The new “Star Wars” film hitting theaters may be called “The Last Jedi,” but here on Long Island the population is rapidly increasing. Endor Temple is the Long Island chapter of the nonprofit international costumed performance group Saber Guild, which is preferred by Lucasfilm to represent the “Star Wars” universe to the public.
PLAYING THE PART
Members ranging in age from 20s to 60s dress as Jedi knights or Sith warriors, then do battle with lightsabers, much like re- enactors at a Civil War encampment.
“We still like to play dress-up,” says Leonard Provenzano, 62, of Mineola. He works in the Nassau County Department of Assessment, but on weekends he re-creates the legendary Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi. “I’m an old white guy with a beard, so it works,” he says.
His voice sharply evokes the late Alec Guinness, who played the character in the original trilogy.
“This is the best thing I have done with my life,” Provenzano says. “It gives me tremendous satisfaction. It’s like this is what I was born to do. I’m out there putting smiles on people’s faces. What’s better than that?”
ALL FOR CHARITY
The group performs charity shows two to three times a month at hospitals, conventions, libraries and private parties. Any performance fees are donated to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.
“We recently visited the pediatric ward and spent two hours with these kids. Everything we worked on for the past two years was right there,” says Mike James, 46, of Massapequa, also known as Jedi Orin Kel. “To help those in a poor situation have at least one good day makes it all worth it. That’s why we do this.”
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS
James keeps the group’s costume standards high. It’s his job to ensure that every member’s outfit is impeccable. Each can cost $150 to more than $1,000.
“We are strict on costumes because we represent the Lucasfilm property,” he says. “Each costume must look like it came off the set from one of the movies.”
His wife and high school sweetheart, Andrea, serves as the chapter’s local director and Jedi Reos Tokani.
“We are both big science-fiction fans with a martial-arts background,” she says. “This is something we do together that makes us happy.”
As for their lightsabers, they have an unbreakable polycarbonate blade and can cost $100 to $1,000.
Each battle is fully choreographed, lasting 30 to 90 seconds. Members train two hours a week to perfect the routines.
“It’s really empowering and fun to swing a saber around,” says Amanda Hayman, 22, of Massapequa, who plays Jedi Leyawin Kree.
“It’s almost like playing around as a little kid, just more intense,” adds her boyfriend, James Nevola, 24, of Copiague, who doubles as Jedi Aven Falco.
Identical twins Lisa and Laura Giunta, 32, of Levittown play both Jedi and Sith. Laura prefers being her Jedi identity, Danika Moon.
“It’s fun because you get to teach the kids in a class how to use The Force,” she says.
However, Lisa sees the benefit of turning to the dark side as Darth Khiana. “I’m campy and over the top like a Disney villain meets the Wicked Witch of the West,” she says.
The Saber Guild members say they identify with the “Star Wars” story arc because it is relatable with a moral message.
“It’s about good overcoming evil and evil finding redemption,” says Jedi Saaur Gundo aka Phil Pipitone, 33, of Medford, who’s a part of Endor Temple with his wife, Lorraine (Jedi Pyx’L Jadestone), 36. “It’s a timeless story that has become ingrained in our popular culture. There’s something for everyone in this franchise.”