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(From left) Rollin Richert, Aaron Shoenhair, Sean McCarthy (top), Meg O’Connor (bottom), Anthony VanRaalte, Casey Mullin, Colin Banigan, Bri Lawter, Sith, Grey and Jedi Orders, in full costume and showing off their sabers.
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The Lightsaber Fight Club members model their costumes and sabers on a wooden platform: (from left) Bryan Klunk, Corey “Tadpole” Jackson, Anthony VanRaalte (top), Bri Lawter (bottom) and Zack Wainright.
In a galaxy not so far, far away, the nonprofit Lightsaber Fight Club offers a new hope for those interested in channeling their inner Jedis for two weekends a month.
The club was founded in 2012 by Collinsville resident Anthony VanRaalte, who initially created a private Facebook group under the working title “Lightsaber Fight Club,” just for kicks. Within its first week, the page had more than 100 followers. From all over the region, many Star Wars fans were eager to join.
“Honestly, I expected the group to slowly fizzle out within the first six months, but it’s steadily grown over the years since its inception, and we’re trying to expand our group to places across the nation,” VanRaalte said.
Not long after creating the group, VanRaalte began scheduling bi-weekly Saturday meetings with members of the online club in the parking area behind Home Depot in Collinsville. As dusk approached, curious onlookers could make out attendees illuminating the lot space with glowing sabers.
“One of my earliest childhood memories was the age of two, when I got to see ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ while it was still in theaters,” Sean “Twiggy” McCarthy of West County, Mo., said. “Truthfully, being a part of this club, and getting the chance to come out and flail some sabers around with good folks who love ‘Star Wars’ as much as myself is a childhood dream come true.”
Anyone 18 and older (or younger with parental consent) in the Riverbend and surrounding areas can join for free simply by liking the club’s Facebook page and attending its bi-weekly events. The exhibitions are scheduled seasonally from March through October.
Once someone becomes a member, they are considered “Force sensitive” and are given the option to join one of three separate factions, run by their own individual councils divided into the Jedi Order, Grey Order and Sith Order.
After deciding upon a faction, the member can choose their lightsaber color, which varies depending on the selected order. For example, allies of the Jedi order must have a green or blue saber, while the colors for Sith could be red or orange, and Grey Jedis would be amber and purple. All members are responsible for providing their own sabers.
Following this, the new ally can participate in a series of battles and challenges to advance in rank. For instance, if a Padawan, the starting rank for the Jedi Order, excels in saber duels, they will be promoted to Jedi.
In addition to regular exhibitions, the club has four tournaments per season. Each competitor donates $20 a person for chance to win a brand new lightsaber, with a value of up to $250.
The club’s first of four seasonal tournaments took place April 24. Three event challenges were held in the tournament, overall, including one-on-one saber duels, two Jedi versus Sith team battles, and two Escort missions.
The grand prize winner was Jedi Council Member Bri Lawter of O’Fallon, Mo.
“My favorite thing about being a part of this club is getting the chance to hang around with really cool people who feel like family to me,” Lawter said. “The duels and challenges always make me feel like I’m playing a real-life video game, and the excitement keeps me coming back.”
After competitions and club meetings, the gang usually sticks around, sharing jokes and bonding with one another while preparing ideas for the next get-together.
“Our ultimate goal would be to afford an indoor performing facility,” VanRaalte said with a smile. “Really, all we want as a group is to give ‘Star Wars’ fans a place that they can come and have fun without worry about feeling unaccepted; a place they, in a sense, could call home.”
For more information on the Lightsaber Fightclub, visit the Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/311035825638008/.