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'Star Wars,' T-minus 1: They have a good feeling about this

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A Jawa and a Jedi knight wait for their entry.
Amanda Fineran, left, of Bloomington portrays a Jawa and Jenny Braun of Hampton holds a light saber as a Jedi. They're members of the 501st Legion, a costuming club dedicated to recreating Star Wars characters.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

Unless you have been living in a galaxy far, far away, you probably know that "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opens this week. The seventh film in the long-running space opera is generating global excitement.  

  And why is that? Hans Spitzer can help explain — starting with the comic books.

    "There's about six different titles out there: There's one for Princess Leia," said Spitzer. "There's one for Darth Vader. There's one for Kanan, the last Padawan, who is one of the characters featured in the Rebels cartoon."

  Spitzer, a friendly bear of a guy, is manager at Source Comics and Games in the St. Paul suburb of Roseville. He's got books and action figures, Millennium Falcon construction kits and "Star Wars" character wallets, even mugs shaped like Stormtrooper helmets.

Hans Spitzer, general manager at The Source
Hans Spitzer, general manager at Source Comics and Games in Roseville.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

    Spitzer said the excitement has been ramping up ever since the new movie was announced.

    "When the first trailer hit with those X-wings going across the water, and the lightsaber that everyone's complaining about, 'How does it have cross guards? That doesn't work like that!' I'm like, 'It's a claymore lightsaber, what more do you want?' That's when people started really getting excited."

    However, Spitzer says, Disney has kept a tight grip on details about "The Force Awakens." As a result, almost all of the merchandise relates to earlier films. He expects a second wave of books and novelties once the movie opens.

    "So we work the older stuff, and put it on the shelf, and people seem to like it," he said.

Star Wars novelties at The Source
A shelf filled with Star Wars novelties at The Source Comics and Games in Roseville, Minn., on Dec. 10, 2015. Disney, which now owns the Star Wars franchise, has keep many details of the new film under wraps so much of the merchandise available before the release of ''Star Wars: The Force Awakens'' refers back to the first six Star Wars films.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

    And by "older," he can mean really old. The Source has a case of original action figures released from the earlier films, some 30 years old.

    The original "Star Wars" came out in 1977. "The Force Awakens" is the first "Star Wars" film in a decade, and director J.J. Abrams is taking over from George Lucas. Spitzer said even diehard fans admit the last three episodes weren't great, so there's real apprehension.

    "Part of that nervous anticipation is, this better be good. It better be good," he said.

    It's a hope shared by Jim Mossey. He's another imposing guy — particularly when he is in his Stormtrooper armor.

    "That's the 501st Legion, which is the bad guys' costuming club: the Imperials. We say 'bad guys,' but it's all point of view, right?" he said with a grin.

    Mossey's also commanding officer of the Rebel Legion Central Garrison, the good guys' costume club.

    "You know, your Jedi, Han Solo, your rebel troopers, Princess Leia, Chewbacca. Those are Rebel Legion costumes," he said.

Jim Mossey is a member of the 501st Legion.
Jim Mossey is a member of the 501st Legion, a costuming club dedicated to recreating Star Wars characters.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

    In the runup to the opening of the new film, members of the Central Garrison have appeared at events at First Avenue and with the Timberwolves. It's a serious business. Members have to maintain what's called "movie accuracy" — costumes as good if not better than what's been seen on the screen. That takes time, research and a fair bit of money. Why do it?  

  "Because it's awesome," said Mossey. "I mean, I know that sounds like a very nerdy thing to say, but it is. People see the movies, it captures their imagination. They're like, 'I want to be that guy. I want stormtrooper armor. How cool would that be?'"

    He expects a jump in membership when the new film opens.

    Many fans say what they love about "Star Wars" is the story. But one person who really knows stories is less than excited about the whole "Star Wars" phenomenon. 

    "'Star Wars,' whether Lucas knew this or not, basically stole the plot and the ideas from the Knights of the Round Table," said Jack Zipes.

One of Princess Leia's hair buns
Princess Leia, portrayed by Lynn Sessions of Shakopee, reaches for one of her buns as the 501st Legion Central Garrison prepares to mingle with the crowd during Star Wars night at the Timberwolves game.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

    Zipes, a University of Minnesota professor emeritus, is one of the world's leading experts on folk tales. He says "Star Wars" is basically the tale of the Knight Percival, told in the 11th and 12th centuries. A great believer in the power of story, Zipes said that in the modern media world, "Star Wars" has little of that power in the face of problems facing ordinary people.   

  "It is pure hype. It is powerful hype," he said. "Yes, there are certain things that people love about these films because of the fact it is escapist and does sort of offer a little hope that there may be some social justice in the world. But where is that social justice?"

    The new movie will make a lot of money. All the initial Twin Cities screenings late Thursday night were reported sold out weeks ago. 

    One social institution hoping to use "Star Wars" for good is the library. The Rochester Public Library has a "Star Wars" celebration Wednesday night. Youth Services Librarian Jon Allen said activities will include land-speeder races and "Star Wars" origami. People will also be making lightsabers, although Allen said the staff has learned to be cautious from past events.   

  "Sometimes we've made pool-noodle lightsabers, and those kind of get out of control," he said. "And so this year we are going to be making miniature lightsabers, which are about the size of a straw."

    Of course, librarians will also be offering lots of "Star Wars" reading materials. Allen said from that standpoint, "Star Wars" is amazing: There's something for everyone, and readers lap it up.