SINGAPORE: They portray Star Wars-inspired characters and practise for weeks to perform at Star Wars events and pop culture conventions, and follow strict guidelines regarding their makeup, costumes, props and choreography. These are not your ordinary Star Wars fans.
They are members of Fightsaber, a not-for-profit Star Wars fan group that performs choreographed lightsaber fights to entertain fans and non-fans alike. Set up in 2010 and endorsed by Lucasfilm, it has five chapters across Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.
Ahead of the highly-anticipated premiere of the latest Star Wars installment, The Force Awakens, Channel NewsAsia spoke to Azmi Danuri, 29, the founder of Fightsaber, otherwise known as “Grand Master Sas-Ejiid” by the group.
For this fanboy, Star Wars is much more than a science fiction series.
Channel NewsAsia: Tell us about yourself, and how your love for Star Wars began.
Azmi Danuri: I’m 29 years old and I'm a video editor.
It all started when I watched Star Wars: A New Hope on VHS when I was a kid. I was like, this is fun, especially the lightsaber battles between Obi-wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. Although if you watch it now, it's a bit slower than the prequels, but I still like it because of the overall emotion.
But I didn't watch everything until Phantom Menace came out. After that I tried to get the VCDs. It was 1999, so I watched the original trilogy on VCD.
What do you love about the movies? What got you hooked?
Sometimes I feel a connection with Luke Skywalker because he was a farm boy who thinks that he can do so much more. In the end, he does become someone else, someone better.
At that time, I was in Secondary One, I felt like I could do something more. There had to be a purpose in life, other than sitting through test after test, and exam after exam.
I grew up without a father. My father passed away when I was 3 years old. My mother worked overseas as a nurse. So like Luke, I was raised by my uncle and aunt.
So you think the Star Wars story parallels your own life? Tell us more about your relationship with your mother.
It’s a difficult thing to explain. She's overseas most of the time, and we only communicate through texts or when she comes back for holidays. I don't feel much of a bond. That's why I'm more of a loner. I prefer to have friends.
How about your relationship with your uncle and aunt?
They are very strict with me. But they're less so with my sister. So I felt like rebelling against them. When I was 16, I ran away from their house. I wanted to live by myself.
What prompted the rebellion? Can you describe how you felt at that point of time?
I think it's at the back of my mind, but I didn't realise it. I had resentment and anger, just like how Luke had resentment and anger towards his father and Emperor Palpatine.
Do you still feel that way now?
When I grew older I read more into the Star Wars mythology and the Jedi code. “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.” Which is true in a way, because the only person who suffers is yourself.
Over the years I feel so much better. Less angry, like Luke when he gives up his anger and not kill Darth Vader. I've realised that getting angry at everybody and the world doesn't help at all. Maybe there are ways that we can benefit from the situation that you're angry or pissed about.
Is that why you started Fightsaber? How did it come about?
At first, I joined another group. Like people of my age at that time, I liked sword fights, samurais and ninjas. This merges the two things I liked: Star Wars and sword fights.
I bought my first lightsaber with my NS (National Service) pay. I was like, I'm not going to eat this month, I'm going to buy a lightsaber. It felt like, at least I'm actively doing something, and showcasing it to people.
It’s like going to a stadium watching your favourite football team and wearing your idols’ jerseys. It's very similar. It’s a show of passion and pride.
How do you feel when you perform in character with the lightsaber?
I've been the bad guy, I've been the good guy. It's a good way of expressing yourself. It's sort of a theatrical production, with the sounds and all, it's very creative.
Sometimes, when Jedis fight, like Mace Windu, he uses his anger and channels it out to his enemies. According to the Star Wars canon, his form of lightsaber combat is using a little of bit of the dark side. It's like standing over a cliff edge, but not going over. Like you still have control, but you unleash the inner beast.
What do you think makes Star Wars so enduring as a film series, a pop culture phenomenon?
Star Wars is multi-generational. The story itself is your classic good versus evil, and everybody has their own demons, they want the good to win, that’s why I think it has such a huge following.
Also the people who watched Star Wars in 1977 grew up and had kids, and they tell them this is cool, I'm sure you’ll like it. It’s like passing on of the torch from parents to children, and to grandchildren maybe.
Even Lucasfilm recognises that and makes cartoons for kids, which I watch. It's not just for kids, it’s for the whole family.
Azmi's 3-month-old son, Luq Mohammad Anaqin, named after characters from Star Wars. (Photo: Azmi Danuri)
You've even named your child after Star Wars characters?
He's named Luq Mohammad Anaqin, after Luke Skywalker and Anakin Skywalker.
It's my overwhelming passion for Star Wars. I thought if I was going to have a son, it would be cool to name him Luq. I'm sure he is going to either be teased, or be hailed as “wow, you're named after a Star Wars character”.
Because now Star Wars is very mainstream, I’m sure he'll be celebrated for it.
Azmi and Ezaida's Star Wars-themed wedding in November 2014. (Photo: Azmi Danuri)
Your wedding was also Star Wars-themed. Is your wife a Star Wars fan as well?
At first she didn't understand it. It took a little bit of coaxing and convincing for her to watch all six movies of Star Wars.
Most times when I quote Star Wars, she didn't understand, so I said “that is why you need to watch the movies”.
So what’s the most important lesson you've learnt from Star Wars?
I think parents are important. Try not to be too far away from your kid, because family's bond, parents’ love is different from friends and relatives. You can feel the difference.
What are your plans for Fightsaber?
Most members, we became friends after they joined. The saying is, there are no strangers, just friends you haven’t met. Once they join, we are more like a family. I believe every single fan group, interest group, feels like a family. That's how we are.
For future performances, I feel like we could have better integration among the different chapters. For example, we map out a whole storyline for a year, and each chapter performs a different part of the story, but all the parts add up to one complete story in a single year. That's what I want to do in the future.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in Singapore on Thursday, Dec 17.