Running With Lightsabers: Participating in the Course of the Force

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When the Force calls, you answer.

When I got the word that, thanks to my wife, I had a spot as a participant on this year’s Course of the Force relay, how could I refuse?

Course of the Force participant badge
I got to wear this!

The Course of the Force, dreamed up Chris Hardwick and Peter Levin, the head nerds at Nerdist Industries, is a relay event modeled after the Olympic torch relay, but with a wonderfully geeky twist: the participants carry lightsabers instead of torches.

Now in its second year, the relay begins, appropriately enough, at Skywalker Ranch, then runs through San Francisco before continuing to Los Angeles and Southern California, ending in San Diego right before Comic-Con International: San Diego officially begins. When it’s all over, more than 300 ardent Star Wars fans will have carried the lightsaber on its nearly 75-mile journey.

I was participating at the beginning of Day 5, and the Force decided I would start early — my check-in time was 5:15 a.m. Despite arriving at registration in the dark, I didn’t have too much trouble finding it. When you see Jango Fett and Chewbacca suiting up in a parking lot, there’s not a lot of doubt you’re in the right place.

I’ve always been impressed by the people who dress up for these events. Many of the costumes were really well-done and imaginative. In addition to Jango and Chewie, we had two Luke Skywalkers, an R2-D2, a few Jedi Knights, a Stormtrooper from the 501st, and a couple of Darth Vaders. Eliot and E.T. joined us, too, as well as Captain Eo (which I thought was an inspired choice). I tend to fail at costumes, so I decided to wear my Jedi Academy T-shirt.

After checking in and being assigned our participant positions, we all got on a bus and rode to catch the relay. I was dropped off on a corner in Venice and waited for a few moments until Eliot and E.T. handed me the lightsaber. I ran along for my allotted quarter mile behind Jabba’s Sail Barge, swinging the lightsaber (for the benefit of the camera, of course). Too soon, though, it was over. I handed the lightsaber off to a nice lady in an R2D2 hoodie, then got on another bus with the other finished participants.

Jabba's Sail Barge in Venice, CA
Participants in the Course of the Force run behind Jabba’s Sail Barge.

Even though I spent more time sitting on buses than running with a lightsaber, taking part in the event was a blast. All the participants were excited to be there, and most of them were going to the Comic-Con in San Diego, so much of the on-bus conversation was about which panels and events they were looking forward to.

Jango Fett carrying a lightsaber behind Jabba's barge.
Jango Fett, one of the participants in my “pod,” taking his turn with the lightsaber. Image courtesy of the Course of the Force Instagram feed.

Considering all the logistics of managing rolling street closures and multi-vehicle convoys, coordinating with the California Highway Patrol, and keeping track of many different participants, planning an event of this magnitude is more challenging than planning an assault on the Death Star*. But everything went smoothly, and the event staff were always friendly and very accommodating.

Participating in the Course of the Force costs $150 (down from $500 last year), and 100% of the proceeds from participant registrations and donations of the Course of the Force benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation. All participants received their own Hasbro lightsaber and an exclusive Course of the Force swag bag.

The Course of the Force started on July 9 and continues until July 16, where it ends at 7:30 p.m. at the Hard Rock Cafe in San Diego. You can follow along as it heads into San Diego on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

*No Bothans died to bring you this information.

Disclosure: Author was given a free participant slot.

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