Galaxy far, far away brings slice of home to Afghanistan for holidays
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 23, 2017
KABUL, Afghanistan — Pirated copies of the latest Star Wars installment were available here more than a week ago, but for die-hard fans at a coalition base at Kabul’s airport, it wouldn’t be the same as seeing it on the big screen — even if that big screen is the size of a chapel altar.
A crowd of servicemembers stood in line for nearly two hours on the eve of Christmas Eve to see the first evening showing of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” on Saturday. The film played at the base community center, which is also a chapel.
“A fitting place for an epic battle between good and evil,” said Lt. j.g. Ryan Slattery, a member of the base’s psychological operations task force, on the way to the chapel.
Air Force Capt. Madison Scaccia was first in line for the show, dressed as Rey, the female hero of the latest episodes. Her costume was pulled together from issued gear — long johns, boots, a rigger’s belt — plus a hand-sewn swatch of cloth she picked up at the base bazaar.
“I’m always fighting the Sith,” she said, referring to the Star Wars galaxy’s villains. Scaccia, a logistics adviser to the Afghan military, said she hoped the film would portray Carrie Fisher as a “badass” in her final performance as princess-turned-general Leia Organa.
“She’s been a strong woman for the last 40 years, and I want to [see] that in her last movie she stays that way.”
Maj. Patrick Currie, who was fifth in line, dressed as Han Solo’s copilot in a Chewbacca outfit his wife sent him for his birthday. A C-208 instructor pilot, he came to the show after copiloting a flight earlier that day. He hoped the new episode would answer questions such as “who she really is,” he said, pointing to Scaccia-as-Rey.
True fans like Scaccia and Currie began queuing nearly two hours before the evening show. Demand was so high, AAFES officials added extra showtimes and the chapel added 50 extra seats to the auditorium.
Bill Ripley, general manager for AAFES in Afghanistan, and Sean Childers, the exchange manager at Bagram, had escorted the Disney-provided Star Wars screener disc “like the nuclear codes,” said Chaplain Chris Conklin, who was wearing a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer onesie with a Star Wars-themed Christmas sweater over it. A special code was needed to unlock the disc.
Ripley and Childers kept audiences entertained before each showing with Star Wars trivia questions — a right answer earned a limited-edition challenge coin.
Unlike last year’s screening of the Star Wars movie “Rogue One,” which was only shown in Bagram, Disney allowed enough time for the latest film to be screened at forward operating bases Bagram, Fenty, Kandahar and Dwyer, with packed houses at each. After the screenings at the airport base, a Christmas Eve screening would be offered at another Kabul base.
“The smaller camps are more appreciative,” Ripley said. “They have few options for entertainment.”
In the back of the room, Chief Master Sgt. Orin Johnson popped popcorn, adding a dash of minced jalapeno to the kernels for kick, and filled bowls for movie-goers, as he does for every movie night.
“I’m passing out a little goodwill,” he said.
The chapel provided pizza, candy and sodas for the troops, too.
“It gets their minds off being here for Christmas,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher O’Neil, the chaplain’s assistant.