JOLIET – Star Wars Day was once more bigger than ever, with attendance at 7,000 only an hour into the event Saturday, matching last year’s record turnout.
“It’s huge, and it’s a lot of fun,” said Kristen Avara of Belleville.
Avara, a member of the 501st Legion club and decked out in Stormtrooper armor, was among dozens of re-enactors in costume posing for photos with enthusiastic visitors to Joliet’s annual tribute to Star Wars.
The event is organized by the Joliet Public Library and takes place around the downtown library.
There is not another Star Wars event quite like it in Avara’s experience, and she’s been to many, including others at libraries.
“This is the biggest library event I’ve ever been to,” she said.
‘Stars and Stripes’ and Jedi
The event kicked off at 11 a.m. with a Star Wars Day parade led by the Joliet American Legion Band playing the patriotic “Stars and Stripes Forever,” followed by rows and rows of Stormtroopers, Jedi, assorted Princess Leias and more costumed characters.
It was a day when downtown Joliet was filled with people such as Tom Lee of Plainfield.
“I love Star Wars. I’m a Star Wars addict,” Lee said while with his family at the nearby Joliet Area Historical Museum, which joined the event with lightsaber demonstrations and other activities.
Lee said he has been a Star Wars fanatic “since my dad took me when I was a kid. The first movie he took me to was ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ ”
Jackie Shreve, 12, of Valparaiso, Indiana, said she has seen all the Star Wars movies and, “I have a stuffed Darth Vader in my room. Actually, it’s in the car now.”
Laura Smith of Plainfield, a member of the Rebel Legion, another Star Wars costuming club, described what it took to reach the point where she could march in Saturday’s parade.
“You have to have a screen-authentic costume. You have to go through a judging contest,” Smith said. Her costume, which Smith made herself, “took only six months. There are people who it takes two years.”
‘Some huge wampas’
Tracy Galindo of Schaumburg, dressed in Princess Leia costume, said she was “overwhelmed with excitement” as she arrived to Star Wars Day. “There are some huge wampas out there,” she said.
Galindo and husband Guillermo recently had a “May the fourth be with you” birthday party for their son, Elijah, who also arrived in costume.
“It’s a way of life for us,” she said. “It’s not just a movie anymore.”
Many of the people downtown Saturday probably could have said the same thing.
“I think it [Star Wars] has been part of people’s lives for a long time,” said John Jackson Miller, one of a few authors of Star Wars books signing copies at the library. “It’s something that has an inter-generational appeal. There’s a lot of people like me. I saw my first Star Wars movie when I was 9 in the 1970s.”
As if to prove Miller’s point, Patrick Elsen of Morris, recently graduated from preschool, enthusiastically expressed his love for Star Wars.
“I watched all six movies, and I’m waiting for number seven to come out,” Elsen said.
7,000 counted by noon
This is the Joliet Public Library’s sixth Star Wars Day. The event was started to appeal to both children and adults, to encourage people to come to the library, and to inspire the development of reading habits.
Youth Librarian Roger Burns said no one expected it to get this big. He said earlier in the week that he expected attendance to plateau at some point. But it was not happening Saturday.
“We’re already at 7,000,” Burns said at noon. The event typically peaks in attendance at 1 p.m., he said. “We’ve got people from Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana.”
Burns calculates attendance at the free event by the number of “Jedi Passports,” or guides to the event, handed out at tables to people who ask for them. He planned to have a final attendance count by Monday.