The Guardians of the Galaxy Far, Far Away


Photo by Michael Leri.

I do a lot of nerdy stuff; that much has been established throughout the (almost) twenty-three years of my life. There are a few omissions on my nerd card though. For one, the Star Wars saga. I have not seen any of them. I have somehow avoided this cultural zeitgeist throughout my years.

But most people have not avoided and have actually embraced Star Wars, as evidenced by the Golden Gate Knights, a choreographed lightsaber class for all the Jedi (or Sith) in the Bay Area. Every Sunday, these wannabes gather in Studio Garcia, a modestly-sized place on Heron Street in San Francisco, to dance with flashlights on plastic tubes that their imagination replaces with lightsabers.

I walked into the studio of a dozen students with my camera in hand about to meet a bunch of strangers and take pictures of them fluttering about the space in attempts to reenact the most flashy scenes from the films. It could be an experience that some people could consider embarrassing, especially this dude, but not this crowd. It was a passion that I could envy as they swung over and over again. It was the kind of “dance like no one is looking” vibe that I was absorbing.

But someone can only swing a fake blade after the proper stretches (and paying the modest $10 fee). Pulling a hammy is the polar opposite of badass, which led to about a half an hour of stretches and warm-ups by instructor and experienced martial artist Alain Bloch. Bloch is one of the lead instructors, guiding the young Jedi/Sith through each step, from Padawan to Mace Windu (you bet your ass I Googled those terms).

Alain Bloch and his green lightsaber.
Alain Bloch and his green lightsaber.(Michael Leri/ Xpress Magazine)

He has been teaching the class since 2011, slowly building it to what it is today. Bloch met the other instructor, Matthew Carauddo, after finding one of Carauddo’s videos online. They connected and finally formed the Golden Gate Knights after coming to the conclusion that Star Wars-themed choreography would be something people would be interested in.

These interested students finally got to wield a sword and learn some flourishes when they finished stretching. No one was willing to say it during the actions, but it was easy to tell that they felt like little kids again as they turned down the lights, put on some Star Wars music, and spun their fake lightsabers in the dark. And that is part of the reason why Bloch does it.

“I think everyone who watched Star Wars said ‘wow, I wish I had a lightsaber,'” says Bloch. “So to finally be able to have one and be taught how to use it and use it to tell a story, it’s a bigger step into another world.”

Celeste Joy and Daniel Okada practice moves during choreography.
Celeste Joy and Daniel Okada practice moves during choreography.(Michael Leri/ Xpress Magazine)

This “other world” comes to life as the students get to combine what they have learned and channel that knowledge into a routine – the kind of routine that lets you brush off your shoulders after you complete it because you feel kind of rad. After breaking into partners, students were taught some good techniques and tricks by the Obi-Wan-like instructor, Christopher Villa, who has had years of professional experience in sword choreography.

The most time was spent on this area, as it was the most awe-inspiring to watch and, as I can assume, to perform. Seeing the looks on their faces as they slowly mastered flashy duels was an aspect I could admire. I play video games. I know that almost childish fascination of that fleeting dream of being a skilled swordsman. I would be lying if I said I did not daydream in class about slinging chained metal like Kratos from God of War or dueling like an assassin from Assassin’s Creed. They get to mimic and help create new routines and they can do it (and do it safely) within one of their most beloved franchises. Reenacting scenes from my favorite franchises would not work for me, since searing chains to my forearms and hurling huge blades is not the safest idea in the world.

Daniel Okada's hands glisten under the telltale pink lightsaber.
Daniel Okada’s hands glisten under the telltale pink lightsaber.(Michael Leri/ Xpress Magazine)

Thomas Evanspratt, one of the new students, says that the comradery was one of the biggest reasons that he decided to put on his Chewbacca tank top and spin around a plastic tube for a few hours.

“I especially like the partner work when we learning the choreography,” says Evanspratt. “It was really interesting how to slow down and make your movements more precise but also needing to work with your partner on that and making sure you both are giving and taking at the right time.”

The group meditates to wrap up the day.
The group meditates to wrap up the day.(Michael Leri/ Xpress Magazine)

And that statement, and the overarching sense of teamwork, was echoed by almost everyone as the team rounded up and meditated and wrapped up. While I tried not to let the loud shutter sounds of my camera ruin the moment, their prayer-like ritual was the embodiment of the entire experience. The hypnotic verses that Bloch shared even made me chill out for a bit – and I was kneeling safely outside of the circle of beam rods. I was not directly part of it but I was close enough to envy what they have – that common interest that bonds them and lets them blow off steam for a few hours by channeling their inner child. Star Wars was and still remains to be that venue to another world for so many people and seeing a product of that passion firsthand was something an outsider like myself could appreciate.