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The Force is about to get stronger in Southland

Roger Burns Tinley Park youth services librarian for Joliet Public Library is summoning forces for Fifth Annual Star Wars Day

Roger Burns, of Tinley Park, the youth services librarian at for the Joliet Public Library, is summoning the forces for the Fifth Annual Star Wars Day on June 7 in downtown Joliet. | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media

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IF YOU GO ...

What: Joliet Public Library’s fifth annual Star Wars Day, featuring scores of costumed characters, displays, memorabilia, games, demonstrations and contests

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 7

Where: Joliet Public Library, 150 N. Ottawa St.; Joliet Historical Museum, 204 N. Ottawa St.

How much: Free

Information: jolietlibrary.org, jolietmuseum.org.

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Updated: July 1, 2014 6:09AM



If the lakefront doesn’t land the George Lucas museum, perhaps Will County would work.

It’s already home to the world’s second-largest one-day Star Wars event — an endless parade of Jedi Knights, Stormtroopers, Darth Vaders, Yodas, Lukes and Leias roaming the streets of Joliet, posing for nonstop photos.

“The characters are endless. You never know who is going to show up,” said Roger Burns, organizer of Star Wars Day and a youth services librarian at the Joliet Public Library, where the fifth annual event is set for June 7. It is second only to Star Wars creator Lucas’ own event, he said.

“Each year, this event has exceeded our expectations,” said Burns, of Tinley Park. “This is the place to see and be seen.”

What began as a kids program to promote literacy has doubled in size every year, making it the world’s largest Star Wars-themed library event. The first year attracted 12 costumed characters and 600 attendees. Last year brought 85 costumed characters and 4,800 people of all ages from throughout the Midwest.

“The heart of this is the library. The costumers and artists come because they want to raise awareness of the library, literacy and community,” Burns said.

Apparently, even Darth Vader enjoys a good book now and then.

The event also includes live music throughout the day by the Troubadore Klingon Music Project, with costumed band members and a Wookie on a cello. An artists gallery will showcase several illustrators of sci-fi, fantasy and Star Wars, among them, Steve Palenica, of Worth.

For the past few years, Palenica has designed the passes given to all attendees, and donates very limited editions of his artwork as prizes for the best costumes. His illustrations are also seen on posters promoting the event.

He spends the day autographing the artwork on the passes and taking pictures.

“It is great to be involved in this event,” Palenica said. “No one does it for monetary gain. It’s all about promoting literacy for kids, getting them away from the computers and TV and using their imagination. You try to make it an experience the kids will always remember.”

“This event is on par with any professional convention I’ve attended. It is all for free and it just keeps building. It’s amazing,” said Palenica, a freelance illustrator and Calumet Park firefighter.

“Roger really wants the library to be a place where kids want to come and open their minds.”

Burns accepts no credit for the success of Star Wars Days.

“It’s like I’m Tom Sawyer and the event is painting the fence,” he said.

“I allowed it. I championed it. I allowed it to grow,” he said, stressing that it would not be possible without Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau, Joliet City Center, D’Arcy Buick GMC, and Friends of the Joliet Public Library.

To that list he adds Plainfield resident Jody McQuarters, who is with the 501st Legion, a costuming organization, and brings out the parade of Star Wars characters.

The idea for a Star Wars program was tossed out in a meeting a few years ago — a two-hour program in a meeting room at the library. But there was so much interest, so many inquiries before the event, “It was ludicrous to limit it,” Burns said.

It took over the first floor of the library, at 150 N. Ottawa St., and went for four hours.

It took a lot of work in the beginning, a lot of publicity. Burns put posters up in every business that would allow it and gave fliers to friends who commuted downtown.

Three years ago, the Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau got on board and helped promote the event. Last year, the force caught up with the Joliet Area Historical Museum, just a block away at 204 N. Ottawa St., which offered free admission, displays, demonstrations and presentations and saw its largest crowd ever.

“When things are going well, most people want to get on board. People are now coming to us to participate. It has gained a momentum of its own,” Burns said. “It’s nice to see a community of people within the library and city operating together.”

For him, the best part of the event is seeing the faces of kids who are “mesmerized” by the remote-controlled robots, he said, and also seeing all the participants in full regalia.

He admitted to being “seduced by the force” himself ­— and now is the proud owner of a Tusken Raider costume. But he will likely be too busy to wear it during this year’s event.

It all begins with an 11 a.m. parade, led by the Joliet American Legion Band from the museum to the library. Giant Wookie footprints painted on the sidewalk will guide visitors from one site to the other.

Part of Ottawa Street will be closed for the day, enabling characters and attendees to move about and take advantage of photo opportunities.

Events at the library will include themed games and prizes, Legoland and displays of private collections of Legoland Star Wars exhibits.

The museum will have a light saber duel re-enactment by costumed professional swordsmen, R2D2 Robot Races and demonstrations, Jedi light saber training, a Star Wars action figure scavenger hunt and a life-size 6-foot tall Rancor monster head exhibit.

Kids can play a variety of games at both locations and have a chance to win prizes.

The Joliet Route 66 Diner will serve a special Star Wars menu Saturday.

The night before, the Joliet Slammers minor league baseball game at 7:05 p.m. June 6 will have a Star Wars twist to it.



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