FINKSBURG — The Empire struck Sandymount Elementary School on Friday night, as dozens of children dressed as Princess Leia, Rey and Kylo Ren poured in to meet the fearsome villains of a galaxy far, far away.
The school was celebrating its third Star Wars Reading Night, at which children and their families were invited to the school after hours to partake in a host of "Star Wars"-inspired games and crafts, and meet with costumed characters from the franchise.
According to media specialist Karen Boggs, the reading night is a national program that inspires both reading skills and physical activity.
The gymnasium at Sandymount Elementary in Finksburg was transformed into the Dune Sea of Tatooine as children had to avoid the tentacles of the dreaded Sarlacc — as controlled by adult volunteers — who attempted to pull them into the Great Pit of Carkoon, where they would be digested over a thousand years. Meanwhile, the school's art room became a factory, where young workers designed and created their own astromech and protocol droids out of cups, markers and more. Other activities included Star Wars Mad Libs, held to aid the young padawans in their grammar, and a computer game designed to aid with programming skills.
According to guidance counselor Andy Yount, many of the activities of Star Wars Reading Night were built to reflect the school's goals. Yount said the Sarlacc game goes along with the school's Play 60 program — the NFL guide for students, encouraging at least 60 minutes of activity a day. He said the films also reflect this year's new curriculum.
"We're working on a new thing called the MindUP curriculum, which is all about using your brain powers," Yount said. "So naturally that reminds me of the Force."
Students were invited to dress up for the school day and leave their costumes on for the evening as well. Characters from every era of "Star Wars" were represented, from the original films of the '70s and '80s to the cartoon series and modern entries in the film franchise.
Mia Caprarella, a fourth-grade student, came dressed as her favorite character, Rey from "The Force Awakens," complete with hair split into multiple ponytails and desert attire appropriate for her home planet of Jakku. She said she's a huge "Star Wars" fan.
"I first got into it in first grade because everyone was interested in it," Mia said. "It's been really fun today. I liked playing the games in the gym, and it's fun to see the characters."
One of the most popular characters at the event was R2-D2, the lovable droid built by Hampstead resident Jason Pangborn. According to Yount, Pangborn was attending an event last week with R2 and had to ship the robot back to Carroll County in pieces for the event. The R2 unit drives, swivels, makes all of the same noises as the original, and even plays today's pop hits like "Uptown Funk" or "Can't Stop the Feeling."
Yount said he thinks "Star Wars" is a great influence for young children.
"I like the themes, as a school counselor," Yount said. "There are these themes of conflict and Jedi bringing peace to the galaxy. Those are neat things to explore with the kids. It's just classic literature for kids."