- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) - Much like many fans of the “Star Wars” franchise, Ben Hart of Pascagoula recounts a familiar narrative.

“I got into to “Star Wars’ when I was a kid, probably about 5 years old,” he said. “The first time I watched it was with my parents.”

What makes Hart’s story different is he wasn’t even born when the original “Star Wars’ was released in 1977. He was 5, however, when the film was re-released in 1997.

“I’m in between the original movies and the prequels,” he said. “(The film) was on TV when I was young and my dad told me I needed to watch it.”

Hart, 23, said he fell in love with the movie upon his first viewing.

“It’s a fairy tale set in space,” he said. “It has so many layers — it’s good versus evil, light versus dark.”

Hart has turned his passion for the franchise into something of an Internet empire. What started as a “Star Wars” Facebook page has grown. In 2011, he and some friends he had met online through “Star Wars” discussion started the website “The Star Wars Underworld.”

It encompasses all things “Star Wars” from the original trilogy and the prequels to the spin-offs such as the animated series “The Clone Wars.”

“I was just doing a Facebook page but some of my friends had a bigger vision and we started the website,” he said.

Hart spends his days helping at his parents’ restaurant, Rob’s BBQ On the Side in Pascagoula, and fills his nights working on the website and its sister podcasts, “The Star Wars Underworld Podcast.”

“We do it weekly,” he said. “It’s me and my friends talking about “Star Wars’ for two hours.”

The most recent website postings and podcasts have been about one thing — the opening of “The Force Awakens.”

Hart said it was “mind-blowing” when he heard the news Disney had purchased the “Star Wars” properties from Lucasfilm, “Star Wars” creator George Lucas’ film company.

“Episode VII (The Force Awakens)” is something we never thought was going to happen,” he said. “Disney and ‘Star Wars’ have always gone hand in hand. It’s the perfect choice; they are going to release a movie every year.”

“I got my tickets as soon as they went on sale,” he said. “I even have tickets to see it a second time in Slidell.”

Hart is making an event of it — friends from New Hampshire and as far away as Toronto are flying in for the big night.

“I know it sounds crazy, but he’s coming to the States to see it,” he said of his Canadian friend. “And he’s not going to LA or New York, he’s coming to Mississippi. It’s so exciting. I get to see a new ‘Star Wars’ with my friends.”

Although he said he plans to enjoy the movie and the excitement, after it’s over, it’s back to business as usual.

“As soon as it’s over, we’re doing a podcast,” Hart said. “We promise the first one we do will be spoiler-free.”


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