For complicated reasons—busy parents, culture shock, lack of friends outside my family circle—I reached the age of 8 without seeing a single movie. The whole business was a mystery to me. Because everyone was talking about Star Wars that summer (it was 1977), I begged my Maiguru Sana (Auntie Sana, my mother's big sister) to take me to a screening of it in Wallingford. She agreed. She, too, had never seen a movie in her life, even though she was 33 at the time.
We traveled to Wallingford, we entered the theater, we sat near the front row, the spectacle began, the spectacle ran, the spectacle ended—and I was totally transformed. (My maiguru, on the other hand, slept through the whole thing—even the explosive space battle couldn't wake her up.)
Now to explain the cause behind my great transformation. Before seeing the movie, I understood the war of Good against Evil to be an entirely Christian one: God versus Satan. The war happened on the ground, in the sky above, and in the immense dark space beyond the moon. The universe was ordered by heaven and hell. So imagine the shock of seeing on the screen a whole different order, a whole different war between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil; a war, furthermore, that made no mention of Jesus, or Lucifer, or the star of Bethlehem, the Romans, the beasts in The Book of Revelation, or the Last Supper. Yet, even in the total absence of the Christian drama of good and evil, I still recognized the drama of good and evil in a faraway galaxy.
In the bright afternoon light of that day, I realized that God was limited and what was infinite was the Good itself, and that the Good could take on different shapes (Obi-Wan Kenobi, John the Baptist, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Mary Magdalene). On the bus back to my aunt's apartment, my head was on fire. The fictional world of that galaxy far, far away changed my real world on earth. I went into Star Wars a Christian, and I walked out of it an atheist.
It is for this reason that I did not find it at all funny or wacky when I learned from a Cornish film student, Kyra Del Moral, of the existence of a whole institute in Seattle that is devoted to the galactic art of lightsaber combat: the Jet City Saber Guild. I understood the importance of engaging fully with this work of science fiction—participating in its culture, rules, laws, and wars.
The guild—which is officially recognized by Lucasfilm—meets every Thursday. Members performed a vigil at the Space Needle for the death of Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan) in 2016 (with lightsabers raised), and they'll stage a few performances at this weekend's Emerald City Comic Con.
If you are a beginner joining the guild, you will learn how to fall, how to roll, how to leap, and to how use the defining Jedi weapon. And, most important of all, the guild has strict costume standards. The absence of complete seriousness will only diminish the reality, the experience of true lightsaber fights—an absolute commitment to the Star Wars universe is required.
We can imagine that entering Seattle Unity, the South Lake Union building that houses the guild, is, for a member, like entering another world that can transform their real world. This is why, when leaving the guild after hours of galactic fights in proper Star Wars garb, a member might see the night clouds and the bright moon and the terrific traffic jam on Denny Way with different eyes. They have returned to Seattle from a galaxy that's far, far away.