DECATUR — Growing up, Eric Trickey was categorically obsessed with "Star Wars.” He brandished inflatable "Star Wars" lightsabers, cranked up "Star Wars" records and dozed on "Star Wars" linens.
Forty years after "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" first flickered on movie screens, Trickey — now 44 years old and a pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Decatur — soon will be taking part in a cherished ritual of passionate "Star Wars" fandom worldwide: He's seeing the latest installment of the beloved intergalactic saga.
And he'll have some company.
AMC Classic Decatur 10 on Mount Zion Road and AMC Classic Hickory Point 12 at Hickory Point Mall are having advanced screenings of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" at 7 p.m. on Thursday, a day before the official opening. And the Avon Theatre in downtown Decatur will also offer a 7 p.m. Thursday showings in 2D as well as 3D options. In future dates, the theater has been reserved by local businesses for a closed-door screening not open to the public.
The movie premiered in Los Angeles on Saturday, the first chapter of the franchise in two years. In previous years, crowds showed up far in advance, with lines sometimes snaking around the building. The excitement is more tepid this year. AMC spokeswoman Kimberly Sanden said they are expecting crowds, and tickets for the advanced screening are being sold online.
For fans, “The Last Jedi” marks another advancement in a saga that has transfixed audiences — and offered life lessons through the lens of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa.
“I started out with ‘Return of Jedi.’ And I’ve seen all of them,” said Fred Saurmann, 34, whose office is full of “Star Wars” memorabilia at First Christian Church in Decatur, where he is technical director.
His love began with the possibility of space battles, the ships and the weapons. “The lightsabers were sweet,” he said.
As he grew older, he continued to watch the movies, studying the scope of each one. He said the films about the Skywalker family are cyclical in how they were created.
“The mythology is very fascinating and the characters have a lot of depth,” Saurmann said. “I didn’t understand the depth of the story as a child.”
‘How could you not like him?’
The intense interest is remarkable given the modest beginnings of “Star Wars.” The original 1977 film by George Lucas was a surprise box office hit, shattering records around the world.
“The movie is a tale of future wars fought in outer space,” the Decatur Herald reported on June 16, 1977, in a story about the film’s first night in Decatur. “It has been playing to giant audiences elsewhere in the country and local theater officials are hoping for a similar turnout.”
At the Rogers Theater on East Wood Street, “lines stretching almost half a block were filled with science fiction buffs who eagerly awaited,” the paper said.
The force remains strong for local fans, many of whom have turned it into a family tradition. The series has received a new batch of fans through the series of “Lego Star Wars” movies and games. In May, the Decatur Public Library had an all-day marathon of the new and older films, screening five in a row.
Decatur Brew Works, the downtown drinking establishment, for two years has held “Star Wars” Trivia.
As a child, Jayson Albright had all the toys and action figures available to him. He continued adding to his collection as an adult, even finding a life-size Yoda. The current craze has added to his household decorations.
“I still get things here and there, but I now get them for the next generation I’m influencing,” Albright said.
Although Star Wars can be found throughout the home, the Albright family, along with five grandchildren, is a Jabba household.
“He is this a big, slobbery, green slug. He is a lovable and huggable guy,” Albright said. “How could you not like him?”
As a Pana High School biology and anatomy teacher, Matt Sanders uses the films to open up discussions with his students. They discuss the films and the latest trinket or memorabilia.
“They may not have anything to talk about instead,” he said. “Talking about biology is not going to be the first way to talk to them.”
His wife Anna Sanders is just as excited about the opening of “The Last Jedi” as her husband. Her love for “Star Wars” grew after she found out he had an interest in the movies, too. “It is something fun to talk about with your husband,” she said. “I can see the old movies and do the research. We have something to talk about. It is so romantic.”
Her favorite characters are the strong females, such as Rey from “The Force Awakens” and Jyn from “Rogue One.”
“She doesn’t get sucked into any romance,” Anna Sanders said about Jyn. “And she is definitely very strong.”
The Sanders’ daughter Sarah is 8 and saw the movies this summer. “They were really cool,” she said about the original films. “Since I love science fiction books, I love the ‘Star Wars’ movies.”
Because of their daughter, the family prefers to see movies with positive women in the lead. “Princess Leia was a strong female, but she always referred to Han and Luke. Rey and Jyn are independent,” Matt Sanders said.
Trickey, the St. Paul’s pastor, remembers the 1977 Princess Leia differently. “She was amazing for the time. She told the guys what to do,” he said. “Princess Leia paved the way for the women’s characters.”
Leia was a lead character in the original movies, “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” Carrie Fisher reprises her role as Leia in the new installment. She died last year at 60 after filming had finished.
The prequels produced in 1999, “The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith,” continued making more strong females leads. “They were intentional in writing the females,” Saurmann said.
A lasting love for ‘Star Wars’
For “The Last Jedi,” Saurmann plans to travel in a caravan to the nearest Imax theater with a group of other serious fans. In the past, he has worn one of his “Star Wars” Jedi costumes to such an event.
“I try to get away with wearing it at work,” Saurmann said.
The film is projected to open somewhere in the $200 million range.
Trickey plans to watch it with his 16-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son.
“For most of the kids’ lives, this is a new ‘Star Wars’ experience,” he said. “The kids are fans too.”
Trickey saw the George Lucas-era films as a child nearly 40 years ago. The franchise was purchased by Disney in 2012, but that hasn’t diminished Trickey’s love for the films, both past and present.
“It’s the basic story of good versus evil, no matter how big the odds are,” he said. “It can be the heart of a good person, if we do the right things for the right reasons.”