Rebel Yell: Area "Star Wars" superfans celebrate release of "The Force Awakens"

The midi-chlorians are off the scale with these West and Southwest Orange-area "Star Wars"fans.

Joe Gravelle; as a sand trooper; David Rosen, as Boba Fett; and David Collins, as a magma trooper, invaded Sunset Park Elementary School recently.
Joe Gravelle; as a sand trooper; David Rosen, as Boba Fett; and David Collins, as a magma trooper, invaded Sunset Park Elementary School recently.
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Editor's note: Orange Observer staffers Amy Quesinberry Rhode, Zak Kerr, Catherine Kerr, Jennifer Nesslar and Steven Ryzewski also contributed to this feature.

With “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” promising to shatter every box-office record this weekend, we asked our Facebook friends to help us find the biggest local “Star Wars” fans.

To put it mildly: The Force is strong in West and Southwest Orange.

So, without further ado, we invite you to celebrate with us as we travel to a galaxy far, far away.

Nathan Chase, Winter Garden

He has toys, Lego sets, models, posters and T-shirts proclaiming his love of everything “Star Wars.” Nathan Chase, of Winter Garden, is eagerly awaiting Friday’s debut of the series’ seventh episode. 

He is attending with friends but said he most likely will see it again with family — and probably many more times after that.


What makes you the biggest fan in West Orange County?

Besides being a fervent admirer of the original films, their merits directly inspired me to cultivate a business idea around movies with a friend — a social network for movie-lovers called — which now has hundreds of thousands of users worldwide.


What is your most prized “Star Wars” possession?

A full-sized, lobby print of an Australian variant “The Empire Strikes Back” poster.


When and where are you seeing it for the first time?

I’ll be seeing it on the Friday of opening weekend at the AMC Dolby Atmos theater in Disney Springs.


What makes Star Wars so popular?

It’s the combination of a vast world of characters, locales and George Lucas’s adaptation of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth with Lucas’s business savvy and merchandising foresight that popularized the films across generations and permeated pop culture.


Did Han Solo shoot first?

Of course he did. Even if Lucas claims otherwise, at that point in the story, Solo is a smuggler for gangsters. He’s going to protect himself. It’s also essential to the arc of his character to start as the ultimate rogue to then end up as the reluctant hero.


On which planet would you most like to live?

Pre-war Naboo seems quite nice.


Tim and Evan Bernardi, Ocoee

For Ocoee residents Tim and Evan Bernardi, Star Wars is a legacy to be passed down through the generations.

Tim had just finished eighth grade when the first film was released in 1977. Evan was born in 1993, during the production hiatus, but his dad showed him the early movies at a young age, and he was mesmerized.

“To be able to share it with my son and to see him get so enthusiastic about it, that was really something,” Tim said. “We’re living proof of the fact that this is a cross-generational cultural phenomenon.”


Who are your favorite and least-favorite characters?

Evan: I’d say Qui-Gon was a good character because it was kind of his own mindset. He basically follows his own path. My least favorite character of all time — it is Jar Jar.

Tim: I like Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Obi-Wan. My least favorite, I’m sorry but I’m gonna have to say it —Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin Skywalker. He was whiny. 


Which of the six feature films is your favorite?

Evan: “Empire Strikes Back.” It opens with this amazing battle and leads you right into the action. 


Have you met any of the actors?

Evan: I did see Peter Mayhew at MegaCon a few years ago, but I didn’t speak to him.


Did Han shoot first?

Tim: George Lucas said the answer was “no,” because he framed Han Solo as being a John Wayne-like character, and John Wayne never shot first.


On which planet would you most like to live?

Evan: Coruscant would be my favorite one. I love how the whole planet is just one big city. 

Tim: Naboo. And if I had to pick one for (Evan) to live on, it would be Alderaan.


Assemble your dream “Star Wars” squad.

Evan: The clone trooper squad from “Episode III” that carried out Order 66 because hey, they took out every Jedi in no time flat. 

Tim: Han, Chewie, Obi-Wan, R2. I win.

Don Bedwell, Ocoee

Don Bedwell has been counting the days until the newest “Star Wars” film is out on the big screen. Now 48, he has introduced his two sons to his beloved “friends” Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca and Yoda.


What makes you the biggest fan in West Orange County? 

The first time I saw “Star Wars” was the summer of 1977; I was 10. Immediately, I was hooked. The movie just spoke to me as a young man. I played with the toys. I read the books. I played like I was Han Solo. As a grown-up, I still have the toys, but they are shared with my sons. 


Who is your least favorite character?

Whiny Anakin Skywalker from “Attack of the Clones.” I mean, here’s the guy who will one day be Darth Vader, whining about sand and “how it gets everywhere.” I guess Luke gets his whining from Anakin.


Which of the six feature films is your favorite?

“Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.” While everyone else was asking, “Who shot J.R.?” I was asking, “Is Darth Vader really Luke’s father?”


Have you met any of the actors?

I’ve met a lot of the stars: Kenny Baker, Orli Shoshan, Ray Park, Peter Mayhew, Andy Secombe (the voice of Watto) and many others. I met David Prowse (Darth Vader body actor) while I was working at Universal Studios. Partied with Daniel Logan. My favorite would have to be Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian). 


When did you buy your tickets for “The Force Awakens”?

My wife gave them to me as our wedding anniversary gift the day they went on sale.


What makes “Star Wars” so popular?

There are so many things to choose from that make “Star Wars” popular. The simple adventure of traveling through space to different worlds with strange giant creatures. The mythos of The Force and the struggle between the Dark Side and the Light Side. The endless stories in the (now-banned) Expanded Universe. The archetype characters we all know and identify. The subtle humor of the characters, even when they are in great peril. 


David Rosen, Windermere

When Boba Fett entered the room, all the children stopped what they were doing. Many rushed over to him to take a picture or just be near him.

For the students at Sunset Park Elementary who attended Star Wars Night on Dec. 11, seeing Boba Fett was unbelievable. But for the man under the mask, it was a typical Friday night.

Windermere resident David Rosen, 31, is a member of the 501st Legion, a worldwide charitable organization. The group often appears at functions, such as schools and weddings, and makes hospital visits in its Star Wars garb as it represents the villains of the series. At events, the group doesn’t get paid, but the organization hosting it makes a gift to charity on its behalf. 

On Friday night, Rosen was joined by Joe Gravelle, who played a Sand Trooper, and David Collins, who played a Magma Trooper. 


What makes Star Wars so popular?

It’s completely unique. One of the main reasons a lot of people go, one of the really cool things —  people tell me this; I don’t have kids yet — a lot of people remembering going to see the originals in the theaters, like my dad took me to see “Star Wars” when it came out in the 1970s. And it’s now come around, those kids are now grown up and they have kids, and they’re taking their own children to see “Star Wars.” There’s no other film I can think of that has done that. 


What is your most prized Star Wars possession?

Apart from my costume my friend got for me — we have our little cards that we all make for ourselves, and we hand them out to kids. One of my friends took one on Star Wars Weekend to Jeremy Bulloch, and he signed it. He signed my Boba Fett card that has Jeremy Bulloch, Boba Fett. And apparently, when she asked him what he thought of my costume, he said it was very flattering — he was very impressed. 


Did Han Solo shoot first?

Well, yeah. I’ve seen the original, when he shot first, and then he (Greedo) shot second, and then I guess they both shot at the same time.  I think it’s something like that. 


Assemble your dream “Star Wars” squad.

It’s got to be Stormtroopers. I like the classic Stormtroopers. 


What makes you the biggest fan in West Orange County?

I’m willing to dress up as Boba Fett for kids at a school on a Friday night rather than being out drinking.


Who is your least favorite character?

Is Jar Jar too obvious? No Jar Jar really does annoy me. I’ll go with Jar Jar because I hold him responsible for all the evil that happens in the storyline. He’s the one that ultimately gives the Emperor (Palpatine) the authority to do what he does. “He was tricked into,” I’m told, “he was innocent,” but basically it’s all his fault. 


Which of the six feature films is your favorite?

It used to be Episode 4, but the more I got into this and costuming, it became “Return of the Jedi.” Because “I’m” in it — or Boba’s in it — and it had three battles happening at the end.


Have you met any of the actors?

I’ve met James Arnold Taylor at Star Wars Weekend.  They’ll come over when we’re backstage, and they’re the coolest people. James Arnold Taylor is a voice actor. He does Obi-Wan Kenobi in Clone Wars — he does loads of them. And Daniel Logan (Young Boba Fett in Episode 2). When we were lined up in the parade, he would come over to our entire line — there’s like 150 of us — and he would pretty much shake hands and say, “Thank you.” Some of the actors don’t come over and direct so much. Ashley Eckstein’s another one. They all know all about the 501st (Legion). A lot of them are honorary members as well. Celebrities cannot join; instead, we make them honorary members. 

Nick Bomleny, Windermere

Windermere resident Nick Bomleny’s love for “Star Wars” goes beyond a personal collection of memorabilia in his home. As part of the 1980s tribute band SWITCH, he and his bandmates showed off their fandom by dressing in “Star Wars” costumes for their Halloween gig at Dexter’s of Windermere.

A fan since the original movie in 1977, Bomleny said he still has all the original toys. Since then, he has introduced his children to the galaxy far, far away.


What is the most bizarre thing you have done in the name of your fandom? 

Not sure it’s bizarre, but our band dressed as Star Wars characters for Halloween this year and performed for a private party and at Dexter’s of Windermere.


Who is your favorite character?

Han Solo, of course!


Which of the six feature films is your favorite?

“A New Hope.” 


What is your most prized Star Wars possession?

Marvel Special Edition Star Wars comic No. 1.


What makes Star Wars so popular?

Classic storytelling, great characters and the allure of space travel.


Have you met any of the actors?

Yes, Kenny Baker (R2-D2). 


Assemble your dream squad.

Han Solo, Chewbacca, Jango Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Young) and Kylo Ren

Daniel Berry, Winter Garden

Winter Garden native and West Orange High alum Daniel Berry remembers being a kid in the 1980s and watching the Star Wars films on VHS tape and then running outside to reenact them. That lifelong love of the series recently manifested itself in a podcast, which he began with Ryan Donoho, of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Titled “Podcast 66,” the weekly show started in August 2014 and averages 500 downloads per episode. 


Which of the six feature films is your favorite?

My favorite of the six films used to be “Empire Strikes Back” for the same reason as everybody. I would say now it is “Return of the Jedi.” Over the years, that movie has the most impact on me. The finale is just really emotional, and I love the story of Darth Vadar. The scene that will make me cry, no matter what, is at the end when Luke is burning his father’s remains and that beautiful John Williams score.


Who shot first?

I’m “Team Greedo.” I ... side with George Lucas on everything. 


What makes Star Wars so popular?

It’s the way that people can actually relate to the human nature of the story. All the spaceships and lightsabers and blasters are great, but there’s a mythology there. 


Assemble your dream “Star Wars” squad.

Honestly, and I’m not trying to be funny, I’m going to go with Jar Jar (Binks). He’s the wildcard. Because they get along really well, Qui-Gon Jinn. And R2-D2. I think we could get a lot done.


Have you met any of the actors?

Yes! Star Wars Weekends was a great opportunity to meet some of the actors. The biggest name I’ve probably sat down and shook hands with would be Warwick Davis. He played Wicket the Ewok. Really cool dude. We’ve had some of the actors from the shows on our podcast (including Freddie Prinze Jr.).


Which planet would you most like to live on?

Alderaan. I wouldn’t live long, but it’s the most beautiful of the planets. (Alderaan is destroyed in Episode IV by the Deathstar’s Superlaser.)


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