The email invite from Qualcomm came in just a few days ago: Would I be interested in representing Geek in the Course of the Force lightsaber relay to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation and do a ¼-mile leg somewhere between Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica?
Seriously? Yes. Yes. Yes. I don’t have to run in a Slave Leia outfit, do I? “Wear whatever you want.” I was in! Outfitted in my geekiest running ensemble, complete with a Canon PowerShot tucked under a sweatband and a wrist-mounted GoPro Hero3 to capture some of the fun, I lined up at 11:15am on Friday to register at the Santa Monica Pier parking lot as an official participant of the 2013 Course of the Force relay. I figured the guy in the R2 robe and Wookie slippers holding a Star Wars coffee mug was probably running, too. Jeffrey was dressed for the run, but he admitted that he wears the robe pretty regularly. Interesting fact: Jeffrey was a puppeteer for the Henson Company who, for a time, was the ass-end of Snuffleupagus. Mystery solved. I loved him immediately.
Jeffrey and I were joined by a little R2 princess named Haley and her dedicated mother, who not only followed Haley’s meticulous instructions on constructing her R2-inspired, glitter-covered tiara and dress, but who also agreed to wear a full C-3PO costume in the hot sun for a run by the beach because, as Haley noted, “C-3PO is always at R2′s side.” Advice for costume manufacturers: breathable fabrics save lives. Haley’s mom even hand-lettered Leia’s secret message into her manicure. With little right-hand over her little left, fingers interlaced, you can read in tiny letters across Haley’s nails: “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, UR my only hope.” Mom of the year.
Others trickled in: a Han and two little Jedis, a couple of more R2 types, an alumni of last year’s inaugural Course of the Force relay and Tyler, sporting a Boba Fett cap and Mark Ecko-bedazzled Vader tee. Everyone agreed there just isn’t enough bedazzling in menswear.
We all boarded one of the many official Star Wars/Course of the Force buses painted with Wookies, Leias and droids and headed to our starting point in the Pacific Palisades. Skyler, our Course host, gave us the lowdown. We’d meet up with other buses of runners and form a police-escorted convoy heading down the Pacific Coast Highway. We’d each sit at the front of the bus when we were on-deck and when our name was called, we’d be dropped off at our relay point and wait for the hand-off from the previous runner. “When you grab the lightsaber, run directly behind Jabba’s Sail Barge for 1/4 mile until you are met by the next runner to whom you will hand off the lightsaber.” The pickup bus would scoop us each up after our leg of the relay and we’d all head back to the Santa Monica Pier for the Course of the Force “Conival” (Con + Carnival = Conival) for some more fun, including live music, a Cantina sponsored by Qualcomm, and an Otter Pops booth. (I was thirsty by this point and we hadn’t even run yet, so all I could think of were Otter Pops. A purple one, preferably.)
Along the way, Skyler googled a few Star Wars jokes: “Where do Sith go shopping?” The cool R2 teenage girls chime in, stealing the punchline: “The Darth Maul.” Wah-waaah. We all laughed anyway, bonded together by a lifelong love of Star Wars and the fact that it really seemed like a giant amount of planning for us to run down the road in costumes for a few minutes holding a lightsaber. But it was more than that, of course: starting with Chris Hardwick and his Nerdist Industries empire, thousands of people were joining together through their love of Star Wars and a desire to make some wishes come true for some kids who could really use it. Everyone on the bus felt lucky to be a part of it. Our van pulled into the beachside parking lot to line up with the rest of the convoy and take some more pictures. As we come to a stop, Haley gasps, pointing across the asphalt: “It’s R2! And he’s not moving.” Her mother tries some mom-logic. “Well, it’s hot out and he’s metal so…”
“So he only moves when it’s cold?” Haley wasn’t buying it, but then R2′s lights came on. She gasped again and we disembarked, Haley first, for some more photos. Who can resist R2?
As we all snapped photos and enjoyed the ocean view and warm sunshine (except Haley’s mom, of course), the police escort, Jabba’s Sail Barge, and the buses all lined up for the convoy — it was time to join the Course! With members of Octagon Entertainment in their official Course of the Force team shirts calling out the shots in walkies and headsets to bus drivers, barge drivers and local police, it was quite a logistical feat. Locals lined the sidewalk along the coastal roadway — a bus with a Wookie on it will make anyone smile. One by one, runners made their way to the front of the bus waiting for their signal to exit. We cheered each runner as the bus doors hissed open. “Are you ready, Haley?” asked Skyler. “I’m SO ready!!” yelled Haley, her mom still managing a smile as she put her unforgiving C-3PO mask back on.
I was last, just after Jeffrey, so I got my GoPro ready to capture the action for a lightsaber POV if it all worked out correctly. I would be handing-off the lightsaber to Aimee Teegarden from Friday Night Lights. (Damn, I knew I should’ve watched that show, everyone said it was so good.) The doors hissed open again — I was up! I got off the bus and waited with a couple of Course staffers until I saw what looked to be an X-wing fighter pilot with a lightsaber. I jogged out to him and he made a rather gallant bow as he handed over the familiar icon. I grabbed it in my GoPro-clad right hand and was oddly moved. I felt like Luke. And a little like 1960 gold medal-winner Muhammad Ali with the Olympic torch at the Atlanta Games in 1996, except much less cool. Today, Ali’s famed title “G.O.A.T.” — “Greatest of All Time” — would stand for “Geekiest of All Time.” I took off running behind the Barge, lightsaber in front of me. And it felt amazing. There were two officers on bicycles behind me. The sun was shining, the camera was working, I was the one person in this 500 mile relay — maybe in the whole galaxy — running with THE lightsaber… and then the barge stopped. Only in LA would could traffic stop the Force. It was a little awkward just kind of standing there, all of us looking at each other… then we were back! The barge sped up, and so did I… I could go for miles, no problem, I was unstoppable! But then this girl came into the street between me and the Barge. Oh, right… Aimee Teegarden. I handed her the lightsaber and she said thanks with a smile and ran off. I hope the GoPro got that. (It did.)
And it was over. Back on the bus with the assorted R2s and others. We tried to mine our few minutes with the lightsaber for stories but we didn’t really need to, we were part of a pretty neat and lucky club. We all said goodbye and I passed out some issues of Geek and checked out the Conival. And got a free 2’ long purple Otter Pop. Geekiest Day Of All Time, and it was awesome.
If you want to follow along the relay either in person or virtually online, be sure to hit up these sites to get the latest:
Website – starwars.com/courseoftheforce
Facebook – facebook.com/courseoftheforce
Twitter – @CourseOtheForce
Google + – plus.google.com/103291298159790820268
Pinterest – pinterest.com/courseotheforce/
YouTube – youtube.com/nerdist & youtube.com/courseoftheforce
And if you retweet #Qualcommforce, Qualcomm will make a $1 donation to Make-A-Wish up to $10,000!