By David Markham
Turns out that “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away®” is much closer to a JCPRD park than you may have imagined!
A new special event combining the wonder nature, the mysteries of astronomy, and the magic of Star Wars® is coming to the Ernie Miller Nature Center.
May the Forest be with You is the name of this event, which is for ages five and older with an adult. Six sessions lasting about 1.5 hours each will be offered in 20-minute increments between 6 and 7:40 on Friday, May 5. Costumes and cosplay are welcomed and encouraged. The cost is $9 per person for Jonson County residents or $10 per person for nonresidents. Advance registration is required is required.
“As for myself, I have a bit of a passion for Star Wars® and love the messages the franchise has provided for generations of people for over 45 years,” said Park Naturalist M.C. Rose, who planned this event. “I am also an avid Star Wars® cosplayer and have been working on and perfecting an Ashoka Tano® cosplay for over two years.”
Rose said EMNC is teaming up with international fan-based cosplay group, the 501st Legion and expects characters including Ashoka Tano®, Darth Vader®, Chewbacca®, Princess Leia®, Luke Skywalker®, Kylo Ren®, and more will be represented at the event.
As they progress through the event, participants will encounter a number of stations.
At the Jedi® Training Station, young padawan® will learn the basics of Jedi® combat, including guided instruction by a Jedi Master® and pieces of the seven major Jedi® fight styles, all of which involve the same basic techniques as ancient sword-fighting styles, such as defensive postures, overhand strikes, parries, and counters.
At the Leave No Trace the Wookie® Way Station, participants will explore an area of the forest with Chewbacca® and learn how to leave no trace.
At the Navigation through the Stars Station, the group will enjoy a presentation about birds and how some species use the stars in order to navigate our world.
Following the guided stations, participants will end their journey at the Galactic Expo Area before departing. This will include: a show in EMNC’s new portable planetarium where they can witness what travel through our solar system like an x-wing fighter might be like; a photo op area with troopers of the 501st Legion; a rocketry table where participants can learn about building and launching model rockets; and a collection of actual meteorites on display by Solar System Ambassador Rick from the Astronomical Associates of Lawrence.
Rose talked about how this event came about.
“With our growing space science programing, we’re constantly looking for new ways to innovate our nature programing,” she said. “The Star Wars® franchise has always brought about a wonder of the possibilities of intergalactic travel. Pairing this with our new portable planetarium and some of our other programing additions (leave no trace, etc.) provided an opportunity to do something different. With shows like the Mandolorian®, Andor®, Obi Wan®, and Ashoka® on Disney® Plus, the public is loving the resurgence and expansion of the franchise.”
She also explained how aspects of George Lucas’ ever-popular space opera ties into nature and conservation programming.
“One of the central themes in Star Wars® is the idea that one person in the right place at the right time doing the right thing can change the universe,” she said. “The explosion of the Death Star — Luke Skywalker® hitting the bullseye, Kelleran Beq® helping rescue Grogu® from Order 66® in the Mandolorian®, and Rey® finally defeating Emperor Palpatine®; these stories teach us the ways that heroes make a difference by stepping up and doing something hard and sacrificing for the sake of a common goal. Ernie Miller Nature Center and JCPRD share a similar goal - to enrich our community through excellence in parks, recreation, culture, education, and public service. Coming to one of our programs could inspire a child or adult to help make the world a better place and we hope to share that.”