructive, inclusive and engaging for his kids, 11-year-old Zoe (dressed as Leia today) and 7-year-old Zander (Darth Vader from the patio). In a few months, it has grown into this core membership of four families and nine kids, ranging in age from 18 months to 12 years. The pillars of Jedi Scouts are “Jedi philosophy, science and fun,” meaning field trips to a local planetarium and a rocket-launch site in Jean, trivia and other games, crafts like Wookiee birdhouses, science lessons like a moon-phase demo and, of course, costumed playtime. Before each meeting the scouts recite the Jedi Code, as modified by Luke Skywalker:
Jedi are the guardians of peace in the galaxy.
Jedi use their powers to defend and to protect.
Jedi respect all life, in any form.
Jedi serve others rather than ruling over them, for the good of the galaxy.
Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.
With such a wide age range, Toussaint says they can’t get very deep into the philosophy, but he weaves basic Jedi notions of selflessness into the fun of science and sci-fi. And he does think Jedi Scouts might see a bump in membership as excitement about the new movie (out in 2015) builds.
I’m in the camp that cries a little on the inside when we think about the newer three installments in the Star Wars saga, the prequels that gave birth to Jar Jar Binks and a star-crossed romance so twee that the lovers actually roll around in a meadow. I lay down my gripes to some of the parents standing around the sarlacc dip, and Mike Harris points out that I might not be letting myself watch the films like I would if I didn’t have so much baggage.
“I mean, I understand the disdain, but I was 6 years old watching it,” the 42-year-old says of the much maligned Episode I. That’s why he’s not worried about the tone or the casting or the script of Episode VII. He'll feel like a kid again no matter what. It helps that J.J. Abrams—who rebooted Star Trek like a champion and has helmed other great sci-fi projects—is in charge of the next chapter. But Harris is most excited about taking his girls Erin, 7, and Becca (aka “Chewbecca”), 5, to the midnight show and watching their eyes pop out of their heads. Harris says they got really into the cartoon series because it had strong female characters, like the Jedi Ahsoka Tano.
“Do you want to be a Jedi?” I ask Erin.
“I am,” she says, totally serious.
Harris took the girls to the Jedi Training Academy at Disneyland, where they wore the robes and battled the scary guy in the black helmet, a character they comically associate with their dad. “I’m the father,” he says, smiling. I ask how his love of Star Wars affects his life on a daily basis. He says it doesn’t really, beyond his impressive collection of T-shirts (he’s wearing one of Darth Vader walking an AT-AT like a dog) and penchant for sleeping outside theaters for premiere-night tickets. “I’m That Guy,” he says, though he was too young to wait in line for Episode IV. “I was 5. It changed my life. It redefined playing. … It just redefined what childhood was for us.”
Looking at Zander’s decked-out room (Sandy’s “masterpiece”)—from the curtains and sheets to the handmade “R3” unit on the shelf—it’s clear Star Wars still has the power to shape the way kids play, and to stoke their imaginations about what their own lives could be. That’s an important piece of Jedi Scouts for Peggy Richardson and Geoff Clay, whose 8-year-old daughter Elizabeth often wears her hair in Leia-style buns.
“We were thrilled when Sandy and her husband started this group because it’s a great secular alternative to scouting. We wanted something that was not gender specific, didn’t have the politics involved. And the costume aspect of it is a big, big thing for her. This has been great; it allows her to make friends outside of her regular school environment. And there’s an interesting difference between the kids in the Star Wars universe and kids in many other universes, other fictions, and that is that Star Wars kids have a little bit of power,” Richardson says, watching her daughter and the Harris girls study a captured ladybug. “She’s not some bimbo princess who has her whole life laid out for her and has to make the best of it. She can make choices.”
Richardson also appreciates the diversity of Star Wars characters, especially the Jedi, who represent many cultures and creeds. For the kids, though, Jedi Scouts appears to be about the overarching fantasy of heroes.
“It usually devolves into everyone just playing,” Harris says. But there's always some essence of the Star Wars universe, where even a kid can alter the fate of all—and maybe take down a handful of TIE fighter cookies.