While two of the class’ more advanced performers offer tips and techniques, I have a difficult time distinguishing between my left foot and my right and, as a result, pose immediate danger to myself and others. I am, in a word, terrible — the kind of performer who’d be sat down by the principal of Jedi Prep and gently urged to consider another line of study, like dentistry. I sit down, humbled.
The rest of the practice session is devoted to scene work, in which the members pair off and simulate battles. As opposed to the meticulous ballets New York Jedi choreographs for events, however, these clashes are decidedly minimalist in nature: two hits or strikes, then somebody dies. “Samurai battles do not last long,” Flynn informs me. During the final 15 minutes of practice, the group forms a circle and, one by one, each individual takes a turn in the middle. Every few seconds, he or she comes under attack from one of the other members and fends him or her off.
Just as the last thrust is parried, Flynn calls the Jedis together. They form a circle, inch toward its center and point their weapons inward until they touch. When they do, Flynn breaks into a part-summation, part-pep-talk that begins with a description of the group as “world-famous and not Lucas-approved” and ends with a “New York!”/“Jedi!” call and response.
As the members disperse, I approach an individual I’ll call Al — he asks not to be identified by name, as he is pursuing advanced study in neuroscience and doesn’t want “the Jedi stuff” to come up when people Google his name — and press him for a critique on my performance. “Well, you’re supposed to make your weapon a part of you, and that’s really hard to do,” he says diplomatically. When I press him for more candor, he adds, “I couldn’t tell if you’d ever held a sword before. It was very alien to you.”
An alien in a room of Star Wars aficionados and Jedi trainees — that was me. I feel lucky to have escaped with my fingers.
New York–based writer Larry Dobrow has seen The Empire Strikes Back at least 17 times.