This incongruous juxtaposition is what fuels my interest for the remainder of the day. Just like it amused me to think about a pack of Storm Troopers emerge from their Honda Pilot earlier, I latch onto how entertaining it is to watch these fictional characters against the backdrop of real life. I snicker when Rylo Ken pulls off his elaborate helmet back in the Hall of Valor and shakes sweat out of his hair. “I’m done. I’m going to de-kit and eat the fuck out of some lunch.”
The rest of the players agree, which makes me happy, not only because my own stomach is grumbling, but I’m giddy at the thought of seeing these grown-ass men and women in full costumes sitting at a cafeteria table pushing chicken nuggets through their masks. Nick told me earlier he usually doesn’t eat at events unless he has to because it ruins his makeup. The only way he can consume a meal is to cut it up into tiny pieces and chew delicately. But the need for sustenance is real, and Nick asks me to find the event coordinator to secure us some meal vouchers.
I find the man out in the main lobby, a purple Star Wars tie resting against his generous gut.
“Hi,” I say, “I hear you’re the man with the meal vouchers? Darth Maul needs to eat.”
“You’re here with Maul?” he asks, his eyes widening like an excited kid.
He holds out two yellow meal vouchers, but pulls them away just as I move to take them. “Let me ask you something.”
Oh fuck. I know what’s coming. This guy is about to ask me a shitload of super-esoteric questions that are less about seeking answers and more about him flexing his own knowledge to prove to me how much he knows about Star Wars.
It’s common macho behavior, one I’ve seen played out before in other various settings. At the guitar store where I worked after college, dudes would ask me about the type of wire used in electric guitar pickups or the neck angle of various models. Beer nerds at the brewery love asking about hop strains and malt bills, as though the beta acid content of our west coast IPA is really going to determine whether or not they buy a $7 pint of fucking beer. It’s one big dick measuring contest where the question asker doesn’t want to know; he just wants you to know he knows.
I can hold my own with guitars and beer, but as I watch this rotund keeper of the food vouchers wind up to ask his pissing contest question, I knew I was going to be way out of my depth.
“Maul the only character that has a Saberstaff, right?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“But Pong Krell also has a Saberstaff in The Clone Wars series. Is that because he took Darth Maul’s Saberstaff?”
His face lights up. “See, that’s what I thought too, but my friends disagreed, because Pong Krell has a green Saberstaff and Maul has a red one. But I told him I think Pong Krell probably just retrofitted Maul’s Saberstaff with green blades because Jedis rarely use red blades.”
“Right on,” I say. “That’s totally possible.”
I know this exchange seems like an embellishment, but I assure you, it’s an accurate transcript. This mature adult, who looks like he could work in the cubicle next to yours and always remembers to send you an email on your birthday, has theorieson where a fucking CARTOON CHARACTER got his animated weapon.
I think I’m in the clear and have sufficiently faked my way through our exchange, but dude still clutches our meal vouchers against his gut like they’re nuclear launch codes.
“Tell me,” he says, his voice lowering to almost a whisper, his eyes dancing with fantasies of gaining top secret Darth Maul intel from a guy wearing a Star Wars t-shirt purchased at Target no more than 48 hours prior. “What happened at the end of Solo?”
Shit. I can navigate around yes/no questions with some wordsmithing, but this is a question of the open-ended variety. I mean, I know Han Solo; I’m vaguely aware there was a movie that came out about him entitled Solo; I assume Chewbacca is a supporting character; I also assume that, because this guy for some reason thinks I’m a Darth Maul expert, my answer should relate to Darth Maul. But really, that’s all I got.
“Oh, ha ha,” I say. “Pretty crazy ending, right?”
“Is Maul dead or what?” he asks.
“Uh…” I again fix my eyes on the yellow meal tickets in the death grip of my conversational captor.
Thankfully, Nick, curious as to what the hell is taking so long, comes to my rescue. “You should ask this guy,” I say, breathing a sigh of relief. “He knows way better than I do.”
Meal Voucher Dude repeats his question, and Nick launches into this two-minute dissertation on various Darth Maul death theories, incorporating various clues from movies and offering evidence from the Saga’s timeline. At this point I’m so overwhelmed I don’t bother following, but it seems to be a sufficient answer, because dude loosens his death grip on our meal vouchers and places them into Nick’s gloved hand.
I must be visibly winded from my exchange, because Nick looks over at me as we walk toward the Hall of Valor and goes “are you okay?”
“Yeah, I just…let’s eat,” I say.