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Force for Change Winner's Trip to Star Wars Celebration

May 25, 1977 was the day it all started for me. I was 12 years old and saw Star Wars for the first time – I had not seen anything like it. When that Star Destroyer came onto the big screen I was hooked. I saw every movie, cartoon, and read every novel. I collected anything and everything Star Wars, from vintage figures to ships, comics, autographs, you name it. I would mow lawns and clean yards to make money to buy Star Wars figures. One day after school, I saw people dressed as Star Wars characters and was inspired to join in the fun. Shortly thereafter, I joined the 501st Legion, then the Rebel Legion, and then the Mandalorian Mercs costuming clubs. I loved everything about these groups and felt like it was a place I belonged. I especially loved all of the charity work they did to give back to the community.

The most recent charitable event we participated in was the Star Wars: Force for Change CrowdRise campaign. This was a month-long campaign that ended on Star Wars Day, May the 4th. You had the option to donate to one of four charities (Make-A-Wish America, American Red Cross, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, and Boys & Girls Clubs of America) and over $2.2 million was raised in total! One of the prizes throughout the campaign was a chance to go to Star Wars Celebration Europe (one of the most coveted events for a Star Wars fan) and meet Luke Skywalker himself! Shortly after the campaign ended, I received a call informing me that I had won! At first, I didn’t believe it – the caller spent about 10 minutes convincing me that it wasn’t a prank. I have never won anything in my life, so going to Star Wars Celebration Europe to meet (and hang out with) Mark Hamill was a shock, to say the least.

After that, the waiting began. It seemed like July would never come.  Finally, on July 14th we packed our bags and boarded a nonstop flight to London.  We arrived on the 15th, for what would become the biggest day of my life. Well… the second biggest day. 27 years ago, on July 15th, I married my soulmate Anita. So… July 15th is an amazing day, to say the least.

We arrived to our hotel to freshen up and then walked to the convention center where we were greeted by a Lucasfilm employee. We were then escorted to Mark Hamill’s panel where there were two seats in the front row reserved for us.  My wife and I were so nervous and excited to meet him! After Mark’s amazing panel, we were taken backstage to his dressing room (“green room” as all the Lucasfilm employees were calling it). We knocked quietly at the door, trying to contain our excitement. The door finally swung open after what felt like minutes, but in reality was probably only a couple of seconds. Mark Hamill was greeting us at his dressing room door!!  He shook our hands as we were introduced, and I was in awe. He was so friendly and down to earth.

We chatted for a while and played catch with his dog Millie. Mark was such a wonderful host. We talked for a few minutes, took some pictures, and he signed some things that I brought with me. He also wished my wife and I a happy anniversary, which was the icing on the cake. It was truly one of the most amazing days of my life. To meet my idol and discover that he is such down to earth and kind person was truly a wonderful experience.

I want to thank Lucasfilm and Star Wars: Force for Change for this great opportunity and Mark Hamill for being an incredibly gracious host. Thanks also to the UK Garrison for providing tickets to the bash and to the 501st Legion Command, who do so much for their communities while bringing the joy of Star Wars to people around the world. And finally I want to thank my wife Anita, who has been at my side trooping for over 11 years now. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget!

     Written by: Joseph Perez