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Petalumans share their Star Wars stories ahead of May the Fourth, now an international holiday

Remember when Han Solo was about to be frozen in carbonite?

Just as the switch is about to be thrown in the Cloud City of Bespin, seconds before Han is engulfed in a blast of hissing steam, a desperate and heartsick Princess Leia locks eyes with him and shouts out, “I love you!“

Well, just like that, if you are an average “Star Wars” fan, you don’t really need to tell us how much the galaxy-changing fantasy movies really mean to you.

We know.

And we also know how much you are probably looking forward to May 4 — aka May the Fourth — now officially recognized as international “Star Wars” Day. The thing about it is, for most fans of George Lucas’ visionary world of spaceships, droids, Jedi knights and last-second jumps to light speed, belong to the world-wide "Star Wars“ fan-base is really not about being obsessive, or being a tragic nerd or refusing to grow up.

Well, it’s not only about those things.

The truth is, to their fans, these movies mean something, and that ”something“ goes deep. Let’s just name it.

It’s love.

For countless millions, the love affair with “Star Wars” cannot be broken any more easily that it can be explained. And as is often the case with matters of love, there are as many ways to feel a connection to the object of admiration as there are stars in the Alderaan System.

For Petaluma’s Giuseppe Lipari, it’s been a life-long relationship.

“Since I watched ‘Star Wars’ for the first time in 1977, at age 5, I have been hooked, and a major fan,” said Lipari. “All my life I have been dreaming to be part of the franchise in some small way.”

That dream came true when he landed a job at Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas’ FX factory in San Francisco, where Lipari worked as, and let’s let him say it, “A QA Automation Engineer testing the in-house visual effects 3D graphics application called Zeno.”

Some years back, at a convention, he met Steve Sansweet, for 15 years the director of content management and head of fan relations at Lucasfilm Ltd. Sansweet is also the chair and president of Petaluma’s Rancho Obi-Wan, a donations-supported nonprofit museum that — as confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2014 — currently contains the largest “Star Wars” memorabilia collection on the planet.

“He told me about Rancho Obi-Wan,” said Lipari of that fateful meeting with Sansweet. “After attending a tour at Rancho Obi-Wan, I joked that I would give anything to work there or volunteer at the museum. To my surprise, they agreed, and I now get to see, learn and interact with every ‘Star Wars’ item ever created, as well as meet some amazing people who love ‘Star Wars’ as I do.”

Lipari said Volunteering at Rancho Obi-Wan is “an amazing experience, lots of fun, and with many truly unique experiences — like dusting and posing Stormtroopers before an event.”

For Petaluma’s Susan Hootkins, her longtime connection to Star Wars Day, and the “Star Wars” movies in general, is even more personal.

“My brother William Hootkins played X-wing pilot Red Six/Jek Porkins in the original ‘Star Wars’ movie,” she explained.

Porkins, a truly iconic “Star Wars” character and the source of countless memes and satirical videos, featured prominently in the original movie’s climactic assault on the Death Star. There is loads of material on the internet about Bill Hootkins, who also appeared in classic parts in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Tim Burton’s “Batman” and other films. He passed away in 2005. A particularly good posthumous piece about Hootkins appears on the website Force Material, a story that his sister points to as particularly accurate and informative.

Not surprisingly, she heard plenty of on-the-set stories from her brother. For one thing, recalled Hootkins, “I remember Bill telling me he was the first of the pilots to get blown up during filming.”

Though not common knowledge, many “Star Wars” behind-the-scenes stories have revealed that the filmmakers only had one life-sized X-wing starfighter. The actors playing the various pilots involved in the attack had to film their scenes one at a time, each using the same starfighter.

And yes, in the movie, Jek Porkins is the first to die.

“On the set, actual charges were set for the blow-up,” Hootkins said. “And stage hands were off-set with wet towels, just in case he was accidentally set on fire. Can you imagine, wondering if you are going to be on fire after giving your lines?”

Sometimes, a person’s emotional connection to Star Wars Day comes not from an overt love of the movies, but love of the calendar date itself. Petaluma’s Chris Washowich celebrates May 4 because it’s the day her granddaughter Trinity was born, five weeks prematurely, in 2014. Upon recognizing the baby’s correlation to the holiday, the whole family has become regular celebrators of Star Wars Day.

Washowich even wrote the following birthday poem, which she’s titled “A Star Wars Story.”

“A better birth date of May the Fourth there is not.

So anxious to arrive, 5 weeks early, arrive you did, on this most auspicious date.

May the Fourth, 2014, missed the baby shower you and your mother did, great the party was, much love being sent your way, “May the Fourth be with you” our salute of the day.

Your arrival in this world much welcomed it was, young one, your life beyond value to all who know you.

As you grow, young one, your blessings abound. Loved you are. A kind and loving heart have you, with a smile as bright as the sun. May the Fourth, with you always will be, ever as special as you are.

Happy birthday Trinity. The Force is strong in you.“

David Templeton is the Argus-Courier’s Community Editor. He can be reached at david.templeton@arguscourier.com.

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