The force is strong at mayor's movie night

Mayor Rick Rodriguez at his first “Movie with the Mayor” event last Saturday. Photo by Lorine Parks

Mayor Rick Rodriguez at his first “Movie with the Mayor” event last Saturday. Photo by Lorine Parks


A balmy Downey summer night, pink twilight and the twinkle of aircraft as they descended silently toward LAX.

“We thought, an epic space movie, what a great way to bring our community together and celebrate an evening outdoors with the families,” said Downey Mayor Rick Rodriguez.

“What better way to learn more about Downey’s rich space history and have fun doing it in the process,” added the mayor. “The grass lawn of the Space Center makes a great area for showing movies, and it’s ideal for families to relax. A place for kids and parents to dress up in costumes and get popcorn and a hot dog”.

“A free movie on Saturday night in Downey,” said Mark Keller as he carried his folding chair onto the Space Center lawn. “What could be better. I was in middle school when I first saw this movie.”

“I came up with this idea,” said Mayor Rick, “from a conversation that Councilmember Alex Saab and I had about children. His young children are about my grandchildren’s age. Having action figures like Storm Troopers, Bounty Hunters, and Princess Leia, sounded like fun!”

Light-saber waving children danced on the lawn and several Princess Leias strolled by. Having so many Princess Leias was like being on Jupiter with its four bright moons instead of on the Earth planet we inhabit with only the one. Our moon had risen earlier that afternoon and was still a gossamer sphere in the light sky, waxing gibbous – nearly full – and a slight breeze began to play.

“We really want to utilize our Columbia Space Memorial Center as much as possible,” said Mayor Rick. “We recently celebrated the anniversary of the Apollo 11; it was obvious that our Downey Families wanted more. So why not create a festival type of an environment, with a classic space movie like the original, ‘Star Wars,’ viewed outdoors.”

“I love movies that you can take kids to, and the Star Wars series seems to have captured the attention of adults and kids alike. So yes,” the mayor said when I interviewed him, “Yes, I like Star Wars movies. Most certainly, I will be in costume! As the Obi-Wan Kenobe character.”

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The mayor’s granddaughter, Adrienne, who is 10 and goes to Calvary Chapel School, was spotted robed in white as Princess you-know-who. Adrienne showed me how her character’s glistening coiled hair buns slipped off, “just like ear muffs.” Adrienne’s long white gauzy gown was clasped by a belt with three silver discs.

“I’d like to see the Space Center as vital to Downey’s daily life,” said Ben Dickow, director of the Space Museum and Space Center. Ben has shifted and enlarged the original mission of the museum since he came.

“The staff and I developed a mission – to ignite a community of creative and critical thinkers – that values and responds to our community,“ he said.

“The mission is proactive.” said Ben, “and not tied to a certain interest necessarily, like aerospace. It is linked to how we can best serve the public, our role in the community and it’s connected to things that are more universal than particular interests.” Outside the box and in a galaxy far, far away tonight, I thought.

“We need to be a connector, sure,” said Ben, “around a shared interest in science or engineering or history, but mostly around things that are valued by our community, things like learning together or spending time with family and friends. The Space Center is a place for that.”

“Ben was a huge help,” said Mayor Rick. “We couldn’t have had the success without Ben’s participation. Ben is very well respected in the museum and science/ history industry. His passion for our city is contagious.”

“All of the logistics were handled by Ben,” said Mayor Rick. “From people, location, food, props, equipment. He did it all.”

“And thankfully,” said Mayor Rick, “we have a wonderful city staff, so when I mentioned the idea, they ran with other ideas that complement the event. The Columbia Space center is large enough with plenty of parking and area for kids to run around and show the movie outside. The only real expense to speak of was the part time staff that we would call in for support.”

“Some of the food will be sold by our nonprofits as a way to raise funds,” said Mayor Rick, “so we are involving many segments of the community. Food trucks are on site to provide a larger menu items.”

“The Movie, Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope, was chosen by a collaboration of us at City Hall,” said Mayor Rick. “From Council Member Alex Saab, to our Council Secretary Monica Delgadillo, to our Parks and Recreation Director, Pam Passow, and myself. We all had a hand in it.”

Ben Dickow, director of the Columbia Memorial Space Center.

Ben Dickow, director of the Columbia Memorial Space Center.

“Thank you for coming to the Space Center,” Mayor Rick said to the attendees. He was clad in the long monkish robe with the deep folded sleeves of his character, the noble Jedi knight. “Welcome to the first Movie with the Mayor.”

“Thank you for being here,” said Ben to the crowd of quite a few hundred. “You’re awesome. This is the movie that made the biggest impression on me. It changed my life. When my father took me to see it, I knew this was where I wanted to be. Space. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on TV influenced me greatly too. I took some physics courses, and here I am.”

The plot? Under orders from the cruel Darth Vader, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is being held hostage. So of course Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), captain of the Millennium Falcon, work together to free her from durance vile. There’s a killer of a final scene, the attack of the Death Wing on the Death Star.

Then there’s the rousing music of John Williams. Martial chords; adagio landscape gazing; staccato suspense: was ever movie score more deserving of the full symphonic treatment? Not since “Lawrence of Arabia.” Maybe that will be next on the mayor’s list.

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Kaylin, age 8, from Imperial School was ready to watch, sitting on her blanket in front of us. She was dressed as a character from Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, her favorite in the series. Her cream colored costume was “store bought,” Kaylin said, and that included the drapery and sash on the body suit, long armlets and brown pleather boots. Kaylin completed the ensemble with night goggles and a fancv light attachment for seeing in the dark.

Director Ben complimented Kaylin for coming in costume, and gave her a free admission ticket, to encourage Kaylin to come to the Center’s STEM Program for Girls.

As Ben said, “The biggest idea that we want to send out to people is that everyone has a part and can be a part of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. That these endeavors are social, vital and anyone is capable of doing them. We’d like to create a network of science fans throughout Southern California.”

Kaylin’s mom Karen and big brother Josh, who is studying at Cal Poly to be a mechanical engineer, wore vintage tee shirts commemorating this first of the Star War series when it appeared in 1977.

Suddenly, a shining white Storm Trooper appeared on the Space Center sidewalk, and then a trio of Troopers and a metallic and black glassy Darth Vader moved through the crowd on the patio and the lawn. They were meant to be menacing but they obligingly posed for pictures, with everyone from babies to happy adults who were indulging in the evening’s nostalgia Standing behind all the fantasy figures was the one awesome piece of space reality in Downey, the Apollo capsule that went to the moon and back.

Before the movie began people bought hot dogs and ice cream specials from the food trucks and the Paradise Catering crew. Samantha and Chick cheerfully poured extra caramel sauce and dispensed napkins. Popcorn appeared.

Then promptly at eight, with the craggy deserts of Tunisia and the sand dunes of Death Valley filmed as the planet Tatooine, the feature began. First came a battle scene inside a beleaguered spaceship, with a golden droid with a British accent like Stan Laurel’s seeking refuge from the mayhem with his barrel- shaped Oliver Hardy-esque companion, whose dialogue consisted of chirps. A hologram of a miniature Princess Leia appeared, engaged in some mysterious action. The magic had begun.

The audience was rapt. The Mayor and Ben stood aside, by the red food trucks and surveyed the crowd. The moon was now a bright silver disc against the night sky and had risen to a point directly over the Space Center. The evening was definitely a success.

Features, NewsLorine Parks