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Wounded Warriors and Star Wars: May the 4th Be with You

Army veteran and pop culture podcaster Michael Carrasquillo shows his passion for Star Wars.
Army veteran and pop culture podcaster Michael Carrasquillo shows his passion for Star Wars.

The Force is strong with these warriors.

Star Wars fans are a dedicated, loyal, and devoted bunch, and that includes quite a few Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) warriors.

WWP helps post-9/11 veterans with benefits, mental health programs, physical wellness, financial education, career counseling, and many other programs and services, but did you know WWP also organizes plenty of activities to help warriors and family members engage with each other?

Some of the connection events organized by WWP include a night at the symphony honoring the music of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and Star Wars virtual trivia. More than 200 warriors and family members signed up to visit a galaxy far, far away – or wherever their computer is – to take part in a recent virtual trivia event and test their Star Wars knowledge.

For example, when it comes to robots, most people know R2-D2 and C-3PO, but do you know Skippy, the Jedi droid?

For Army veteran Brent Whitten, it’s one of the best – and the most underrated – characters in the galaxy.

“He’s kind of the background character who makes a sacrifice that most people don’t notice, but helps the greater good,” Brent said. “He's dutiful, and he has integrity. He acts honorably. He cares about people, but also the mission, and has a code he lives by and does right thing. Of all the characters, he’s had the most turmoil, but he never turned bad despite it all.”

Why We Love Star Wars

It’s not only the great character development that draws some warriors to Star Wars, but the battle of good vs. evil also resonates.

“I've always been a right and wrong type of guy,” Marine Corps veteran Bill Hansen said. “I remember seeing it in 1977. My dad took me to the movie theater to see it and it’s the good guy and the bad guy and sacrifice and the spirituality of listening within yourself. I thought that was extremely cool. And obviously growing up, Han Solo was super cool.”

The nostalgia also plays a big role for warriors when it comes to the franchise.

“I have a lot of Marvel things and Disney things; I grew up on all that stuff,” Army veteran Michael Carrasquillo said. “So, while my earliest memories are more based around comic books and cartoons and things like that, once I got to a certain age, Star Wars became the next avenue to exploring science fiction. So, when Star Wars crossed my path, going back to the original three, I watched them, and I loved them. I was blown away because it was different from anything I'd seen to that point.”

For Brent, one of his best memories was scoring a hard-to-get ticket for Episode 1: The Phantom Menace on opening night in 1999. He had resolved that he would have to wait to see it when a family friend called to say he had an extra ticket to the midnight showing.

“I ran around the house, and I was able to skip school the next day and stay up late and watch Star Wars,” Brent said. “It was one of the best days of my life.”

Bill is making sure the love of Star Wars thrives in the Hansen family. His daughters, who range from ages 13 to 32, are also fans and he’s even getting his 15-month-old son interested in the space saga.

“My daughters and I, one of the things that we'll do is whenever any of the movies come out, we have a play date where we go see it,” Bill said. “When the Disney+ stuff came out, we would have watch parties, because my daughters were spread across the country, and now that we could all watch it together, so it's kind of like a family thing.

“I'm an older dad, I think part of the staying power of [Star Wars] is fathers and mothers using their love of Star Wars and passing it down to their children and getting them involved.”

Brent also bonds with his 17-year-old son over their Star Wars fandom.

“It's such a good story, especially the originals and the prequels,” Brent said. “It's going to continue to resonate with people throughout their lives. It’s something you can pass on to your children. Pop cultural stuff like Star Wars is kind of our mythology; they’re our tales that we tell our kids and our families to help motivate them and put their lives in perspective.”

Story of Service and Sacrifice

If there’s something warriors know well, it’s service and sacrifice. While veterans are the real-life heroes, the stories shared in Star Wars often revolve around the Rebellion putting the greater good above themselves.

“It’s about the basic elements – love, courage, sacrifice, dedication,” Bill said. “You're also talking about discipline. When you talk about the code of the Jedi, they have to have discipline, they have to sacrifice, they have to practice their craft. Those are components that are in Star Wars, which is also in military life.”

For some veterans, movies like Star Wars aren’t a way to relive military experiences or conflict, but a way to focus on something fun.

Michael regularly connects with other fans through his podcast, Pop Culture Warrior. The weekly radio show talks all things pop culture, including superheroes, comic books, and, of course, Star Wars. The growing podcast often boasts special guests with ties to some of the newest and biggest things happening in pop culture. One guest was Sam Witwer, who has voiced characters in Star Wars video games, television series and movies, including Darth Maul in The Clone WarsRebels, and Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Michael, who was shot multiple times while serving in an Infantry unit in Afghanistan while pulling another injured Infantryman to safety, said the fun distraction featured in his podcast and movies like Star Wars is paramount to his mental well-being.

“My whole goal is to just have fun and cut loose,” Michael said. “I think that's why I love this stuff so much – Star Wars and Marvel and all these things – because, in that moment, you get to forget your problems. You get to forget that sometimes evil people get away with stuff and bad things happen in the world. Because in this world, everything's great. Everything always turns out the way it should be. So, there's a bit of escapism to it – and I like that.”

Favorite Movies in the Franchise

“My favorite movie would probably be Return of the Jedi. I think the past three [movies] went in a way I didn’t like. Luke Skywalker is a character I've always admired. They kind of did him dirty. They made him into a different character. I would like to see a return to more of a classic Star Wars feel.” — Army veteran Brent Whitten

The Return of the Jedi is probably my favorite of them all because it has everything … the adventure and the fantasy aspect of it. It also has sacrifice where Anakin, at that time, sacrifices himself for his son when Luke is about to get killed by the Emperor.” — Marine Corps veteran Bill Hansen

“I love the turn of Anakin to Darth (in Revenge of the Sith) because it's that moment that shifts us from the prequel to the next three. For somebody who grew up on the original trilogy, to see that moment sets you up to know everything about the events of the future. … I also love Rogue One. It is such a great standalone Star Wars movie that's so pivotal to the overall story. If those events don't happen then obviously the Star Wars events don't happen, but it has nothing to do with Jedi and nothing to do with Luke or Darth Vader or anything like that. It’s actually one of my favorites just from a pure story and storyline.” — Army veteran Michael Carrasquillo

Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, pmoulden@woundedwarriorproject.org, 904.570.7910

About Wounded Warrior Project

Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.

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