New Orleans-style mirth marks arrival of 'The Force Awakens'

AP News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2015 12:20 AM
New Orleans-style mirth marks arrival of 'The Force Awakens'

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An Imperial Stormtrooper played trombone and an Ewok wailed on the saxophone as a Mardi Gras parade club heralded the arrival of the latest "Star Wars" movie with a unique mashup of cultures — one from a galaxy far, far away; the other from a New Orleans bar.

The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus (motto: "Saving the galaxy one drunken nerd at a time") gathered at an upscale movie theater on the edge of the French Quarter on Thursday night for an early screening of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" for 100 of its officers. Afterward, a couple (they would identify themselves only as Darth Furos and Darth Sextus) staged a brief light-saber battle in the lobby. Then dozens of fans marched to the Quarter in a traditional "second-line parade" — the band stepped off playing a medley of "Star Wars" tunes, with other costumed fans forming a second line behind them.

"You will enjoy it," declared krewe co-founder Kirah Haubrich. "It was what we wanted."

"It echoed all of the great scenes from the original trilogy in a really lovely, reverential way — with, like, a new twist," said Ryan Ballard, another founder, whose two-piece suit and matching tie were emblazoned with currency — 42-dollar bills with a picture of the Wookiee Chewbacca where a president would ordinarily be.

The band's ragtime-tinged rendition of the cantina music from the original film gave the gathering a uniquely New Orleans twist; that, and the fact that in New Orleans, the sight of Darth Vader in a tutu or a green-skinned woman with horns and a bikini doesn't turn heads as it might elsewhere.

"It's more acceptable around here to costume," said Chewbacchus member Sean Landry. He was in the dark Jedi garb sported by Luke Skywalker in "Return of the Jedi" as he stood at a theater-side bar next to the tutu-wearing Darth Vader — his wife, Christie.

"Everybody loves 'Star Wars,'" said Ballard. "We live 'Star Wars.'"

Ballard said the krewe's genesis dates back about six years to a conversation he and a friend were having at, fittingly, the Saturn Bar. Topics included the furry co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon spaceship in the "Star Wars" franchise.

"It was a barroom joke," Ballard said. "If there was a nerd krewe, it should be a mashup of Chewbacca and Bacchus, the god of wine."

Chewbacchus was born. And the group grew from a few hundred early participants to roughly 1,000 now. Their annual Mardi Gras season parade generally takes a different meandering route through New Orleans neighborhoods each year.

Ballard said Thursday's early "Force Awakens" screenings were arranged for krewe leaders who are instrumental in the group's community outreach efforts, including food drives and programs to help disadvantaged children participate in Mardi Gras events.

On Wednesday, the group had held a giant pajama party at the krewe's den — also Ballard's studio — for a marathon screening of the original "Star Wars" trilogy.

Cheers and applause could be heard in the theater during Thursday's screening. When it was over, Landry was one of the few fans whose reaction was muted.

"It's a little bit derivative," he said. "But it's a fun movie. I've got to see it again. I've got to digest it."