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Star Wars: The Rise of the Shrine

The Star Wars shrine backstage in McAlister Auditorium started over 20 years ago with a single Yoda poster.

A long time ago, in the far reaches of Furman University’s McAlister Auditorium, theater manager Danielle Hernandez hung a poster of one of her theatrical heroes: Yoda, the Jedi Master.

Photo of Star Wars memorabilia back stage of McAlister Auditorium.
A Yoda poster hung backstage in McAlister Auditorium more than 20 years ago has grown into a Star Wars shrine.

Soon, students working on the stage crew started leaving memorabilia at the hem of Yoda’s cloak – Luke, Lea and Solo figures, X-Wing fighter and Millennium Falcon models, Darth Vader heads, a Boba Fett, storm troopers, photos, post cards, puzzles, an R2D2 dreidel, toys and lots and lots of Yoda.

The Force grew strong. “It took on a life of its own” after she hung the poster more than 20 years ago, before “The Phantom Menace” was released in 1999, she says.

Touring artists take pictures with the shrine, and alumni send items to add to the collection, even people with little or no connection to the theater have contributed. One set of Yoda lights just appeared one day.

“One day I came in and all the lights were off and it freaked me out,” because theaters always have a light on backstage, she says. “I looked over (toward the shrine) and there was this little glow over here. Someone had come in and hung up those Yoda lights and plugged them in and turned all the other lights off. To this day, I have no idea who did it.”

Hernandez has overflow Star Wars stuff in her office, items that just won’t fit in the backstage nook – a knitted baby Yoda, talking Yodas, light sabers, two lunch boxes, and much, much more, all donated.

The shrine adds a little whimsy to the theater, Hernandez says, but, like the Galactic Republic, it also serves a greater purpose.

“A lot of times when people are backstage they’re nervous, and Star Wars gives them something to focus on,” Hernandez says. Just. Like. The. Force.

So while Disney says the galactic saga that has thrilled audiences for 42 years is supposed to end Dec. 20 with the release of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the shrine to the larger-than-life movies in Furman University’s McAlister Auditorium will live on.

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