Star Wars Club brings new hope to USC
When Jesse Walk made his way through the involvement fair his freshman year, he expected to come across a table for a “Star Wars” club.
But it didn’t exist.
When he searched again his sophomore year, he also found nothing. The pandemic disrupted his junior year, and when he tried one more time his senior year, Walk still found nothing.
Now a senior majoring in arts, technology and the business of innovation, Walk did, however, come across Sydney Loew, another senior in his cohort. Loew’s table for her other club, Haute Magazine, looked different from the rest, prompting Walk to ask her why that was.
“She’s like, ‘Oh, the club fair organizers wouldn’t give us a table, so I brought my own table.’ And then just like that, boom, the idea struck,” Walk said. “I literally said, ‘Sydney, tomorrow, we’re bringing our own table, and we’re starting ‘Star Wars’ club.’”
Overnight, the duo, who now serve as the club’s co-presidents, created posters and planned their vision. They promised big ideas to the 150 people who signed up, such as streaming the films in the Norris Cinema Theater and at USC’s off-campus Michelle and Kevin Douglas IMAX theater, located in the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts.
However, booking the venues came with more red tape than expected.
“We thought it would just be easy. We’ll just email the cinema people, ‘Hey, can we book the Norris?’ And they’ll be like ‘Yeah, sure.’ But it was not that easy,” Walk said.
The club first had to become a registered student organization, and in order to book the Norris Cinema Theater, it had to become a registered cinema club. However, another hurdle was thrown their way when their application was denied due to the club’s nature being “too niche,” Walk said.
Their motivation couldn’t be deterred. Their rationale is that “Star Wars” remains essential to the University given the school’s connection to filmmakers, including alumnus and “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, whom a building is named after at the School of Cinematic Arts.
“No one in our generation has seen the original movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s on a giant screen,” Walk said. “It’s always been on a small computer screen or a television, so that was the whole driving force.”
The duo pivoted to Alex Ago, the director of programming and special projects at the School of Cinematic Arts, for guidance. Ago jumped in to assist the organization because he believed that “it was a perfect time for us to put ‘Star Wars’ back on the big screen.”
“There’s a generation of students here now that have never had the opportunity to see ‘Star Wars’ on the big screen, and I know what that’s meant to me and what it’s meant to students in the past,” Ago said. “It’s part of the identity of the school. A lot of students here over the years have come to study at USC because of our long standing relationship with Lucasfilm.”
The club has screened “Star Wars” films such as “Rogue One,” “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” Currently, the “Star Wars” club is preparing for its big May 4 event, where club members will celebrate with “Star Wars” themed food before watching “Revenge of the Sith” in the IMAX theater.
The screenings also include appearances from guests who worked directly on the films, such as Academy Award winner and visual effects artist on “A New Hope” Richard Edlund, David Weitzner who marketed the “Star Wars” franchise for the first time and creative executive at Lucasfilm story group Matt Martin.
“Not only do you get to watch on the big screen, you get to talk to the people that made the movies and people that work at Lucasfilm nowadays,” Walk said. “Sydney and I do the moderating for the Q&A, so we get to go up on the stage and talk to them in front of the crowd which has been a dream.”
A mix of people who are dedicated “Star Wars” enthusiasts and those who are just being introduced to the fandom’s lore attend the screenings.
“Something we figured out along the way is there’s quite a few people who have just never seen ‘Star Wars,’ and we became their avenue to watch them in the way they were intended to be seen in the first place,” Loew said.
Amelia Anello, a sophomore majoring in sound design, has been attending the club’s events since it began its smaller screenings in Taper Hall. For Anello, being in the club has meant having a space where she could talk about her shared interests with other passionate members. Anello also helps draft the trivia questions for the club’s non-screening meetings, which occur Wednesday nights in Taper Hall.
“The weekly meetings are fun, because they’re much smaller,” Anello said. “It’s where I’ve met the most people and where I’ve made lasting friendships, because the meeting will end and then there’s 10 of us that’ll stay and keep talking for a while, whether that’s in the classroom or because we end up getting kicked out and then talking outside of the classroom.”
Even though the club faced numerous challenges in the beginning, Loew and Walk are proud of how far they have come with the original vision they had planned.
“It’s just that love of ‘Star Wars’ that has gotten us from noes to yeses,” Loew said, “But we were able to persevere because of all the people who love ‘Star Wars,’ and it’s just been mind-blowing to see what that power does.”