The Force is strong in Oxford

Published 12:00 pm Friday, December 18, 2015

Kenny Graeber, 43, remembers the first time he saw a Star Wars movie at the old Capri theater in Jackson. He also has a funny Star Wars memory that his parents will never let him forget.

“I had asked for the Death Star,” he said, “and dad and mom, back in the day, spent all night putting it together, and putting on all the ridiculous stickers that came with it.

“The next morning, I walked into the den, saw the Death Star, and told them one of the stickers on it was upside down.

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“My mom said she had to hold my dad back from killing me,” he laughed. “It had taken them likely three hours to put it together, and I found the one sticker that was upside down, of course.”

This weekend, Graeber is just one Oxford resident who will be attending the opening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

“Half the crew I run with, have had the countdown for the movie on their Facebook,” said Graeber, adding that “The Empire Strikes Back” is his favorite Star Wars movie. He also celebrated his 40th birthday with a Star Wars-themed party.

What has Graeber learned from Star Wars: “I guess the first thing that comes to mind — like what you like, and love what you love, and if people laugh at you and make fun of you . . . whatever. It turns out that 35 years later, everybody likes it as much as me and my crew did.”

Theater rules

Lt. Hildon Sessums of the Oxford Police Department said the Malco theater posted a sign outlining what Star Wars fans shouldn’t bring to the theater. The police department posted the message on Facebook.

“We thought we would pass it on,” said Sessums. “It said ‘Guests are welcome to come dressed in costumes, but please don’t make a Wookie mistake.

“Face coverings, masks and/or face paint, as well as simulated weapons, including light sabers and blasters are not permitted in the building. The chief just wanted to pass along that there will be extra patrol at the movie.”

Ocean Springs native Greg Earnest, 37, a math instructor at Northwest Mississippi Community College, has been a Star Wars fan since childhood.

“My first time seeing a Star Wars film was on BetaMax tapes,” he said. “I was really young when I first watched them, so I can’t remember exactly what that experience was like.

“My dad recorded Episode IV and V from cable, and my brother and I watched and rewatched those tapes many many times. Then I got to see Episode VI in the theater, and that was pretty amazing.

“We never tired of those movies, and they inspired many a broomstick/lightsaber battle in the backyard.”

Fond memories

Earnest said “The Empire Strikes Back” is his favorite Star Wars movie thus far because of the epic lightsaber battle.

“Now as an adult, I can appreciate that movie for its storytelling and visual effects,” he said, “but I still get chills when Luke shows up in the carbonite freezing chamber and Darth Vader talks to him for the first time.”

Earnest said he’s excited to see “The Force Awakens.”

“There are a lot of reasons why I’m excited,” he said, “but the main one is that Lawrence Kasdan helped write it, and he was the reason ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ was so good.”

What did Earnest learn from Star Wars: “I learned that hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.”

Ocean Springs native Meaghin Burke, 37, who is married to Earnest, is also excited about the new Star Wars film.

Burke, who has lived in Oxford for 19 years, said she and her brother didn’t agree very often on entertainment, but both loved Star Wars.

“I remember one summer where we watched the entire trilogy every day,” she said. “And then we had lightsaber fights with broom handles.”

Burke said she didn’t own a lot of Star Wars merchandise, but she did buy action figures in the mid-1990s.

Like the others, Burke said “The Empire Strikes Back” is also her favorite Star Wars film, because she was lucky enough to meet the director, Irvin Kirshner.

“I am beyond excited,” she said. “It looks like Disney has hired directors and writers who really understand the tone of the original trilogy.”

What has Burke learned from Star Wars:  “Do or do not. There is no try.”

About LaReeca Rucker

LaReeca Rucker is a writer, reporter and adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

A veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she spent a decade at the Gannett-owned Clarion-Ledger - Mississippi's largest daily newspaper - covering stories about crime, city government, civil rights, social justice, religion, art, culture and entertainment for the paper's print and web editions. She was also a USA Today contributor.

This year, she received a first place award from the Mississippi Press Association for “Best In-Depth Investigative Reporting.” The story written in 2014 for The Oxford Eagle chronicles the life of a young mother with two sons who have epilepsy, and details how she is patiently hoping legalized cannabis oil experimentation will lead to a cure for their disorder.

Her website is

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