If you’ve ever walked through Main Building or by the Daskalakis Athletic Center at night, you’ve probably noticed the Dragon Jedi Club's practices. It’s hard to forget the sight of students fighting with glowing lightsabers, especially if you’ve seen them practice in the dark outdoors.
As the name of the student organization suggests, Drexel’s Dragon Jedi Club creates and stages “Star Wars”-style performances, or “fights,” using lightsabers and combat choreography. The club members also develop original characters and design their own costumes for performances, which are held on campus, at local conventions and in the Philadelphia area.
“The purpose of the organization is to give back to the community through costumed performances and appearances while also teaching leadership skills, teamwork and unity,” said Steven Fox, president and co-founder of the organization and a junior computer science major in the College of Computing and Informatics.
During the organization’s training sessions, members practice choreography sequences, using a system of numbers and letters that correspond to different attack patterns. The students also practice basic technique, kata (a sequence of techniques against multiple imaginary opponents), falling and rolling safely, using “the Force,” hand-to-hand combat, lightsaber forms, and “awesome ways to die,” according to Fox.
The group isn’t just playing around in costumes. After every fight practice, the members demonstrate their work and give and receive criticism to improve their performance. More seasoned members usually work with beginner members.
“Learning to take criticism to refine one's self and become better is a critical skill, and that skill doesn't fade simply because you're no longer holding a saber,” said Fox. “Similarly, teaching a new student helps the teacher learn how to communicate effectively to achieve desired results.”
Beginners learn the basics and build control with the saber by training with "boffers" constructed from PVC pipe, pipe insulation and tape (for color). Once they’ve mastered the boffer, members move on to using “real” sabers in both practices and performances. The sabers consist of a stylized aluminum pipe with LED and a trigger button, along with a polycarbonate tube acting as the blade.
Dragon Jedi usually doesn’t compete against other organizations, but it does meet with fellow Jedi clubs at local conventions.
“We usually team up with Cap City Jedi, and we'll both attend Amazicon together. Wizard World Philly is another big convention where members of several other saber wars organizations (NY Jedi, Cap City, Baltimore Jedi) meet to perform, network, exchange techniques and ideas and generally have a lot of fun,” he said.
Last year, Dragon Jedi presented an 18-minute performance at its first convention, KotoriCon, in Gloucester, N.J. At this year’s convention the group put on a 20-minute performance along with its first-ever panel discussion. During the annual two-day anime convention, which was centered on fantasy this year, the Drexel students answered questions about how to build a costume and create new characters.
“Is he more like Batman, someone who does good, but follows his own rules? Or perhaps like the Joker, someone completely evil who creates chaos for the sake of chaos?” Fox explained.
One character that Fox created and used was Jacen Stone, a character who served as a Green Lantern in the DC Comics universe.
“To make a long story short, through poor decision making on his part and others’, Jacen was banished to another dimension and found himself stripped of his Lantern powers in the ‘Star Wars’ universe. Fortunately, he happened to fall into the lap of an exiled Jedi who, sensing a Force sensitivity within him, took him on as his pupil. Now, having completed his training, Jacen travels the galaxy trying to do good and regain the honorable status he once held,” Fox explained.
Once a character is created, the students begin making their costume. Most students make their own costumes by purchasing and assembling clothing and accessories. Fox bought a costume online consisting of a tunic and tabards, two symmetrical pieces of cloth hanging from the waist.
Fox and Sam Hardy, a junior chemical engineering major in the College of Engineering, founded the organization in the winter of 2012. It now has 15-20 students who are actively involved in performances and events.
Members of the Dragon Jedi club acted and performed in a fan film, “Star Wars: Trial of the Spirit,” that will be completed sometime this summer.
Videos of past Dragon Jedi performances can be viewed on the group’s YouTube page.
Look out for information on its performances, appearances and shows on its Facebook page. Interested students, including those with little or no experience, can contact DragonJedi00@gmail.com for more information.