MakingStarWars.net — May 4th is a red-letter day for many in the Star Wars universe.
A member of the Collider Video “Jedi Council” and the Force Center Podcast team — roles that put him squarely in the middle of the saga each day — Ken Napzok (currently on vacation), will commemorate Star Wars Day 2017 (#MayTheFourthBeWithYou, get it?) by racing from Las Vegas to a big Star Wars trivia contest in Anaheim.
“My parents took me with them to a drive-in showing of A New Hope, but I was one-year-old and don’t remember anything while being swaddled inside a VW van,” said Ken of his first Star Wars experience. “My first actual vivid memory was seeing the trailer for Return of the Jedi – possibly still ‘Revenge of the Jedi’ then, but I don’t recall.
“I remember Luke in action, spaceships, and, for some reason, Max Reebo,” he added. “The rest is a blur.”
It Started at the Fremont
From a blur to a whirlwind, Ken’s almost daily work is enjoyed by fans worldwide, but it started in San Luis Obispo.
“We saw it opening night in my hometown at the Fremont Theatre, which is a very classic art deco style theatre,” Ken said. “I got swept up in the epic nature of seeing the movie and taking in the saga then and there.
“I was at a friend’s birthday party, and just remember everyone there getting excited.”
Since then, Napzok (a.k.a. “Kylo Ken” on Jedi Council or the Collider Schmoedown “Pitboss”) has made an exciting career in and around movies and media, and Star Wars in particular.
“While I’ve had a lot of different career goals and accomplishments, both in and out of entertainment, the themes and lessons of Star Wars are always present,” said Napzok, who explained that from an early age that he wanted to be a storyteller.
“I used to dream up my own space adventure movies and for a long time daydreamed about an Episode VII,” he said, adding, “with me cast as Han and Leia’s son, of course.”
Star Wars Bridges the Gap
For those of a certain age (Ken is 41), Star Wars is an intrinsic part of their being and a touchstone that bridges the gap between memories of youth and dreams of the future.
“Personally, Star Wars is truly one of those classic pieces of mythology, so it has always had a big influence on me,” Napzok mused. “I loved what George Lucas said at Star Wars Celebration this year about Star Wars truly being for 12 year-olds; a story for young minds on the cusp of real life — ‘You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.’ — That is absolutely how Star Wars affected me.
“It is the looking glass that I see the rest of the world through…”
In turn, Napzok helps the rest of the world appreciate Star Wars through many different mediums.
“I joined Collider Jedi Council in late 2016 when I moved over from ScreenJunkies, but I’ve known Kristian Harloff for years through stand-up comedy and Schmoes Know,” said Ken, whose IMDB page lists acting, writing, and producing credits. “Kristian came up with the general concept of a show called Jedi Alliance and had tasked me with creating and hosting it for what is now known as the Popcorn Talk Network.
“The wonderful Maude Garrett [now of Geek Bomb] and I developed out the idea of the show and hosted that for awhile.
“We both eventually left it, but I launched the ForceCenter podcast feed with Joseph Scrimshaw and Jennifer Landa in 2015. So talking Star Wars is literally part of my life every day,” he said.
Collider is a part of a lot of people’s lives every day. With nearly 345,000 subscribers, that’s a whole lot of people looking for movie news.
“Jedi Council is mostly a discussion of the headlines of the day,” said Napzok. “That’s the Collider brand. Movie news. It just seemed natural to focus that on Star Wars once more news started to be generated.
“I love the episodes that find us pouring out our joy about Star Wars.
“And I actually love the ones where we make predictions, and then, later on, you realize we were so off. I never want to be right about a Star Wars theory. I want the stories to stay ahead of me.”
Beyond his vocation, and like many in fandom (and many interviewed on this site), Napzok says Star Wars became a framework, both establishing and supporting many, many friendships; important connections that remained strong even though the saga’s popularity waxed and waned.
“It has definitely been a strong, connective thread for a lot of my very important friendships and professional relationships. Especially during my school days,” he said. “Back then, being a ‘nerd’ meant something a lot different than it does now – thankfully. So, Star Wars was one of those secret passwords to better friendship.
“It was like, ‘Oh, hey, you like Star Wars? We can be friends now.’ It wasn’t just a matter of someone seeing it; it was being able to joke about it, make references to it, work dialogue into conversations, and just generally appreciating it on a deeper level.
“Star Wars was and always has been wildly popular,” he added. “But I really do think there was a time where you just didn’t broadcast it as much. I was teased for wearing Star Wars shirts. I had a green tee shirt with an ironed on decal of Vader, Luke, and The Emperor on it.
“Loved that shirt. I was teased for wearing that!”
Thank the Maker
However, these days Napzok would probably be teased if he didn’t wear one of his many signature shirts. But until the mid-1990s it remained a secret club.
“The Zahn novels started moving the conversation a little more. Then there was the 1995 Power of the Force figure re-release and talk of new films, and then the Special Editions just seemed to blow the lid off of it all,” he said. “Star Wars was front and center again, and it never left.”
Thank the Maker for that and for all the amazing people that have helped to create the serial that so many love. Napzok himself has had the opportunity to interact with so many from the saga but says his ultimate geek-out moment came in 2016.
Chatting With Carrie
“Andy Signore and I were blessed with the chance to moderate the Carrie Fisher panel for Wizard World Chicago on behalf of ScreenJunkies,” said Napzok. “It was beyond exciting.
“To watch her in action up front and personal was nothing short of a great life moment. I even got to feed Gary the Dog on stage! She didn’t need us up there. She could have run the thing herself with her quick wit and insight.
“What struck me the most during that panel was that, yeah, sure, everyone there was attending because she was Princess Leia, but it became about so much more.”
There on the stage in Chicago, Ken witnessed, firsthand, what so many people around the world came to find in Fisher – a real life hero.
“We took a lot of questions from the audience, and two young girls bravely stood in front of the crowded hall and cameras to ask questions not about Star Wars, but about their own struggles with depression and mental illness,” remembered Napzok. “Carrie was a source of inspiration and strength.
“Another young girl got to ask how she could grow up to be strong like Princess Leia. Carrie addressed those tough, personal questions in a way that left an impression on me, and — probably — everyone. Her well-documented life was full of wild successes and troubling, sometimes public lows, yet she absolutely owned every aspect of it.
“Her openness of who she was, flaws and all, was and will continue to be an inspirational lesson for everyone. Perhaps even more than Carrie herself realized.”
And, of course, Fisher’s Force-sensitive alter ego continues to captivate audiences.
“My personal favorite moment [at Wizard World] was this moment during the interview where she took her glasses off and looked over at me. We made eye contact, and I froze. I was looking into the same eyes of a young Princess looking across the Echo Base control room at Han,” he said. “I’m not joking. All sound faded away. I was lost in her eyes. Carrie was such a presence. She was my Princess. She was an entire generation’s Princess. Though her passing was tragic beyond belief for her family, friends, and fans, I take heart knowing that her legacy goes beyond the role she played, it now goes to the impact she, Carrie Fisher, had on all of us.
“I sobbed during the tribute for her at the 40th Anniversary panel,” he said. “I wasn’t alone.”
The Good, The Bad, The Funny, And The Amazing
Nostalgia aside, Napzok said it’s interaction with his fellow fans that makes his career so satisfying.
“Star Wars is one of those fandoms — if not the fandom — that celebrates discussions, speculation, and theorizing of all kinds,” he said. “The Jedi Council fanbase is intensely loyal and generally positive. While we certainly have our nitpicky or grumpy fan moments, you cannot deny that The Jedi Council is made up of people that absolutely love Star Wars. The good, the bad, the funny, and the amazing.
“As I said earlier, nerd culture has changed,” Ken continued, “mostly for the better.”
So, Napzok is hard-pressed to find any dark side to his day-to-day interaction with George Lucas’ legendary space opera.
“I’m in a great position,” he said. “I realize that every day.”