The ‘Force’ is with them

Two members of the Star Wars Power Battles club light up the night in the Leroy Collins Parking Garage

It’s Friday night and the Jedi Knights are gathering in the Fine Arts building for their weekly meeting. They have practiced their moves in the parking garage for weeks. Tonight they will plan the best route of attack on the Sith, the enemy.

While the campus swarms with students during the day, when night falls each Friday the buildings turn into an alternate universe far, far away. They are no longer on earth, but in an area that’s undefined.

“It’s a suspension of disbelief, but we haven’t named the planet. We have a couple of places on campus that we’ve named and are significant,” Justin Smith said. Smith, a 21-year-old theater major, is the co-founder of the USF Star Wars Power Battles. According to Smith, SWPB began with former USF student Dan Wolfe in 2003. “He actually created the core of the game,” Smith said.

Smith and Wolfe didn’t start the club right away. They mulled over ideas but didn’t take initiative until Wolfe approached Smith again with the idea. Shortly after agreeing to put the plan into action, they began to inform their friends.

SWPB is not an official club in the University, though Smith plans to register it.

“You have to fill out forms and create a constitution,” Smith said.

Though becoming an official club at USF is their goal, SWPB’s priority has been mastering their moves and battle strategies.

“We worked out a lot of the details and then we decided on a day to come out here and start playing,” Smith said.

Each Friday both sides have different objectives, which in turn can cause disputes between members. This conflict fuels the battles.

Smith said most members, including Wolfe, are part of the Bay Area Renaissance Festival. The festival focuses on the medieval era and includes jousting competitions and fortunetellers, to name a few.

“That’s where we got a lot of our players from,” Smith said.

SWPB is set before the beginning of Star Wars: Episode I, when Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jin view young Anakin Skywalker as a possibly powerful Jedi.

“It’s in that time area, and we use as much as we can from that, but the main idea is the Fine Arts building is the Jedi Temple and the main other faction is the Sith. They’re over in the Business building,” Smith said.

SWPB members psychologically transform into their characters. Smith is the Grand Master of the Jedi Order and commands his fellow Jedi members. Each Jedi member is ranked by his Grand Master standards. The same formation is also used by the Sith. Instead of a Grand Master, the Sith has a Dark Lord. Its members follow their own classifications.

Living in an undefined area could be confusing, but not for SWPB.

“Most of it is not related to something that is really in the world, or rather within the Star Wars universe idea, because not everyone out here is an avid Star Wars fan,” Smith said.

Though they have fun, the game is a very serious affair. Each Jedi and Sith has its own creative and unique name that might sound awkward to those unfamiliar with the Force.

“There are a lot of conventions for making your Star Wars Jedi name,” Smith said. “Most prominent would be if you take your middle name and spell it backwards, then use your mother’s maiden name and spell it backwards.”

Smith said his Star Wars name is Xonk Xonk. Both his mother’s and his middle name was Knox.

“As the Grand Master Jedi – a person who is supposed to command all kinds of respect, – it would be silly for them to say, ‘Grand Master Xonk Xonk’,” Smith said.Smith decided to defy this convention, and created a more official-sounding name.

“Tollan R. Kennen,” said Smith, “Tollan R., comes from Star Gate SG-1. Tollan is actually an ambiguous race of people, and Kennen is the German word for ‘to know,'” Smith said. Smith said one of his character’s main traits is being able to know everything possible – a trait he said all Grand Masters should have. Aside from psychological transformations, undefined planets and unique names, SWPB members carry around mock lightsabers. According to Smith, they buy them at either Wal-Mart or Target.

“We’re very careful. No one who comes out here on their first night is allowed to use one of these,” Smith said. “We carefully watch and judge how people interact and work well with others.”

SWPB has strict rules of engagement and safety, and just like martial arts, they create different and interesting combat forms. However, they take precautions when using their lightsabers, as some members have been injured. “Everyone comes knowing what’s going to happen, and they’re okay with it, and there’s no more danger as far as we’re concerned,” Smith said. “We try to treat it very respectfully, like any kind of martial art. For now we’ve talked to the University Police and as far as we know they seem okay with it.”