There are so many things in life that are so different, yet go together so perfectly. Peanut butter and jelly. Ice cream and root beer. Star Wars and baseball. Let’s explore that last one a little more closely, because they also have five or six things in common. Both are an American pastime. Both produce cool things like toys and trading cards and video games and tamagotchis. Both give us something else to think about whenever we want to ignore the stress in our personal lives or whatever is causing the latest discourse we see or hear about when we turn on the computer. Both are timeless.
Star Wars Day at AT&T Park has now become a yearly occurrence, a time when stormtroopers with Giants shoulder patches patrol the corridors, Imperial agents stand by the restrooms, and Sith Lords wait in line to buy garlic fries. For three hours, the beautiful stadium turns into a real-life Death Star from which there is no escape.
Saturday’s matchup between the Giants and the Rockies had some other significance as well. The Giants were preparing to honor their retiring pitcher Tim Hudson in a pre-game ceremony and Jake Peavy was going for his fourth straight win. But visiting fans from far, far away were more preoccupied with the Outer Rim festivities.
Andrew Page from San Francisco came out to the game with his wife and roommate in what was one of the most head-turning displays of the afternoon. Page was dressed as Princess Leia, hair buns and all. His roommate came as Han Solo and wore the same expression of smugness that Greedo saw during his final seconds of existence. His wife was Chewbacca…or more accurately a Wookiee/Ewok hybrid. The trio wore the same costumes at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year where they got to attend the Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel.
“The love for Star Wars is here, too,” he said.
It was. Both in the concessions and down on the field where biker scouts and sandtroopers stood behind home plate for the ceremonial first pitch (also possibly looking for droids), while Darth Lou Seal gestured to the crowd with a fistful of World Series rings and urged them to embrace the dark side. Even Sabine could be seen near the visitor’s clubhouse, her helmet visible from the very top row of the nosebleed section.
Among the moving throng were Rachel Wagner and Martin Baerga from Daly City, California, who came dressed as Darth Vader and Boba Fett. Did they know who was pitching today?
“Absolutely not,” Baerga said. But he did know that the Giants were giving away Chewbacca bobbleheads at the entrance. What did the couple say when asked about their level of Star Wars fandom?
“We go to a lot conventions,” said Wagner.
Debate raged in the stands about which Star Wars character was the best. Luis Miguela from San Francisco, sporting a custom orange and black helmet of a familiar design said it rather eloquently, “Vader, of course.”
He may be right. When Darth Vader came onto the field just before the ceremonial first pitch, it wasn’t just the Jedi in the stands that genuflected in his presence. No boos were heard. The place went quiet. It was as if 40,000 fans were afraid of being Force-choked. Several other evildoers were honored throughout the afternoon. During a contest between innings, one fan dressed as Boba Fett was asked to name five villains for a chance to win a Star Wars skateboard. After rattling off obvious choices that included Darth Vader and Jabba the Hutt, he paused for about 10 seconds as the crowd frantically shouted, “Maul, Maul, Maul!”
This kind of passion might have pushed the Giants even more during the stretch run. Imagine if the players had taken up the identities of Star Wars characters. Madison Bumgarner and Hunter Calrissian are just a few good examples. Someone compared Angel Pagan to Han Solo, screaming, “Angel shot first!”
One muscular-looking stormtrooper named Kevin, a member of the SCC costume club, came all the way from Hawaii and described the atmosphere as both “fun” and “crazy.” He led a motely crew of sinister-looking Imperial personnel that included Kylo Ren, the newest villain in the upcoming Star Wars film. “Darth Vader’s in the bathroom,” he later quipped.
A couple dressed as Yoda and Princess Leia made the trip from Reno, Nevada, to show their love for both the Force and something equally important. “It’s our anniversary,” Tammy said simply.
Other Major League teams like the Padres and the Nationals have hosted Star Wars Days this year, and the idea of the event stretches back several years across a variety of different sports and teams, but the Force is a particularly strong here given that the Bay Area is the home to both Lucasfilm and ILM studios.
The first Star Wars Day at At&T Park took place in 2011, and fans still remember it because it featured one of the most awesome promotional giveaways of all time, a statue of the Giants’ eccentric closure Brian Wilson frozen in carbonite. Last year’s R2-D2 beanie also caused long lines stretching out across King Street all the way towards the Willie Mays Plaza.
It’s worth noting that this is San Francisco, a city known for high-tech startup companies and general enthusiasm towards anything cosmic and extraordinary. A Jedi could walk down a sidewalk without even raising an eyebrow. OK, maybe one or two eyebrows if it’s crowded.
But Star Wars Day is about more than just bringing out everybody’s inner geekiness. In the midst of a nerd culture boom that’s included zombies and wizards and dragons, there’s just something about Star Wars that has stayed in our collective consciousness for over 40 years, and a few fans at the ballpark tried their best to explain it.
“People can immerse themselves and invest themselves in it,” said Wes Middleton, a member of the Golden Gate Garrison of the 501st Legion, one of the largest and most well known Star Wars costume organizations. “And it’s also a story of triumph.”
That’s a theme that every sports franchise can run with. Even the teams that have won 20 championships likely see themselves as the Rebel Alliance trying to free the galaxy against the Evil Empire, more commonly known as the opposing team.
“I like Star Wars because it’s the hero’s journey and it’s such a great futuristic way to display it,” said Annie Drinkwater, who came dressed in Princess Leia’s famous slave costume.
It’s also an opportunity for fans to show off their creativity. Unique costume twists are often spotted at ballpark venues — Vader wearing sunglasses and a shirtless, pot-bellied Jabba the Hutt are the classics — but on Saturday, many fans chose to bring their own invention instead of a costume (or armor, whatever you want to call it).
One that was getting a lot of attention was Kevin Leung’s fluffy BB-8 hat. “I took six-grade sewing and I stabbed myself a lot, and well, it made this.” Leung also explained why so many fans come to Star Wars events as lesser known characters. “The more obscure a character you are, the more it’s fun to see the one person who gets who you are. I’m not just a blue elephant, I’m Max Rebo, I’m not just a crazy squid guy, I’m Admiral Ackbar.”
The prevailing opinion floating around the halls, the aisles, and the bathroom waiting lines was that it was great to have two things people are passionate about in the same place. There were a lot of Giants fans, a lot of Star Wars fans, and a lot of fans that loved both equally. But when every one of them was asked what they would rather attend, a Giants World Series game or opening night for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the response was universal. “A Giants World Series game happens all the time. There’s only going to be one opening night for The Force Awakens.”
Spoken like a true Jedi Master.
Sean Galusha is a content writer with Lucasfilm. Check out all of his latest posts at @seanmgalusha, where you can chronicle his wisdom about sports, Hot Pockets, and all things geeky. Follow at your own risk.
All photographs taken by comedian Kyle Kao.