ENID, Okla. — The Dark Lord of the Sith is visiting Enid this weekend, but he didn’t pack his suit. This is strictly a pleasure trip.
Award-winning actor, writer, motivational speaker and visual effects artist, C. Andrew Nelson is a featured celebrity, along with Alan Fernandez, who played a Tusken Raider in the original “Star Wars,” at Enid Comic Con.
The annual event kicked off Saturday at Stride Bank Center and continues 10 am to 4 pm Sunday. Tickets are $10.
Nelson is best known for his portrayal of Darth Vader in the special edition re-release of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, as well as in the Rebel Assault II and Dark Forces games released by LucasArts. He’s even voiced the role of Luke Skywalker for video games when Mark Hamill was not available, completing the full “like father, like son” circle.
“I was in the right place at the right time and the right height,” said the 6-foot, 5-inch Nelson on getting his start donning the Darth Vader suit. When asked why he didn’t bring the suit to Enid, Nelson replied because he doesn’t own it, “not even a glove.”
He said Lucasfilm, where he worked in the early half of the 1990s, was at that time looking for someone to play the role for a charity event, and the suit fit.
Nelson thought it “was a once in a lifetime opportunity” to play the iconic Dark Lord, but it turns out it wasn’t his only time.
“They kept calling me back and calling me back. Seventy times.”
He said after a while his wife made him start counting. He’s been told he has logged more hours in the Darth Vader suit than anyone over the past 25-plus years.
Nelson was six days shy of his 15th birthday when he stood in line for more than two hours to get a ticket for “Star Wars” about three weeks after the movie premiered in 1977. He remembers seeing the opening scene and decided that was what he wanted to do for a living, even though at the time those designing the special effects were creating the job description.
Born in the San Francisco area, Nelson was drawing at age 6, acting at age 10 and animating at 12.
“I just couldn’t choose what I wanted to do, so I did it all, ’cause no one told me I couldn’t,” he said, adding he always likes to tell people, “I’m an ordinary guy who gets to do extraordinary things.”
While Nelson was standing in line at the movie theater, Alan Fernandes was just coming off his “chance of a lifetime” playing the role of one of the Tusken Raiders in the original film.
Fernandes was an animal trainer at the time, and he says there was no trying out for the part. He came as a package deal with Marji, one of the elephants used to play the Bantha mounts ridden by the Tusken Raiders in the film. As her trainer, he was the Raider to ride her, and the rider and his mount can be seen in the first few minutes, as the Tusken Raiders are introduced in the George Lucas film.
“George wanted an elephant, and I came along with the elephant,” Fernandes said.
Nelson said he has worked with other films and in other capacities as a trainer but never to the magnitude of something like Star Wars. He said he’s been told by film officials that he is the last alive of the original film’s Tusken Raider actors.
After the film, he continued his work as a trainer, got married, operated his own business and eventually retired. He was recovering from an accident when a friend took him to Lucas’ ranch, and he became interested in public Comic Con appearances. However, it was only about three years ago that he started making those appearances.
“I love doing it,” Fernandes said. “Just looking at the kids’ smiles — that makes me happy.”
Enid Comic Con
Just inside the security entrance to the annual Enid Comic Con, Clint Randolph meets with customers interested in buying and selling comic books and memorabilia at his vendor booth.
“This is my show,” Randolph said, raising his hands to encompass the 45-plus vendors arranged throughout Stride Bank Center’s event arena. When asked his capacity with the event, Randolph answers, with a smile, “Founder, creator, whatever you want to call it. King, we’ll go with king.”
He has been bringing Comic Con to Enid for five years, and this year’s event is on par with last year’s opening day, he said, as the crowd gets bigger and bigger the more COVID-19 moves into the rearview mirror.
Randolph said the show draws vendors from several different states, including Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado. Although the major interests remain comic books, superheroes and science fiction, there also are craft and food booths that set up shop for the weekend.
He only has two main rules for vendors, he said: No nudity and no drug-related items. His family friendly shows include toys, comic books, “anything you can think of,” he said, and it’s meant for dress-up and cosplay and for families to have a good time.
One of the local vendors fitting in this year is highlighting the Enid Public Schools’ Esports program.
Enid High School Esports team members are running a booth to show off virtual reality and gaming programs and the need for donors and sponsors, said Christopher Parker, Esports coach and coordinator for the EHS and middle school programs.
He said Esports allows some students who may not be physically or competitively inclined a chance to shine, and the group is pretty much for anyone. And with the addition of VR, or virtual reality, equipment, “video games are not just sitting in and zoning out.”
Esports promotes scholarly ability, team-building and critical thinking, Parker said. The program began at EHS in the fall of 2019, and the first year went great, he said. Since then, the team has been building back up following the COVID-19 pandemic, and 54 returning to the high school program this coming year are expecting to see the program’s numbers nearly double with freshman interested.
“My big thing with the program is that it is able to be joined by anyone,” Parker said.
Esports is now in the EPS middle schools, with Rocket League games played last year. This year, the middle schools will play Rocket League in the fall and Super Smash Brothers in the spring, Parker said.
At the high school, fall games will include Clash Royale, Call of Duty: Vanguard, CS:GO, Rainbow 6 (PC), Halo Infinite, Valorant, Super Smash Brothers (Duos) and Fortnite (4v4v4v4 Zone). Spring schedule will see play in Overwatch 2, Apex Legends, Call of Duty: MW2, Super Smash Brothers (Solos), Beat Saber, Knockout City, Paladins, Rainbow 6 (X-box) and Fortnite (2v2v2v2 Box).
He said the mature-rated games are geared toward seniors and include a guardian waiver. But there are plenty of other games for all students in the program. He said they play on different days and tournaments to keep the numbers manageable, making it more inclusive for all.
The high school also will host a tournament among the public school programs in Oklahoma.
“They (students) are going to play video games at home anyway,” Parker said, adding with Esports they are doing it in a constructive, social way in a safe environment.
The Esports booth will be at Comic Con Sunday for anyone interested to learn more about the program.