Movie News & Reviews

The Force is with these SLO County ‘Star Wars’ fans

Shawn and Darci Hafley and their sons Spencer Hafley, 10, front, and Devlen Rourke, 15, right, stand in a dry Laguna Lake bed near their home dressed as their favorite characters from the “Star Wars” movies.
Shawn and Darci Hafley and their sons Spencer Hafley, 10, front, and Devlen Rourke, 15, right, stand in a dry Laguna Lake bed near their home dressed as their favorite characters from the “Star Wars” movies. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

The Force is strong in the Hafley family. Shawn, Darci and their two sons have cultivated their appreciation of all things “Star Wars” to Jedi-like levels.

They hold spirited family discussions over characters and story lines. They’ve painstakingly pieced together detailed costumes that far eclipse anything you’d find in a store. They make pilgrimages to Disneyland for events like a “Star Wars”-themed race or to show off those costumes at Halloween.

Their home overlooking Laguna Lake — whose now-dry bed evokes the desert landscape of Tatooine — is sprinkled with “Star Wars” memorabilia. A movie poster from before Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were even cast, albums of the original soundtracks, magazines, a Millennium Falcon, X-Wing fighter, action figures, lightsabers and much, much more.

Shawn Hafley first saw “Star Wars” at age 7 when the movie debuted in 1977 and it captivated him immediately.

“I had never seen anything like it,” he said, recalling the ahead-of-their-time special effects, great action and compelling music. “Everything about it was so big.”

His wife, Darci, has a similar experience, and they indoctrinated the kids pretty much from birth.

They are all fans of Marvel, “Star Trek” and other franchises, too, but “Star Wars” stands out as the quintessential story of good versus evil, with sympathetic characters.

“You really care about what happens to them — even the bad guys,” Darci Hafley said.

Their newest obsession is “Star Wars: Battlefront,” a new PlayStation game that puts players in battle scenes taken straight from the movies.

“We’re passionate,” said Shawn Hafley, who usually dresses as the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn to take advantage of his likeness but identifies more with Han Solo. “It’s a whole culture.”

Not only were the Hafleys among the first to purchase tickets for Thursday’s sold-out premiere of “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” at the Fremont — on Shawn’s birthday, no less — afterwards they’ll trek down to Disneyland for the opening festivities there Friday.

The third trailer for the upcoming "Star Wars" film, "Episode VII: The Force Awakens," directed by J.J. Abrams.

The Hafleys are among the legions of “Star Wars” fans who’ve been eagerly awaiting the new installment since it was announced in 2012 when Disney acquired the franchise from Lucasfilm. It’s been a long wait — more than 10 years since “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” came out — and one not without trepidation and controversy.

After the cultural sensation of the original three movies, many fans were disappointed with the prequels that followed starting in 1999.

Darci Hafley isn’t one of them — she breaks out in chills and even tears up talking about key scenes — but with a new company and new director at the helm, die-hard fans aren’t sure what to expect.

“I just hope they don’t take away the spirit of ‘Star Wars,’” said Carlos Plummer, who at 15 is a serious student of the earlier films and is concerned Episode VII may be too “Disney-fied” and focused on the action rather than the story and characters. “I’m keeping my expectations in the middle because I don’t want to be let down, but I also want the experience of ‘Wow, that was awesome.’”

Many kids his age are either into “Star Wars” mostly because their parents are or they see it as just another action flick. But for Carlos and his older brother Kyle, the original “Star Wars” movies sparked an interest in making their own movies, mostly shorts and documentaries that they screen at community events and festivals.

“At the heart, it’s just a story of good versus evil,” Carlos Plummer said. “And that’s what fuels our imaginations when we want to write a story. We’ve idolized ‘Star Wars.’”

Carlos won’t be at the opening — he’s waiting until his brother returns from his first semester at college in Utah so they can see it together on Christmas Eve.

Another SLO fan who won’t see the premiere is 25-year-old Evan Carr, a mechanical engineer deployed to Antarctica’s McMurdo Station until February. Not that he didn’t try.

Carr spearheaded a petition to get the movie screened at the research center, which houses about 1,000 scientists, researchers and support workers for the austral summer, though both he and the station have gotten no response.

While the frozen continent conjures up images of the ice planet Hoth from “The Empire Strikes Back” — Carr’s favorite “Star Wars” film — daily life at the station is surprisingly normal, he wrote over email.

“It’s a weird little pocket of American life on the bottom of the planet,” he wrote. There’s even plenty of entertainment options, including a couple pubs with live music, movie and cable TV channels, even hiking trails — just no movie theater.

So Carr — who recalls waiting to see Episode III in shopping carts he and friends pretended were speeders and X-wing fighters — will have to settle for re-watching the original movies until he returns home.

“If it’s still playing ANYWHERE in California in February,” he wrote, “I will drive to see it!”

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