GILLETTE, Wyo. — Zach Reed has an allegiance to the dark side.

It’s almost not his fault, but his grandfather’s.

When Reed was 2 years old in 2002, his grandfather took him to see “Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones.”

Among the legion of “Star Wars” fanatics and casual fans, “Episode II” is widely known as one of the weaker stories of the intergalactic saga that director and writer George Lucas gifted to all nerd kind.

The plot tells a love story between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. Their forbidden romance is a main story line throughout the film. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan Kenobi investigates an assassination attempt on Padme and discovers a secret clone army created to eradicate the Jedi.

The way Reed sees it, it’s a crime thriller led by a private investigator who happens to wield a lightsaber.

The other reason he loves it is because in “Episode II” he was introduced to Jango Fett, his favorite character from the “Star Wars” universe.

Fett is a human bounty hunter, known as the best in the galaxy, who came into his own during the Clone Wars. In fact, it’s his DNA that was used to create the clone army.

Ever since Reed was 2 and received his first Jango Fett toy, he has felt a strong pull from the dark side.

In the 15 years since, his obsession with the “Star Wars” universe has grown.

STARTING YOUNG

Reed said his passion for “Star Wars” began early and really hasn’t flagged since.

His uncle, Alex Bredthauer, was the other “Star Wars” geek in his life and introduced Reed to the world of collecting once he was a little older.

His collection started as many do, with a few action figures here and some costumes there.

As the years went on, the collection grew from a few dozen items to hundreds, then thousands.

With the help of his mom Amy and uncle Alex, Reed would scour the shelves at Walmart, Toys R Us, Walgreens, Target and any store that would sell exclusive items in their stores only.

“Growing up with it and being introduced to everything by my grandfather and uncle, I just became immersed in it,” Reed said.

Now 17, Reed is a student at Westwood High School. The second “Star Wars” movie to come out during his lifetime was 2005’s “Episode III Revenge of the Sith.”

It’s widely considered the darkest film in the “Star Wars” saga, culminating in the conversion of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side and his transformation into Darth Vader.

By the time Reed was 6, “Star Wars” had grown to six movies — the first trilogy then the prequels. In addition to the films, he got his hands on any and all spinoff stories from books, TV series, video games and comic books.

He read about the vast universe from a number of authors, watched hours of animated television and learned as much as he could from any outlet he could get his hands on.

In 2012, his collecting ratcheted up when he discovered the possibilities of collecting aided by the internet. He started to search for rare items on eBay, Amazon and other websites to add to his collection.

That is what helped him find some of his most prized possessions, including original action figures from 1977 when the first “Star Wars” movie was released.

Reed can’t quite put a total value on his entire collection, especially when some of the toys he has are in boxes and some aren’t.

He says it’s pretty much priceless to him.

If the original figurines from 1977 were in boxes, he said the whole collection is worth upward of $12,000.

His collection includes an R2-D2 model that rolls around on command, a full storm trooper costume, thousands of figurines in boxes that have been kept in mint condition, a collection of limited-edition stamps and two signed photos from the actors who played Darth Vader and his favorite character, Jango Fett.

He bid on the former, which was signed by actor Temuera Morrison. The second he received by simply sending a Facebook message to actor David Prowse.

Being a younger generation fan, Reed admitted that it’s hard for kids his age who didn’t grow up with the original “Star Wars” trilogy to fully understand its attraction.

Instead, he said he geeks out with teachers at school like Paul Stevens, who has a small collection of figures in his room at Westwood.

But Reed said he has cousins he hopes to pass his on his “Star Wars” legacy to, just like his Uncle Alex did for him.

SPANNING GENERATIONS

Bill Fulmer remembers seeing his first “Star Wars” film, “The Empire Strikes Back,” when he was 6.

What stood out was the opening scene on the ice planet Hoth.

Fulmer, a Gillette-native, took a liking to the scene because it involved Luke Skywalker battling both a killer beast and something Fulmer knew a lot about: snow.

“Growing up in Wyoming, I could relate to that,” he said.

So much so that when he got older and started collecting “Star Wars” action figures, he would play with winter storm troopers out in the yard, lose them in the white snow and only find them again in the spring when the snow melted.

For Fulmer, growing up in the 1980s meant you were taken over by “Star Wars” one way or another.

“It’s just what we all did. We grew up with it,” he said. “In the ’80s it was all over the place from Darth Vader toothbrushes to Yoda lunchboxes.”

Fulmer remembers playing “Star Wars” during recess at school. One group would be the Sith Lords, the other the Jedi Knights.

Even now, in his early 40s, Fulmer said he understands why “Star Wars” has resonated with so many people around the world.

“It’s the motifs,” he said. “It’s the ability for people to recognize the idea of good versus evil. It’s the morality of it all. It can connect anyone no matter where you’re from.”

Fulmer realized later in life the major similarities that Lucas’ “Star Wars” universe has with world history. How the filmmaker connected dots with the Rebellion and the Republic with the Allies and Axis during World War II.

“It was also a story that anyone could relate to,” he said. “There’s action, comedy, it’s not too violent so a 60-year-old and a 6-year-old could enjoy it.”

Fulmer’s collection includes lightsabers made by Master Replicas, five different storm trooper helmets, thousands of figurines that would take days to set up, Han Solo’s blaster and a battery-operated thermal detonator from Episode V.

THE FUTURE OF ‘STAR WARS’

Fulmer’s collection is more than a bunch of stuff that has piled up for 34 years. He and his wife Marlou’s only daughter is 10 years old.

Her name is Mara Jade, after a Jedi Knight who never made an appearance in the movies but is a prominent character in “Star Wars” books.

One day Fulmer plans to sell his collection to help pay for Mara Jade’s college tuition.

As for Reed, he doesn’t know what will happen to his collection down the road. It’s still growing, and with new movies coming out there will be new merchandise to hunt down and find.

Both local super fans are a little tentative to rave about the new trilogy.

Fulmer, like many fans, believes “The Force Awakens,” the seventh movie in the series, was a loose reboot of the original 1977 “Star Wars” that started it all. Reed is more upset that when Disney bought the rights to the “Star Wars” franchise, it erased the history the books created and started fresh.

“I’m keeping an open mind to it,” Fulmer said, adding he’s looking forward to the official release of the latest “Star Wars” film, “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.”

No matter the case, these two longtime fans, and millions around the world, still feel the force is with them.


Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com