If you’ve been on the Pacific Coast Highway in California in the past week between Santa Monica and San Diego, chances are good that you passed an impressive caravan of cops, RVs, buses, a person carrying a lightsaber, and a replica of Jabba’s Sail Barge from Return of the Jedi. Yes, you read that right. Even the part about the sail barge. The procession is part of an awesome new event born of a partnership between Nerdist and Lucasfilm, Course of the Force.
Course of the Force is a relay race in which runners carry a lightsaber Olympic torch style down the coast from the Santa Monica Pier to San Diego Comic-Con. Each runner takes the lightsaber along its route for ¼ mile, and the registration fees all go to Make-A-Wish. I had an absolute blast participating in a unique Star Wars event while helping a wonderful charity. What’s not to love about that?
The event started with a bang at the Santa Monica Pier on Saturday, July 7th. I attended the kickoff, and I was thrilled (but not surprised) to see the 501st and Rebel Legions there in force. The conival, as they’re calling the daily carnival/conventions along the way, featured products from sponsors including Shoebacca, State Farm, and Otter Pop, and lots of cool merchandise featuring the event’s logo. I spotted Star Wars tees almost everywhere I looked, and I even saw a TARDIS dress, a Doctor, and a Marty McFly (Well, why not?).
Chris Hardwick (in a Boba Fett hoodie) started the relay race with a group of children from Make-A-Wish, and they eventually passed him to get to the next runner. Celebrity participants like Zachary Levi, Team Unicorn, Michael Rosenbaum, and Paul Scheer helped get the relay off to an exciting start. Though the relay started on a bike path along the beach, it quickly moved to the road with a police escort. Apparently it stopped traffic. Personally, I’d be thrilled to be use the excuse that I was late to an appointment because Jabba’s Sail Barge was blocking the road.
My leg of the relay was insanely early on Sunday morning. I got up before 4am and drove about 40 miles south to the registration point. I wasn’t sure how the event coordinators were getting all the runners to their designated spot, but I shouldn’t have worried. It was all incredibly well organized. I got checked in, picked up my swag bag, and got comfy on a shuttle bus with the runners participating in the first stretch of the relay (almost everyone ended up taking on another ¼ mile section).
We arrived at the beginning point of the relay at the Redondo Beach Pier, and since we were the first runners, we had a little time to chill out and check out the sail barge. I also hung out with R2-D2 (he was responsible for keeping the official Course of the Force lightsaber):
Lauren, a little Ahsoka running the second leg on Sunday with her father, got to meet Ashley Eckstein (the voice of Ahsoka Tano on Star Wars: The Clone Wars), and it was pretty much the most adorable thing ever:
The relay started at 7am, and we got back on the bus just in time to get to our spots. Each runner stayed on the shuttle until right before his or her turn. It’s a little thing, but it’s nice that no one had to stand around outside and wait very long. I planned to live-tweet my leg of the relay, so when I received the official lightsaber I kept my phone in my other hand. I have a Twitter addiction, okay? It was such a surreal and happy experience to be carrying a lightsaber behind a sail barge with a police escort and security guys on bicycles. It was early, and there weren’t a lot of people on the road yet, but our procession definitely turned heads. I noticed a few people even walked or jogged along with us the entire time.
My leg was over all too quickly, and a shuttle bus in the rear picked me up. It was fun to stay with the same group of people and cheer each other on and talk about Star Wars (duh). When the last runner in our group finished, we went back to the registration spot with huge smiles on our faces.
I knew Course of the Force was a neat idea, but I didn’t realize how excited I would be about participating. For lack of a better word, it was just special. I loved seeing everyone’s excitement about it, I loved hearing stories about the different runners and their costumes and attitudes, and I loved being a part of it. It was truly a privilege. The coolest part wasn’t the swag or the sail barge though. Nah. The best part is that the funds raised by Course of the Force are making 1,000 wishes come true for Make-A-Wish children.