A long time ago in a galaxy … well, pretty familiar to earthlings.

It’s been 42 years since the original “Star Wars,” since rebranded as “Episode IV – A New Hope,” captivated viewers with its blend of action, humor and what then qualified as state-of-the-art special effects.

“Some of it was a little blurry and hard to see,” said Christopher Pipitone, who was born in the 21st century. “But you expect that.”

Christopher Pipitone and Ella Plymale

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Christopher Pipitone and Ella Plymale visit Mt. Lebanon Public Library for Star Wars Day.

Donning a Han Solo-style tunic, Christopher was among the many fans, young and old, who converged on Mt. Lebanon Public Library for Star Wars Day. The July 20 event featured numerous activities related to George Lucas’ original 1977 film and everything that’s followed.

“My dad had been telling me about ‘Star Wars’ for a while, and I knew random words because my uncle would always be talking about it,” Christopher recalled. “I just knew words like ‘light saber’ and ‘Darth Vader,’ and I had no clue what they meant. And my dad showed it to me and I was like, ‘That’s amazing.’”

His favorite character probably is the aforementioned commander of the Millennium Falcon, as played by Harrison Ford.

“He’s funny,” Christopher said. “He’s sarcastic, but he’s not mean.”

Doug and Xander McFarland

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Doug, left, and Xander McFarland

Also in costume for Star Wars Day was 11-year-old Xander McFarland, dressed as his favorite character, Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker.

“He’s just so awesome,” he said. “Mostly, I prefer the combat. But I like the backgrounds, as well. They’re so detailed.”

His father, Doug, has been following the franchise since he was young and shares Xander’s enthusiasm.

“Seeing it all, even the original trilogy, through his eyes – being there for him, seeing ‘I am your father,’ knowing it was coming and watching it blow his mind – you like it all over again,” Doug said.

At the library, the McFarlands particularly enjoyed a visit by volunteers in the 501st Legion, which is an international fan-based organization dedicated to the construction and wearing of screen-accurate replicas of Imperial Stormtrooper armor, Sith Lords, Clone Troopers, bounty hunters and other villains from the “Star Wars” universe.

“We’ve actually driven pretty far to see the 501st a few times, because they are always so great,” Doug said. “They’re so engaging with the kids, and next level as far as the cosplay and the effort they put into it.”

Rachel Blier

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Rachel Blier demonstrates proper sword fighting during “Jedi training.”

And they’re happy to have their photographs taken with fans.

Other activities for youngsters during Star Wars Day included making paper Princess Leia hairdos and Yoda ears, controlling miniature versions of the droids R2D2 and BB-8, and participating in “Jedi training,” led by Rachel Blier of the children’s library.

“I grew up with the movies,” she said. “My mom showed them to me when I was little, and I was really excited to come in and help out today.”

She came up with training-type exercises based on a book in the library’s collection, “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – So You Want to Be a Jedi?” by Adam Gidwitz.

“It’s written in this really humorous and kid-friendly way,” Blier said. “Also, I’m a sword fighter, and ‘Star Wars’ borrows from a lot of different martial arts traditions. So I can bring some of that in.”

Henry Gesk

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Henry Gesk prepares for a “Wookiee arm wrestling” match.

She brought to the library, for demonstration purposes only, her Italian rapier and German long sword, and she showed some of the concepts she has learned through the likes of something she called “Wookiee arm wrestling,” which looked kind of like fencing using long, fur-covered cylindrical objects.

“There’s a whole bunch of stuff they can do with footwork and learning hand positions that is perfectly safe,” Blier said.

As for sword fighting, she started the pursuit in college as a way, along with ballet, to stay in shape, and these days she continues to study at Broken Plough Martial Arts in East Deer Township.

“And then I get to be the sword-fighting librarian, essentially,” she said.


Harry Funk/The Almanac

Observing “Jedi training” are, from left, Lizzy, Andrew and Joyce Divine. Andrew is dressed as Chewbacca, of the hirsute humanoid Wookiees in the “Star Wars” universe.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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