ESCONDIDO — The force has awakened throughout the county, and strong it is.
With the return of the “Star Wars” saga to theaters recently, fans are bringing the stories from a galaxy far, far away closer and closer to home.
On a Friday evening in Escondido’s Kit Carson Park, Genevieve Edge was walking her class through a series of moves that looked as though they were performing a martial arts routine — but except for one thing: They all had lightsabers — well, actually not this time.
Usually they train with lightsaber weapons, Edge explained, but this time they were using PVC pipes about 5-feet long and wrapped half way with black tape.
On the nights they do use the sabers, though, which light up and make sounds, the group tends to gain a lot of attention.
Edge, an Escondido resident, said she’s been seeing a huge influx of people becoming interested in lightsabers, something she credits to the new “Star Wars” movies coming out, beginning with last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” It was the first film out of the franchise since 1999.
Edge is the founder of the Escondido chapter of the Lightsaber Team. The class ranges in size from three to four lightsaber enthusiasts, but having formed just a few months ago, they’re hoping membership starts to grow.
The Lightsaber Team began back in Riverside five years ago with its founder John-Michael Arias wanting to combine a “work-out, socialization and a more healthy ‘nerd’ activity alternative to video games,” Arias said in an email.
There are five official Lightsaber Teams around the state, including Inland Empire, Silicon Valley, Santa Rosa, Sacramento and Escondido.
Arias said they’re looking to start teams in Santa Cruz and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“Lightsaber Team is not for everyone,” Edge said. Based primarily in fitness, Edge explained, they don’t train members for combat as some other groups and clubs do.
“We don’t do sparring. We don’t do full combat,” said Edge. “Everything we do is choreography.”
For sparring and full lightsaber combat, that’s where Nick Murico comes in.
Last year, Murico, a “huge Star Wars fan,” began hosting the Underground Lightsaber Fighters (ULF).
The ULF got its start, he explained, piggybacking off of a one-time lightsaber gathering for fans meant as a promotional event coinciding with the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” last December.
“I invited some people to come keep playing with lightsabers and it just exploded,” Murico said. “And now there are a couple hundred of us.”
The meet up is monthly and takes place in a portion of Balboa Park.
The ULF is family-friendly, he said, and its meet ups are often attended by coplayers and people of all ages. And while some are there to see hundreds of fellow lightsaber enthusiasts gather, others take it more seriously.
Case in point: the ULF has its own top nine “best combat tested fighters,” all of whom come from martial arts backgrounds, Murico explained.
“All of those top nine fighters they have some kind of background,” Murico said. “Some of them are former fencers, and their martial arts all meet with their fandom of ‘Star Wars,’” he said
Though not one of the top nine, Murico, 28, is a former fencer — something he picked up 10 years ago while at college. Other things he lists to his background: archery, cage fighting, firearm instructor and instructor at the Lionheart Academy in El Cajon.
Murico, who is a security professional for his main line of work, was featured in a channel 10News report, credited with preventing a woman from being sexually assaulted back in February 2012.
Still, Murico is very surprised by how much the event has taken off and seemingly grown overnight.
“I thought I was going to make five or six new friends who liked lightsabers,” Murico said. “And then there was 200 people who attended the first event and confirmed going (on the Facebook page) within a week.”
Murico does take part in the lightsaber battles, too.
“It doesn’t matter what color lightsaber you have, it’s like, ‘Hey, you want to fight?’ And then they go at it,” Murico said.
Most do wear safety equipment, especially those that take it seriously. Murico said those that do, wear fencing masks and lacrosse gloves apart from other armor they might have.
Their group isn’t affiliated with Lucasfilm Ltd.
Back in Escondido, the big news the Lightsaber Team recently received was that they are now officially recognized by Lucasfilms Ltd.
That means they have to follow strict guidelines such as no training of young Padawans (those under the age of 18).
But they now have access to a library of Jedi styles from the Lucasfilm Ltd., archives from which to learn new choreographies, and they can officially use the lexicon of terms from the “Star Wars” universe.
One caveat though, they can’t use the “Star Wars” brand to make money off of it.
Edge said that they’re not looking to make money.
“Our end goal is to basically do choreographies and present them to people. But we want choreographies that are done with sabers that are different — the ones that you don’t see very much.”
The Lightsaber Team, Escondido meets at Kit Carson Park on Fridays from 6 to 8 p.m. Information can be found on their Facebook page. The next Underground Lightsaber Fighters meet up takes place Aug. 24 at 8 p.m. in Balboa Park. More information is available online at ulfsandiego.com.