Talk about an epic journey.
Hundreds of Star Wars fans will soon transport a lightsaber from Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California, to Comic-Con International in San Diego as part of Course of the Force.
Kicking off July 9, with the light saber scheduled to arrive in San Diego July 16, just in time for the start of the Comic-Con convention, this marks the second year of the relay race put on by Nerdist Industries and Lucasfilm.
It’s challenging for any brand to stand out amid all the hoopla at Comic-Con, so Course of the Force–hosted by Nerdist Industries founder Chris Hardwick–is designed to shine a light on Nerdist Industries and Lucasfilm in the days leading up to the big event. “The original thesis was, How can I extend that Comic-Con experience? ” Nerdist Industries CEO Peter Levin says, likening Course of the Force to “creating the yellow brick road on the way to Oz, and we control the billboard signage [along the way], if you will.”
Course of the Force has lined up a number of sponsors for its sophomore year. While Ford has joined as the official automobile sponsor, Samsung is a marketing partner, helping to stage a series of Star Wars-themed “Conivals” along the route featuring live entertainment, expo booths, and giveaways. Qualcomm is powering a Course of the Force app, and Cinemark, RealD, State Farm, Otter Pops, Virgin America, Rubie’s Costumes, and Hasbro are also involved.
Like last year, 100% of the proceeds from runner registrations will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
So far, more than 700 Star Wars fans have signed up for the relay that will have each participant running quarter-mile segments carrying the light saber. Spectators of last year’s event saw people running in costume as characters such as Princess Leia, Chewbacca, General Grievous, and Ask Aak. Some people even dressed as X-wing starfighters. “The level of costume play was breathtaking,” Levin says. “I mean, nothing short of breathtaking. There’s a pride thing with [Star Wars fans], and you see them light up by the reaction they get when they’re running down the road, and people are flipping out looking at their costumes. They probably spend months putting these costumes together, with no access to prop houses or to studio backlots.”
To encourage even more people to dress to impress this time around (some did show up in caps and T-shirts last year), participants must be in costume if they want to board Jabba the Hutt’s Sail Barge, which, like last year, will accompany the relay. “I think that’s a fun rule,” Levin says.
The concept for Course of the Force was Levin’s brainchild. He was inspired by memories of running a leg with the Olympic torch in 1996 and the more recent experience of his young son whacking both him and the family dogs with a light saber. “It was one thing to come up with the idea, but then to actually be able to execute against it was both thrilling and very nerve-wracking,” Levin says.
Realizing he needed help orchestrating such a complicated undertaking, Levin brought in the events company Octagon for year one as well as year two of Course of the Force. “They do the Olympic torch relay around the globe, so they know something about relays, and they were just masters,” Levin says, looking back on the inaugural event.
Still, Levin was stressed the first time around. “Year one, and my wife would attest to this, I didn’t sleep for the week leading up to this thing,” Levin admits. “I was literally saying, ‘Oh, my God. What did I do? I oversold this! How’s this going to work?’ And then I went to the hotel where these guys set up their war room, and I walked in and I saw charts and graphs and maps and GPS, and it was my first sigh of relief in weeks because I was, like, These guys know what they’re doing. So I can get back to programming, and these guys can handle the logistics.”
While last year’s Course of the Force began in Santa Monica and covered 136 miles, this year’s event has been extended to 500 miles because of the start at Skywalker Ranch. That said, not every mile will be covered on foot. “This year will be more of a tour de force versus a Course of the Force, meaning we’re going to do two days up north in San Francisco and the surrounding area, but then we’re picking up and just driving through parts of California that are just not populated because it’s logistically impossible to get people to run the light saber through some of these areas. I think the biggest lesson we learned from last year was it should be qualitative versus quantitative in terms of mileage,” Levin says. “That was a huge, huge takeaway.”