May the 4th be with you

May the 4th is the worldwide day to say “May the Force be with you” in such a way that’s endearing to the date on the calendar.

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - May the 4th is the worldwide day to say “May the Force be with you” in such a way that’s endearing to the date on the calendar.

Instead of “May the Force be with you,” fans of the massively popular movie saga say, “May the Fourth be with you,” as a way of binding the galaxy of Star Wars aficionados together.

According to starwars.com, once the internet allowed fans around the world to connect, May the 4th quickly became a grassroots tradition each year. The idea of May the 4th did not start with LucasFilm, but the film company that created Star Wars has fully embraced the spirit of this special day.

Thanks to the successful launch of a new era of Star Wars, with worldwide acclaim of “The Force Awakens,” coupled with the anticipation of the next movie “Rogue One” which will be released in December 2016, the interest in the space opera is at a fever-pitch, and will likely rise as Disney continues the story through more movies.

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These professional trade in their mouth mirrors and back braces for a fling with the Force.

Some people celebrate their love for Star Wars accumulating collectibles, like the always-popular, retail store toy line.

Others have a different way to show their love for the Force; in particular, two successful married couples from Michigan.

It’s a typical Tuesday at Gladwin Dental Care, PC. Dentists John Henry and Charlotte Grant are each preparing for the day’s clientele. Soon, the waiting room will fill with patients, needing the usual work done on their teeth – crowns, cleanings, fillings and flossing.

“We both went to dental school at the University of Michigan,” Dr. Henry said. “It’s nice that we have our own dental practice together.

The couple married in May of 2000, and eventually opened the dental practice in Gladwin, Michigan, in 2007. In recent years, visitors to this dentistry have been feeling more than a floss or a filling; they likely feel the Force, too.

“I grew up on Star Wars,” Dr. Henry said. “If I see a patient come in and they’re wearing a Star Wars shirt or something like that, I can’t let that go.”

On the wall over the fireplace, inside the waiting room, is a huge portrait featuring several Stormtroopers, which are fictional soldiers in the Star Wars franchise. Strewn about the waiting area are copious options of reading materials, with a Star Wars newspaper or magazine mixed in.

“Those of us who grew up on the original movies, they’re burned into our brains,” said Dr. Grant. “We like sharing our love for Star Wars here at the practice.”

Thirty-five miles southeast in Midland, Michigan, the Dorais Family Chiropractic has also opened its doors for the day for clients. Dr. James Dorais, the owner of the clinic, has been a licensed chiropractor for 20 years, while his wife, Sheryl is a well-known makeup artist in the Midland area.

On this day, a client needed a back adjustment, so Dr. Dorais did his magic, used a little “Force,” and was able to get the client up and moving comfortably again.

Outside the clinic’s adjustment room, the “Force” is a bit stronger.

“Star Wars was the first movie my dad took me to,” said Dr. Dorais. “I remember going to see it again and again, and then sneaking into the theater and sleeping in the theater an entire day to watch it more.”

All over the office walls are pictures of Star Wars.

“I’m not afraid to share my love for these movies with my patients,” said Dr. Dorais. “Often times, Star Wars becomes a great conversation-starter in the office, and I find many of my clients are big fans of the movies, too.”

During the week, John Henry and Charlotte Grant are successful dentists, James Dorais is a successful doctor, and Sheryl Dorais owns Tres Dorais Cosmetics, but come the weekend for these couples, pulling teeth and cracking backs, both take a back seat, to a galaxy far, far away.

They’re all members of the Great Lakes Garrison and Rebel Legion, which are Michigan’s chapters of the 501st Legion – a worldwide Star Wars costuming organization.

The GLG is asked to participate in hundreds of events throughout the state each year. It’s 100% voluntary, and any proceeds raised during the events go directly to charities like Make-A-Wish Foundation, Children’s Miracle Network and Toys for Tots.

In order to join the constantly-growing,139-member club, it’s mandatory that the costumes and props are “canon,” or screen-accurate to exactly how they appeared in the Star Wars movies.

“My favorite character is Chewbacca,” said Dr. Henry. “Being 6’7” already, I thought that would be a great tall-guy costume.

“I thought I could just go buy a costume somewhere, and just show up at events, but after doing some research, I found out that the majority of all the costumes are hand-built by the members.”

Believe it or not, there are actually tutorial websites where you can follow others’ build-progress on these costumes, to ensure you follow the same order of steps required to complete the costume accurately, and hopefully pass the approval process.

“I started gathering all the materials for Chewbacca, and worked on it at home a little bit each day,” said Dr. Henry.

“There are worse ways to have a midlife crisis, I suppose,” said Dr. Grant. “For several months, there were tumbleweeds of fake hair all over the house.

“You’d be walking around, and it would get stuck to my clothes.”

Dr. Grant chose a less messy costume to make.

“I decided to do Ceremonial Princess Leia,” said Grant. “There’s a scene in Star Wars: A New Hope where Han Solo, Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker are receiving medals from Princess Leia, and chose my costume design from that scene.”

Dr. Dorais chose Darth Vader, and his wife Sheryl decided on “traditional” Princess Leia, with the hair-buns.

“My first step was trying to figure out how and where to acquire the parts to a screen-accurate Darth Vader costume,” said Dr. Dorais. “You can’t buy this particular costume in a kit; all the pieces have to be purchased separately.

“My Vader helmet was made by a guy in Colorado; my black leather under-suit was hand-made by a guy in Argentina; the cape was made by a guy in Canada, and the battery-operated chest box came from Germany.

“It took me six months to acquire all the necessary parts for the Vader costume.”

Dr. John Henry says his Chewbacca costume took a year and a half to build.

Once the costumes are built, the next step in the process is getting it approved from the GML (Garrison Membership Liaison), and passing muster is far from easy.

“I sent my approval pictures in, and was immediately rejected,” said Dr. Dorais. “I had the Return of the Jedi Vader, but the blinking-light sequence on my chest box wasn’t from Return of the Jedi.

“The Garrison Membership Liaison noticed this, and refused to approve me until I got a new chest box with the proper Return of the Jedi blinking-light sequence.

“The chest box on Darth Vader has a different blinking-light sequence in The Empire Strikes Back than it does in Return of the Jedi. In the very first Star Wars movie, Vader’s chest box didn’t light up at all.

“This was an excruciating process because I had to get this right.”

Dr. John Henry says he experienced some similar complications during approval for his Chewbacca costume.
“You must be 7 foot tall to be Chewbacca,” said Dr. Henry. “I had to create stilts that lifted me up to exactly the correct height.

“Chewbacca’s hair color must be movie-accurate, and so does the bandolier (the over-the-shoulder belt Chewbacca wore that held ammunition for his crossbow).”

Eventually, all four of the costumes (Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Ceremonial Princess Leia and Traditional Princess Leia) would receive the proper modifications, would pass the intense scrutinization process, and would be admitted into the club.

“The moment I finally got approved, I felt like I had won the lottery,” said Dr. Dorais, jokingly.

Once approval is met, members can begin signing up for events to “troop” or participate at in costume.

“We get so many requests for every day of the week that there’s just simply no way we can do all of them,” said Dr. Grant. “From birthday parties, to concerts, conventions, emotional hospital visits to sporting events, we are asked to troop them all.”

For Jim and Sheryl Dorais, being involved in this organization not only fulfills their love for the Star Wars movies, but it also allows them to fill a void in their lives.

“We don’t have children in our marriage of 27 years,” said Sheryl. “Being able to do this allows us to put kids into our lives.

“We knew bringing smiles to children’s faces was something we just needed to do.”

When costumers arrive at the events, it often takes 20-30 minutes to get into their costumes. For the majority of the costumers who wear helmets or masks (like Darth Vader and Chewbacca), there are battery-operated fans inside the headwear that blow air on the costumers to keep them cool and keep them from sweating.

Once the costumes are on, and you walk out of the changing room, the payoff is more than worth it.

“The people, especially the children, just swarm,” said Dr. Henry.

“It’s like becoming Brad Pitt for an hour,” added Dr. Dorais.

Events like the Grand Rapids Griffins, West Michigan Whitecaps, Detroit Tigers and Motor City Comic Con, regularly draw 30 to 50 approved Star Wars costumers from all over the state, including groups who choose to participate from surrounding states like Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

“Chewbacca is a total magnet,” said Dr. Grant.

Lines to meet and get selfies with the characters often times can be endless, especially with the “core” characters like Chewbacca, Darth Vader and Princess Leia.

“When I have my gear on, I’m about 7’2”, and it’s very imposing,” said Dr. Dorais. “So the kids come up to me, and sometimes they’ll look up and drop their bucket of popcorn.”

“One little girl came racing over to me, grabbed onto my leg, and said, ‘I love you Princess Leia; I’ve waited to see you all day,’” said Sheryl Dorais. “Then I looked down at her, and tears started to well up in my eyes, and I said, ‘I love you, too, honey.’”

At several Great Lakes Garrison events throughout the state, one of the club members brings his portable photography studio and provides a green-screen backdrop, complete with several different Star Wars backgrounds that fans can choose from to have superimposed into their photo. Patrons can pay between $5 and $10 to have their picture taken with the characters against the backdrop, with 100% of the proceeds raised going to a charity of choice.

When the event is over, roll is taken by one of the event coordinators. The list of names, and costumes used, is then sent off to the GML, who will then make sure each member who trooped that particular event gets credit.

Given the deep passion for Star Wars that’s obviously evident with these couples, maybe Tuesdays at the Gladwin Dental Care, PC, and at the Dorais Family Chiropractic in Midland, aren’t so typical after all, because the “Force” is awakened at both.

“A lot of it is the community and hanging out with friends,” said Dr. Grant. “It’s all about having fun with a group of people who are passionate about being geeks.”

If you know of a story that would make a great topic for “Our Michigan Life”, please send an email to: life@wzzm13.com.

Our Michigan Life airs weeknights on WZZM 13 News at 6.

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