'Star Wars' speed-dating: A three-minute shot at the chance to stop flying Solo

By Alexandra Petri
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 21, 2010; C01

ORLANDO -- Deciding not to wear my inflatable Jabba the Hutt suit was tough. But, I reasoned, I wanted guys to like me for my personality, not just my appearance.

So a week ago, I donned a skirt and "Star Wars" T-shirt and stepped into line with 54 other women at the entrance to a conference room on the third level of the Orange County Convention Center. We were among more than 250 fans of the sci-fi saga who showed up to participate in the first-ever bout of speed-dating at a "Star Wars" convention.

"Star Wars." Speed-dating. Together, they could rule the galaxy. It would be like the Death Star: too big to fail.

Originally scheduled for just two days of the Aug. 12-15 Star Wars Celebration V, the dating event was expanded to another day because of popular demand.

Getting to this room required walking past legions of stormtroopers, dodging roving droids and passing several competing Han Solo-Chewbacca pairs who were trying to avoid being photographed together, like girls wearing the same dress to prom.

The event was hosted by a plump, costumed Anakin Skywalker who went by Giganakin. His real name is Ryan Glitch, 23, of Gorham, N.Y. He had hosted a similar event before at a convention called Dragoncon, but the speed-dating had been unsuccessful, which Glitch attributed to the crowd being too heterogeneous. Darth Vaders wound up across the table from Captain Jack Sparrows.

"If you don't like 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' your date is over," Glitch explained.

Even here, someone had created a minor disturbance by showing up in a "Star Trek" uniform. Rules of geekdom have long specified that coming to a "Star Wars" convention dressed as Captain Kirk or Jean-Luc Picard is the equivalent of showing up at a Marine Corps barbecue dressed as Osama bin Laden (except there are international laws that would restrain the Marines in such cases).

The ages of the speed-dating participants at Celebration V ranged from 18 to 54, but most appeared to be in their mid-20s. The women were, by and large, attractive; most wore street clothes. Of the men, no more than three were openly carrying lightsabers, and in general, they looked less like Jabba the Hutt and more like Luke Skywalker than might have been expected.

"The women who show up are looking for someone to make a connection with," Glitch explained. "Most of the guys are just like, 'I get to talk to a girl! Fabulous!' "

This year marks the 30th anniversary of "The Empire Strikes Back," the second "Star Wars" film, and the first in which a love story features prominently. For many who showed up at the convention to celebrate it, this seemed to be a key part of its appeal; couples wandered the convention floor sporting paired T-shirts with Han and Leia saying, "I love you" and "I know."

'Women are picky'

At the start of the speed-dating session, a Darth Vader appeared and volunteered to stand in the back as "eye candy." In any other context, a man breathing heavily in the back of a speed-dating event would have been politely asked to leave. But we ladies were elated. "I want to speed-date Darth!" someone shouted.

Interactions would last three minutes. No names. No places of residence. No personally identifying information. Usually the conversation came easily. We compared prior conventions. Of course we mainly talked "Star Wars"-- our favorites among all the movies, objections to the prequels -- complimented each other on our costumes and admitted we'd never been speed-dating before.

In any other context, you could never roll up your sleeve to show off your Boba Fett tattoo to score points. But here, nights spent camping outside theaters to await the opening of "The Phantom Menace" ceased to be deal-breakers and became common touchstones. Then the bell rang, and the men moved on.

Everyone went by number. At the end of the event, you could write down your contact information (e-mail or phone number) next to people's numbers as the Force directed you, then wait to see if any prospective date wanted to reach you.

As someone with limited short-term memory and no speed-dating experience, I found that all the numbers blurred together. Was 44 the one who had said that his favorite parts of "Star Wars" were "the aliens and the explosions" and then fell abruptly silent? Or was that 16?

Not everyone found the droids they were looking for. Still, I left the event with a sheet loaded with contact info.

Although the odds for a woman trying to meet men at a "Star Wars" convention might seem exceptional, some still had difficulty.

"Women are picky," Glitch observed. Men, on the other hand, favor the "shotgun method," distributing their contact information indiscriminately to anyone and everyone. (Although some biological imperative might have been at work here, too.) A bikini-sporting Slave Leia was deluged with contact information. The more conservatively dressed women around her didn't fare as well.

Few, however, departed entirely empty-handed. And except for one incident after an earlier session, when a man reportedly lurked in wait outside the room for the woman of his choice and raised security concerns, things went smoothly.

Some hit it off right away. Glitch reported that two couples from dating sessions earlier in the weekend had already pledged themselves in the Star Wars Commitment Chapel. Located downstairs on the main showroom floor, the chapel consisted of a white trellis festooned with pink and white lights. When I visited it, a couple stood before an Obi-Wan Kenobi impersonator who was cramming as many "Star Wars" references as he could into a semblance of wedding vows. ("Remember, in relationships, size matters not." "But fear not, I sense much love in you.")

It was like a slightly more tasteful Elvis chapel, but without the legally binding effect. It even consecrated interspecies relationships. On one of the convention days, a woman committed to her R2 unit.

For many fan couples, the people who order wedding cakes shaped like deceased tauntauns or name their children Luke and Leia, "Star Wars" serves as a common bond. But so far, I haven't mustered the nerve to contact any of the Jedi or Sith lords whose contact info I received.

The Force may have been strong with the host. Glitch, who is single, reported that several female participants had offered him their contact information. Maybe next time he'll wind up at the Commitment Chapel himself.

Until then, if you'd just as soon kiss a Wookiee, he can arrange it.

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