In 2005, I went to Orlando, Florida to try to make love to a Jedi. The venue for this conquest was the Florida Extravaganza, a yearly comic book, toy, science fiction, and pop culture convention. At the time, it was one of biggest conventions on the East Coast.
FX, as the locals knew it, brought in B and C-level celebrities to sign autographs for thousands of fanboys. That year, Orli Shoshan—an Israeli supermodel who played the female Jedi, Shaak Ti in the Star Wars prequels—would be in attendance. Childhood fantasy: engaged.
Growing up, I was a huge nerd for comic books, science fiction, and action figures. I even played in competitive Magic the Gathering tournaments. My Goblin King deck, which harnessed fire mana, was a force to be reckoned with.
But above all else was my love for Star Wars. The spaceships were so cool. The alien landscapes inspired my imagination. Plus, the toys were awesome.
I still played with toys as I went through puberty. I talked to my freshman girlfriend on the phone (the first girl to touch my penis, mind you) then get out my X-Men figures and pretend they were fighting each other in my toy WWF wrestling ring. What a time to be alive.
I knew it was time to grow up, and all it took was a comment from my Dad to push me along. As I looked at action figures in a comic shop he said, “Do you really need more toys?” The tone was nonjudgmental but clearly had hours of past worry about my acceptance into society built into it. I knew I didn’t need more toys. I drew a line in the sand and told my childish escapades, “You shall not pass.” (That’s a Lord of the Rings reference, not Star Wars, but you get the point.)
Over the next 3 years I went from a 140-pound Magic the Gathering wizard to a 215-pound, muscle-bound, all-state football player. Between gym workouts and chasing girls, I had no time for Ewoks and Chewbaccas.
Over the next 4 years, I played rugby at the University of Maryland. Between partying and graduating Cum Laude (My name is engraved on a stone fountain on campus. It’s kind of a big deal) I had no time for Millennium Falcons and Death Stars.
After graduation, I continued my march to adulthood. Time to make money. During an interview for a real estate job, my potential boss, Chuck, told me, “I own a mansion, an island and numerous homes I rent out.” To a 21 year-old whose childhood bedroom looked out into a cornfield, Chuck sounded pretty impressive. I wanted a mansion, an island, and other people to pay me rent.
I got the job and was intent on impressing my boss. This was an important task because it also helped me stop thinking about my college girlfriend of five years who just dumped me. It was open houses and listing presentations. I had no time for lightsabers and droids,
Along with being a real estate mogul, I learned that Chuck was also a silent partner in his brother-in-law’s business, the Florida Extravaganza. When my boss invited me to attend FX and help him behind the scenes, It was a no-brainer. Not only was this more quality Chuck-time, but it also presented the opportunity to get over my heartbreak by hooking up with a hot chick from a galaxy far, far away.
Our first night in Orlando, we drove to Chuck’s sister’s home, the site of all the convention planning. As we walked into the home, Chuck mentioned that he had a niece my age. I looked across the room and saw a petite but curvy (in all the right places) girl with beach blonde hair and a firecracker smile. I immediately thought, “Oh crap, Chuck’s niece, Chrissy is hot.”
But I was an adult, and I decided I wasn’t going to risk my professional relationship for a chance to hook up with the boss’s niece. Even if it felt like she could be the Princess Leia to my Han Solo.
My job on Day One of the convention was to pick up the celebrities from the airport and bring them to the hotel. As luck would have it (or maybe the Force would have it) I was in charge of picking up my super model Jedi. As a grown up, I thought I needed to set myself apart from the rabid fanboys. Instead, I portrayed myself as an up-and-coming real estate mogul. As her peer, not a childish fan. We made small talk, with witty and playful banter, like peers do.
Then she hit me with a blast so big I could not recover. She started telling me about her boyfriend. I sat there, stunned like a charred Greedo in the Mos Eisley cantina. It was over before it started. She shot first.
Even in the face of rejection, I enjoyed working the convention. My hidden nerd peeked from the shadows. I ran errands for all types of B and C-level celebrities. I chatted with one of the Imperial Commanders that Darth Vader choked about a hotel he planned to open in England. I counted autograph money for the chick that boned Chevy Chase in the movie Caddie Shack. I brought lunch to the guy that was inside the costume of the Ork that killed Baromir in Lord of the Rings. I got bottled water for the bruiser that (spoiler alert!) saved Danny Ocean at the end of Ocean’s Eleven. I also spent more time with Chrissy, the boss’s niece. We had a definite connection, and I worked hard to maintain my professional composure.
On the final night, the convention hosted a dinner for all the staff volunteers and the celebrities. I hoped to sit next to Ray Park, the martial artist under all the makeup of Darth Maul. I wanted to know what it was like to be one of the very few people to have actually killed Liam Neeson in a movie. (Nobody gets to kill that guy!)
But Chrissy had saved me a seat at her table. As the night continued it became clear that Chrissy was not going to take no for an answer.
The dinner led to an after party at an Orlando night club. I can imagine Stefon from Saturday Night Live explaining the scene, “It’s Orlando’s hottest night club. They’ve got Jabbas dry humping Boba Fetts. They’ve got Pikachus freaking Bulbasaurs. They’ve got Luke back scratchers.”
What’s a Luke back scratcher?
“It’s when an amputee puts a fork where his hand was and scratches your back.”
Chrissy pulled me onto the dance floor and told me she wanted to kiss me. I said that was a bad idea because I worked for her uncle. She said she didn’t care, then laid a kiss on my lips that sent electricity through my body (in a good way, not an Emperor Palpatine way).
We dated off-and-on for the next year. With her, I felt more comfortable to be my true self, the comic book-loving, superhero fan. Much like Anakin fought with the dark and light sides of the Force, I fought with my growing love for Chrissy and my desire to be single.
The next FX convention rolled around, and somehow my boss still had not fired me after hooking up with his niece for a year. At that point, the Dark side was winning. Chrissy and I weren’t together, and she grew tired of waiting for me.
My job, again, was to pick up the celebrities at the airport. My first passengers were two of the stars from a sci-fi TV show I had not watched called Firefly. I only knew Alan Tudyk as the pirate from the movie Dodgeball. His co-star was Summer Glau, whom I would come to learn was the equivalent of a hot Jedi on her show. Again, I tried to have some witty banter.
Me: What TV show are you from?
Alan: It’s a Space Western called Firefly.
Me: So do you get to meet a lot of aliens?
Alan: No, actually there are no aliens on our show.
For the record, I have since became a big fan of the TV show Firefly, and it is embarrassing that I had that interaction with Alan Tudyk. (He became K2SO!)
But I think my lack of knowledge worked as a “neg” to Summer. My disinterest in her body of work made her interested in me. Did she request me to sit at her autograph table with her? Yes. Did she invite me to a private dinner with other celebrities including Timothy Zahn, the writer of many Star Wars novels (Thrawn!)? Yes. Did anything ever happen between me and Summer Glau? No.
As you can imagine, this celebrity interest did not go over well with Chrissy. We had reached a breaking point.
There was no grand cinematic moment when the Light side won. No Death Star exploding. I just knew that I wanted to be with Chrissy. I didn’t need my dad to ask this time. I didn’t need anymore toys.
Looking back on the year, I realized she didn’t care if I was being an “adult” or not. We connected through our love of TV, movies, and all things geeky. She always pushed me to have more fun, regardless if it was silly or childish. Not long after the convention, we became exclusive. (Get it? Like an exclusive toy you get at a convention.)
A year later, we worked one more FX convention together, this time as a couple. It didn’t matter that the guests that year included Kristen Bell, Hayden Panettiere, and Christina Hendricks (she became Joan on Mad Men!) because I was there with my future wife.
Seven years later, I was walking Chrissy and our daughter, Grace through Sullivan’s Toy Shop on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C. As I passed the Star Wars aisle a toy grabbed my eye. It was a figure of Luke Skywalker from The Empire Strikes Back, right after studying with Yoda but before getting his hand chopped off and finding out (spoiler alert!) Death Vader is his father.
For some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about this action figure. Before Christmas I went and bought the figure as a gift to myself. The collection has grown since then.
Maybe I never bagged a sexy Jedi, but I did find the love of my life. Plus I unboxed a lot of Star Wars toys, and Chrissy still loves my inner nerd.