A Boba Fett character (right) greets the crowd Saturday during Star Wars Day outside the Joliet Historical Museum. | Frank Vaisvilas/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 10, 2014 6:23AM
There’s something about grown men play-fighting with toy lightsabers that can draw spectators by the thousands.
The lightsaber demo performed by costumed professional swordsmen was one of several events offered free of charge Saturday during Star Wars Day in downtown Joliet.
Tinley Park resident Roger Burns, who’s a youth services librarian at the Joliet Public Library, helped organize the festival, now in its fifth year.
He estimated up to 7,000 people attended Saturday’s event, up from 4,800 last year. Most were families with small children. The first year drew about 600 people.
“It’s just been a phenomenal day,” Burns said Saturday afternoon. “I can’t ask for anything better.”
Inside the library, artists showcased Star Wars and other science fiction-themed work while Darth Maul and other movie characters posed for pictures with kids.
Artist Steve Palencia, of Worth, gave away four of his limited-edition Star Wars-based artworks to children he felt wore the best costumes.
“I picked the people who put the most effort in,” Palencia said.
One of those winners was Genevieve Severson, of Highland, who dressed as Queen Amidala.
Her mother, Dana Severson, said this was their first time at the event. They were invited by her sister, Corey Chambers, of Joliet, who’s attended the past four years.
“It’s grown over the years,” Chambers said. “The kids keep us coming back.”
Palencia also designed the Jedi passes given to attendees and spent most of the day signing them. He said he had signed about 2,000 passes with about an hour left to go in the event.
Festival-goers also made their way across the street to the Joliet Historical Museum to catch a glimpse of Hans Solo frozen in carbonate and pose for pictures with more of the nearly 100 costumed characters.
“It’s like walking with a bunch of action figures,” said Erik Thompson, of Glenview, who was dressed as Grand Admiral Thrawn. “It’s a childhood dream come true.”
It was evident that Thompson and many others put a lot of work into their costumes.
Ted Ruler, of Oswego, said he spent more than 10 hours on his Darth Maul costume and enjoyed posing for hundreds of pictures.
Mike Brick, development director at the museum, said organizers first opened the building for Star Wars Day last year to accommodate the increased number of attendees.
John Hartley, of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, came as a member of the Rebel Legion fan club to demonstrate his lightsaber fighting skills inside the museum.
“I like seeing everybody dressed up,” Harley said. “We’re all here for the same reason.”
He brought his wife and two small children, who also love Star Wars.
The festival is designed to attract attention to the library and its extensive collection of Star Wars books, Burns said.
The parade was new this year, and Burns said he’d like to bring it back next year along with other new events, although nothing has been finalized.