JOLIET – A few weeks from now in a downtown not too far away, a vast army of Imperial Stormtroopers, Wookiees, Sith Lords, R2-D2s, Skywalkers and Yodas will take to the streets.
Revolution? Not exactly, unless you consider one of the largest gatherings of costumed nerds in the country a civil threat.
It’s all part of Joliet Public Library’s Star Wars Day, its fifth annual celebration of all things Jedi, to be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 7.
Last year, the event drew 95 costumed members of the 501st Legion and Rebel Legion fan-based organizations, plus 4,800 fans, many themselves in costumes, said Jody McQuarters, a Plainfield member of both legions.
“This is pretty much one of the largest conventions outside of George Lucas’ Star Wars Celebrations,” said McQuarters. “For a simple library event, when you have 95 guys come from five different states, that’s pretty impressive.”
The event has grown each year, starting with 12 Stormtroopers and 1,600 fans in 2010, to 20 re-enactors and 1,800 fans in 2011, and 40 re-enactors and 3,800 fans in 2013, McQuarters said.
He expects a good turnout this year, as well.
“I’ve got people knocking on the door every day, saying ‘I’m coming, I’m coming,’ ” McQuarters said.
Why all of the interest?
Always popular, the 37-year-old franchise is undergoing a revival, thanks to TV shows like “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” on Cartoon Network, a new movie slated for December 2015 and LEGO’s Star Wars-themed play sets, said Roger Burns, youth services librarian at the Joliet Public Library.
“With all due respect, we are in the ‘Golden Age of the Geek and the Nerd,’ which explains the cross-generational appeal of these type of events,” Burns said.
Children are a major focus of the event, with games, contests, a scavenger hunt and plenty of heroes, villains and monsters playing a major part.
Many come dressed for the occasion. A children’s costume contest will award original Star Wars illustrations by artist Steve Palenica to the top three winners, Burns said.
“Some of the kids’ costumes are really elaborate, like R2-D2s or X-wing pilots,” Burns said. “It’s really cool when the kids are dressed up.”
At the same time, the event also draws in older fans.
“The funny thing is that it appeals to everyone,” Burns said. “Older fans come to look at displays and vendors. The great thing about this event is that it strikes all ages.”
The day kicks off with a parade, led by the Joliet American Legion Band, from the Joliet Area Historical Museum to the library, along Ottawa Street, left on Clinton Street to Chicago Street. Part of Ottawa Street will be closed to traffic during the celebration. Parking will be available in the Ottawa Street parking deck.
Both venues will offer Star Wars exhibits and programs, including lightsaber duels, robot races, films, games, music and artwork. The museum will offer free admission. Giant Wookiee footprints will be painted on the sidewalks to direct guests from the library to the museum.
This is the second year the museum has been involved with the event. Last year, it pulled fans in as effectively as the Death Star’s tractor beam.
“We had 3,300 people come through in six hours,” said Mike Brick, the museum’s development director. “It was a nice flow. It never gets too crowded because there are so many things going on.”
Other downtown businesses will be involved, as well. Joliet Route 66 Diner, 22 W. Clinton St., will offer a special Star Wars menu.
The event is sponsored by D’Arcy Buick GMC, the Downtown Joliet City Center Partnership, the Friends of the Joliet Public Library and the Heritage Corridor Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Star Wars Day events
Events at the Joliet Area Historical Museum, 204 N. Ottawa St., include:
• Lightsaber duel reenactments by costumed professional swordsmen
• R2D2 robot demonstrations by the Droid Builders
• Children’s activities, including Jedi Light Saber Training and a Star Wars Action Figure Scavenger Hunt
• A presentation from the documentary “The Force Among Us” by filmmaker Chris Macht
• Costume and Lego displays
• A 6-foot tall Rancor monster head exhibit
• Star Wars-costumed characters from the 501st Legion and Rebel Legion
Events at the Joliet Public Library, 150 N. Ottawa St., include:
• Themed games and prizes
• LegoLand Star Wars exhibits and activity tables
• il Troubadore Klingon Music Project
• Displays by illustrators Dave Dorman, Steve Palenica, Mike Babinski and Jim Haase, and costumer Tara Schile. Proceeds from a prize drawing of Babinski’s work will support Big Brothers Big Sisters.
• Star Wars costumed characters from the 501st Legion and Rebel Legion