While the earthly regional Jedi-kingpin gig comes with its share of frustrations — ?Lucasfilm, which controlled all things Star Wars until its acquisition by Disney in October, prohibited unauthorized fan groups like New York Jedi from formally participating at conventions such as New York Comic Con — it also boasts its share of perks. Flynn speaks warmly of the four marriages and three ?children that have emerged from relationships between New York Jedis.? And though he talks wearily about the challenges? of moderating community spats, Flynn clearly derives great pleasure from unearthing the Han Solo buried inside each shy-on-the-surface group member.
“It’s like if Yoda never wanted to become grand master of the Jedi temple and realized he had a whole bunch of non-socially-oriented? people to deal with,” he says. “You kind of have to tolerate people who are a little weird. I don’t say that as a knock because that was me in high school. I hadn’t figured out how to be a social animal yet.”
If there are stereotypical nerds at Jedi practice, I can’t identify them. Members of the group vary wildly in gender, age, race, ethnicity, body shape and athletic coordination. They hail from a wide range of professions, from the expected (actor, IT specialist) to the unexpected (licensing agent, professional ballet dancer turned lab analyst). Sure, there’s some chatter about Game of Thrones, but the night’s attendees look and interact like any other community of friends. No pockets are protected.
They’re also very aware of the inaccuracies in public perception of so-called geek culture. The inordinately articulate Koval, for instance, has given plenty of thought to her status as a female in a male-dominated subculture. “There are both expectations and a lack of expectations,” she says. “I mean, I’m a chick with a sword. That means I’m automatically the ‘hot chick with the sword’ no matter what I look like.” As I watch her practice, I don’t doubt that she’d make a crackerjack stuntwoman? — which is what she hopes to do somewhere down the road.
After I spend the first 12 minutes of the two-hour session on the sideline, Flynn turns to me and, with a hint of challenge in his voice, asks, “Want to grab a sword and join in?” I accept eagerly, bounding off the piano bench that had served as my ?sophisticated-journalist perch and grabbing the sword thrust in my general direction.
This, as it turns out, is my first mistake — one does not grip stage swords, or “live steel,” by the blade — and it will be followed by many others. Perhaps this is why Flynn positions me up front, in full view of the group’s other members. In doing so, he wordlessly conveys encouragement: What you’re doing ain’t easy. Just take a look at this clown.