Jedi Saber Combat
The debut of Leia’s Boussh costume. We reveal, to those of you unfamiliar with Shadows of the Empire, the hugely disappointing origin of this costume. Talk about stripping Leia of a moment of potential heroism. Basically, Boussh is a bounty hunter working for Prince Xizor, but is betrayed and murdered by a trap inside a treasure chest. Guri then takes his costume and gives it (and his identity) to Leia. I’m sorry, but for the longest time I thought Leia had either invented it herself, or killed the guy herself… or at least done something proactive to win it. Nope. As Gerard Butler might say “THIS. IS. SHADOWS. *cough* of the Empire.”
JEDI SABER COMBAT!
Tomorrow night, Thursday July 11th, it is Star Wars Night for the Aberdeen Ironbirds at Ripken Stadium in Maryland. Jedi Saber Combat are part of the performance. Leanne and I missed our opportunity to witness the show at the Bowie Baysox, but I had the opportunity to interview Chris Harper and learn a little about what motivates him and what goes into one of these shows. If you are in the area then you can go see for yourself and enjoy an impressive fireworks display after the lightsabers fall silent!
BMS: I think most of us who grew up with Star Wars played at being Jedi as children, and I’m guessing it was the same for you and most of your troop. Renfaire and historical reenactments come to mind when I think of what you do. I’m reminded a little of places like Medieval Times, where patrons get to enjoy costumed entertainment and combat during dinner. What inspired you to start doing this as something beyond just a hobby?
For many of us, it did start when we were children. I know after I saw The Empire Strikes Back (the best film of the Saga), I would pick up any stick I could find and start sword fighting with my brothers… my parents hated it! It wasn’t until I was in college that I really got into formal Stage Combat. While at Brigham Young University I studied under Ted Sharron, a certified teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors. I also took mini-camps from David Bouchay, founder of the Society of American Fight Directors; Gregory Hoffman; founder of Dueling Arts International, and Dale Girard, author of the stage combat manual Actors On Guard. Then, in the following semesters, I was asked to return as an assistant professor.
After graduation, I actually worked for Medieval Times for 8 years…… There, I was able to help thousands of people escape into a fantasy of beautiful princesses and knights in shining armor. Then, while strolling through a mall one Christmas, I saw a table asking for donations for Toys-for-Tots, and it led me to the 501st and Rebel Legion. Fast forward 3 years, and here we are with an exemplary group of artists in Jedi Saber Combat!
BMS: I’ve seen various lightsabers ranging from extendable plastic toys mass-produced by Hasbro, to quality replicas with fragile glass tubes. How do your lightsabers stand the test of battle?
Safety is our primary concern, even above putting on a good show. If our performers are not safe, if the audience isn’t safe, then the rest simply doesn’t matter. Our lightsabers are a huge part of that. The hilts, or handles, are mostly made from machined aluminum. The blades are polycarbonate, heavy duty tubes with a one quarter inch thick wall. The blades are then held inside the hilt by at least 1 retention screw to ensure that it doesn’t fly out during performances or rehearsals. The tension of the screw is checked frequently, especially just before going out to perform. All of this helps give us the best chance of providing an exciting performance without a distracting situation.
BMS: Tell us about the sword skills you use. Do you mimic onscreen fighting styles or mix them with real or improvised fighting styles of your own?
My own background is stage combat for film and stage. This has a strong European influence, mainly broadsword, short sword, rapier and dagger, and quarterstaff techniques, combined with some western hand-to-hand combat. Sam Slater, our co-fight director, has extensive knowledge of eastern martial arts weapons use. And as fight choreographers for movies take all kinds of styles and mesh them together, we do the same.
BMS: How many people are involved in the team? Do you take in new members to your troop?
The old phrase, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ definitely applies to stage combat – It takes a battalion to put on our show! We are building a strong group of performers that bring their wonderful skills and talents, and work very hard to refine their skills in order to perform.
And yes, we welcome new members! We are always looking for individuals that make a positive addition to our group and help Jedi Saber Combat grow.
Anyone that would like more information about our group, or information about joining should visit www.jedisabercombat.org. They can also find links to our Facebook and Twitter pages there and keep up with our adventures.
BMS: How busy do you get through the year? What is your biggest show?
Our busiest time of the year is now! That is when most community events happen in the area as there isn’t much threat of being snowed out. Our biggest events so far are the Bowie Baysox and the Aberdeen Ironbirds Star Wars Days. This is my 3rd year participating at those events. Of course, we are always looking for more venues. They don’t have to be big, as long as it allows us the chance to give back to the community or support a good cause!
BMS: What with the 501st Legion, Rebel Legion and several saber combat organizations, have you ever considered interacting for a massive arena battle? Because if you haven’t, you might just have to do that…
Many of us are members the 501st, Rebel Legion, and Mandolorian Mercs. We have so much love for these organizations and what they accomplish. Part of the reason we formed our group was to provide lightsaber combat based in the Star Wars Universe, but not always tied to characters that were seen on screen or the limitations of Star Wars ‘cannon’. This allows us more freedom to develop our own stories and characters. We strive for screen accurate costumes as both the Rebel Legion and the 501st, however modifications sometimes have to be made for the sake of safety. And we would love to have a massive Geonosis-style battle, we have been unable to recreate those fantastic blaster bolts in a safe, but realistic manner! But we love to work with our sister groups though, and welcome opportunities to support their events.
BMS: Any special moments or experiences during your time in costume that have moved you personally?
We have a couple! At one Aberdeen Ironbirds Star Wars day we met a little boy about 3 years old. He had been shy with all the characters from the 501st and Rebel Legion. So, I sat down on the ground and motioned him over to me so I could show him my lightsaber. He came over and showed me his balloon ‘lightsaber’. I raised my lightsaber above my head and he copied me! When I extended it forward he would do the same! We did this for about 10 minutes and had a blast!
But, my favorite moment was the chance to visit one of our biggest fans in the hospital. His name is Sam Tiemann and he, his twin brother Ben and really their entire family are heroes to us! By the time he was 8, Sam had already had several surgeries and unfortunately, he had to have one more. Everything turned out great, but he was not thrilled about being back in the hospital. We contacted his mother and asked if we could come visit with some ‘friends’. The commanding officer of the Old Line Garrison at the time, a member of Terrapin Base, my wife Jennifer and I showed up at Johns Hopkins in costume to the surprise of many! We spent some time visiting with Sam and his family, and soon discovered that the doctors were trying to encourage him to walk the halls in order to speed his recovery. When the nurse came in to see if he would like to take a walk with his friends, he proceeded to do a half lap of the floor! This was in stark contrast to the previous best of walking to the door of his room. It was an awesome experience! A few months later he, and his brother Ben, were part of our finale for the Bowie Baysox show and wow, can they run!
BMS: Why Star Wars?
Because it resonates with so many people! They are characters that almost everyone can relate to in some way. Everyone wants to be the hero, to rescue the princess, to be the princess that rescues the heroes, to defeat evil, or to redeem themselves for past mistakes. And the lengths that Luke, Leia, Lando, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 went through to rescue one man are inspiring! We really try and take that to heart. Every person has worth. If we can do something, anything, to help or simply put a smile on their face, we should do so. You never know what that one simple gesture means to someone or how it will affect their life.
Besides, lightsabers don’t exist anywhere else!