In years past, the Star Wars flash-mob-slash-fan-run-charitable-event Glow Battle Tour was known as the Light Saber Battle. That was fine by George Lucas, who owned Lucasfilm at the time. But then Disney bought it, and suddenly began guarding its new intellectual property with vigor.
“They sent us a cease-and-desist letter earlier this year,” says event organizer Kevin Bracken, of Newmindspace, which is based in Toronto. “We negotiated for three months before we settled, but they wanted us to destroy all our inventory, help them sue our supplier, and also agree to never do any event where they light a sword again. It was crazy.”
“We struck a fine balance between completely laying over and fighting too hard,” he adds, “because my friend Flynn from Light Saber Academy is just being sued straight up by LucasFilm, and I did not want to be on the receiving end of a lawsuit.”
This Friday, Dec. 16, from 8-11 p.m., thousands of Star Wars fans will mass at SPARK Social SF in Mission Bay, for an epic battle of galactic proportions. Bracken hopes the combined event — in S.F., New York, Toronto, and elsewhere — will break the record of 9,951 participants in the “largest global light saber battle,” set last year. Devoted fans might remember that it was pouring rain in San Francisco last year, so it’s more than do-able in spite of the name change — which Bracken insists “we’re not bitter about,” noting that “the whole community’s been using the name basically by the good graces of Lucas Films.”
Call it what you will, but a lightsaber isn’t as clumsy as a blaster, and while you can always buy your own, Glow Battle Tour sells light-up versions for $10 that change to any one of eight colors (which means you can alter your affiliation with the light and dark sides of the Force, mid-battle.) The additional reason to purchase an, um, elongated illuminated space rod from the organization is that this year’s charitable beneficiaries are the families of the Ghost Ship fire (although the event itself is free with RSVP).
“In years past, our events have benefited Make a Wish, and we love Make a Wish, but many of the people who lost friends in the Oakland fire are friends of ours,” says Bracken, one of the rare American-born liberals to make good on his promise to move to Canada after George W. Bush’s re-election. “We’ve thrown a lot of events in this community. The Glow Battle Tour is an expression of rave culture. We lived in Oakland for three years and went to a lot of warehouse parties, and we know a lot of people who live in warehouse communities. Newmindspace is an expression of the idea of a temporary autonomous zone, one of the deeply rooted ideologies of the rave scene.”
Unlike in years past, there will be food trucks, music, a beer garden, and better restroom access, plus an AstroTurf field that can hold more than 2,000 people. If you think it can’t possibly be three full hours of people whacking one another with swords — well, oh yes it can. Many of them come in costumes as elaborate as any Comic-Con, Bracken says, and at a New York battle, someone once brought a fully functioning R2-D2 replica. There will be a re-creation of a famous Star Wars battle scene by local Jedi crew The Golden Gate Knights — but because the event has acquired a reputation among fans as being “a Light Side kind of group,” the number of Imperial Stormtroopers tends to be low.
“It gets pretty crazy,” Bracken says. “We try to do these in the darkest place possible, so you get these thousand points of light. It’s a huge clash for like an hour, then people tend to split off into smaller dueling factions.”
And as with many bottom-up events, even the organizer doesn’t grasp every last detail.
“The people with the most expensive swords will seek out their own, with a code of conduct and rules they follow,” he says. “I don’t pretend to understand it.”
Glow Sword Battle 2016, Friday, Dec. 16, 8-11 p.m., at SPARK Social SF, 601 Mission Bay Blvd. N. Free; glowbattletour.com