My older son Landon (yes, he is named after one Lando Calrissian) turned 5 on April 7th and after putting up surprisingly little resistance, my wife agreed that this was the year for the Star Wars birthday party. Needless to say, I was more than a little excited. We bounced a couple ideas back and forth and ultimately settled on the Jedi Training Academy theme. While I may be the Star Wars afficionado of the family, my wife took the idea and ran like the wind with it.
Immediately she was online looking for party ideas and activities. Star Wars fans can be incredibly creative and, through her research, we came up with a lot more ideas than we ended up being able to utilize. The key was creating a fun experience for approximately fifteen 4 and 5 year olds that kept the party moving, while operating on a rather modest budget. I'm sure we went a little over our budget, and though we might have wanted to do a bit more (like creating Yummy Star Wars themed food items for example), I think the kids had a pretty darn good time. There's always more you can do, but you kind of have to put yourselves in the shoes of the 5 year olds and realize that less is more sometimes. Then you have to buy them new shoes since we have big grown-up feet. But I digress...
My wife planned this party for a few weeks. I was more or less an advisor and manual laborer. We created props for activities well ahead of time and ordered all we could from online outlets and the local party store. It was a lovely coincidence that I had stumbled onto the press release for the Wall Sticker Outlet leading up to the April 9th party as their affordable Star Wars stickers came in handy. Let's be honest, I was like a kid in a candy store putting up TCW wall stickers all around the house while humming SW tunes.
So the party was scheduled to be from 1:00 to 3:00 and again, our goal was to keep things moving at all times. Idle time with that many 4-5 year old younglings can only lead to chaos! As the children arrived, they were greeted by me in my Boba Fett hoodie and Fett Helmet. I took off the helmet multiple times to make sure none of the kids were freaked out by the outfit. No it was not the most elegent of Boba Fett costumes, but as I explained to anyone who made jokes to me, it was the weekend and I was Casual Fett. Like many others in the business world, I'm sure Boba Fett wears Hawaiian shirts and jeans on casual Fridays as well.
The kids kicked things off with two activities. First, we created some Jedi badges for them to color in and then stick on their shirts. I printed out a Jedi logo from an online printable coloring page. My wife cut them out and glued them onto felt circles with a sticky backing. When they were done creating their badges, the kids moved on to face painting. My brother-in-law's girlfriend Lindsay did a fantastic job with the painting and even hooked my 10 year old nephew Lucas up with a great Darth Maul look.
After the last guest arrived, my wife laid out the ground rules and it was off to our next two activities: bombing training and pin the ears on Yoda. (No, this didn't end up being a G-Level canon party.)
Bombing Training - So what do little kids like to do? They like to throw stuff! Easy enough. With the help of my wife's father Richard, we created two 4' X 4' boards that propped upright and were painted black to represent space. My wife had hoped to paint a number of TIE fighters on the boards but painting them proved to be a little more of a pain than she had anticipated. Nothing if not resourceful, I was more than impressed when I walked downstairs one evening to see her running color copies of TIE Fighters, Bombers, and Interceptors from one of the Essintial Guides to Vehicles. We got them laminated and then nailed them on to the boads. We then painted on some stars to round out the look. The idea was simple. Load up over a hundred water balloons, divy them up, and then let the kids take turns trying to bomb the TIE Fighters. Remember that time in Empire when Yoda said to Luke "Bomb the heck out of TIE Fighters with water balloons, you must." That was our inspiration!
Pin the Ears on Yoda - This was my second choice as I really wanted the kids to play pin the hand back on Luke. My wife pushed the Yoda idea figuring he was the more recognizable character. For the record, I still think my idea would have been fun as well! The Wall Sticker Outlet had a big Yoda sticker that we purchased and then promptly cut the ears off of it. We had them laminated and one of the parents was nice enough to help run the game for us. This was going on at the same time as Bombing Training, which my wife was running. I was in charge of Mason (named after one Mace Windu), my younger 2 1/2 year old son, in order to keep him out of trouble. In the pictures, he's the little blonde dude rockin' the Yoda shirt with style. Pin the ears on Yoda was conducted in the finished basement of our little townhouse while A New Hope played on the television.
After those activities it was time to eat a little lunch. I wish I could say we had a lot of creative Star Wars food items, but we went with a basic Chic-fil-A chicken tender platter, chips, and a lot of fruit. From there it was onto our next activities: Star Wars Pez Ring Toss and the Jedi Training Academy Obstacle Course.
Star Wars Pez Ring Toss (Force Training) - Many of my Star Wars Pez died to bring us this activity. We simply used a hot glue gun to attach 18 Star Wars Pez dispensers to a piece of cardboard. My wife spray painted the board green and added moss for a Dagobah-like effect. I then created a cardboard backboard that included a couple pictures from Empire and a fun Dagobah travel poster I found online. Glow in the dark bracelets served as the rings.
Jedi Training Academy Obstacle Course - This was all my wife's creation and was a lot of fun. First the kids had to put on a Captain Rex backpack in order to keep a stuffed animal Yoda on their back. The whole backpack thing didn't last that long but the idea of it sure made the adults laugh. From there they crawled under an orange retaining fence that was attached to some stakes and was spray painted green. Next up was running through inflatable tires that we got at the dollar store. (You know, like that time in Empire when Yoda had Luke training like it was an NFL training camp:) The kids next hopped through 3 hoola hoops that were propped up by stakes and had fake vines hanging from them. The balance beam followed. This was made by my father-in-law and included more fake vines and plants around it's perimeter to keep up the whole Dagobah feel as much as possible. Then the kids climbed up a little slide and slid into an inflatable ball pit of a pool. Once there they had to dig through all the balls to find their inflatable lightsaber. Sadly, the most affordable inflatable lightsabers we could find were red. While this bugged me to no end, the kids could have cared less. It literally would have cost us twice as much to go with blue so we had to err on the side of affordability. On the otherhand, the inflatable red lightsabers did light up. Once they got their lightsabers, it was back through the course the way they came. Both the obstacle course and ring toss were held out in a grassy area in the middle of our townhouse court. The course might not seem overly complex, but considering the age of the kids and the time-frames with which we were working, it ended up being perfect.
Cake time! My step-mother Suzi created a fantastic volcano cake complete with dry ice in the middle for a smokey effect. Naturally, figures of Anakin and Obi-Wan battled it out at the base.
Then there was a trembling in The Force as Darth Vader (my brother-in-law, Chris) descended from upstairs to capture Princess Leia (his 8 year old daughter, Gabby) and take her outside. Now was the time for the kids to put their Jedi training to good use! We all quickly followed back outside. One by one the kids got to duel and defeat Vader with their new inflatable lightsabers. It was not any sort of official Vader costume but considering how much my poor brother-in-law had to fall down in the mud after being defeated, what he put together was perfect. With 5 year olds, the minor details of the costume didn't matter. They were having fun and were just along for the ride. Thanks to Chris for being a good sport!
What can you do after defeating the Dark Lord of the Sith? Attend an award ceremony of course! While playing the proper music from the end of A New Hope, each new Jedi received a medal for their bravery. Had a Wookiee been present, he or she would not have been left out! Landon then opened presents (he's the one in the ANH Luke costume by the way) and the party came to a close. Besides the inflatable lightsabers, guests received a Vader cup, a Star Wars character pen, candy and Star Wars note pads in their goodie bags.
I wish I could have enjoyed the time at the party a bit more but the whole things was kind of a blur. Between keeping things moving along and making sure my 2 year old wasn't getting into trouble, there wasn't much time to simply relax and enjoy the party. The kids did though and Landon had the best party of his little life. That is all that matters and I truly hope he remembers this party for a long time. I know my wife and I will.
As an additional note: My son's pre-school allows you to bring in goodies for the rest of the class when it's your child's birthday. I guess the days of bringing in cupcakes and singing happy brithday in school are long gone. Keeping with the Star Wars theme, each member of his class got a Star Wars Pez dispenser. To make things a bit more personal, and because I was in a full-on Star Wars frenzy at this point, each dispenser stated "May The Force Be With You On Landon's 5th Birthday" and included a quote from one of the films. All 22 of Landon's classmates got a different quote. They probably didn't even notice, but it made my wife and I smile just reading the quotes.
Thanks for allowing me to share with you a wonderful day with my family. I hope this gives other parents some good ideas, and I'm sure you can find even more creative Star Wars party ideas by simply searching the good old interweb.
Thanks to my brother-in-law, his girlfriend, my niece and nephew, and our parents for contributing to a fun day.
Last but certainly not least, thanks to my beautiful wife Michele. Between me and my two boys, she lives in the GFFA 24/7. She's a good sport and an incredible mother. The boys have no idea how lucky they are to have her. It's up to me to make sure they know it.
As for what to do next year? I'm thinking we should make the kids try to fight their way out of the Citadel. What say you?
Picture credits: Don Barrick (my father) took all of the pictures except the one all the way up at the top. That image was taken and touched up by my friend Mike Riskin.