Darth Vader is in line at the Greek Festival at the Sacramento Convention Center. He stands well over six feet tall in his armor. He orders some lamb over rice pilaf with a serving of pastitsio, a delicious baked pasta dish, on the side.
“If it wasn’t for the Greek Festival I’d just be eating pizza like I usually do,” Vader told me as we both sat down with plates piled high with roasted meats seasoned with the right amounts of lemon and oregano. “Greek food is real good,” the Dark Lord of the Sith added.
After Vader removed his helmet to eat, he reverts to Paul Williams, an English major at Sacramento State University who has been cosplaying as Darth Vader for nearly three years now. Williams is here for Sacanime, Sacramento’s twice-annual Japanese animation convention, but he couldn’t resist heading down the hall to the Greek Festival for some lunch.
“I took at least three pictures with people while I waited in line,” Williams said.
SacAnime and the Greek Festival have been sharing the Sacramento Convention Center since 2013, and the whole crazy combo works somehow. While hungry pokemonsters love the gyros, and the Greek festivalgoers enjoy having so many mythological creatures around, this odd synthesis is coming to an end. The Greek Festival is moving to its new location at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in 2017, so it’ll be back to pizza for Darth Vader next year.
“Why? Why do they have to leave?” Andy Sheehy of Sacramento plaintively asked.
He’s been coming to SacAnime for years now and looks forward to being exposed to Greek music and culture. Lisa Pohl, dressed as a Magikarp from the Pokemon Go game, was grinning from ear to ear after ordering some Greek pastries covered in honey. She also said she’ll miss the Greek Festival, and the feeling seems to be mutual. Kopi Sotriropulos of KMPH-TV in Fresno, a regular attendee of Greek Festivals around the Central Valley, admitted that he’s going to miss the crossover with SacAnime.
“They’re both wonderful, uplifting events,” he said. “It’s been a win-win situation.”
After Paul finished his last bite of lamb, he put on his helmet and became Darth Vader again. As he walked toward the stage, young boys in traditional Greek dress strayed over to the Dark Side, begging their mothers to let them have their pictures taken with the Star Wars villain. Moms, clutching their smartphones, asked Vader if it’s OK. He obliged, even handing one of the boys his lightsaber. The boy held it aloft, dreaming of using The Force to vanquish Persian invaders at Thermopylae no doubt.
This is sadly the last time a scene like this will be taking place in Sacramento, and SacAnime can probably use the extra space, judging by the long lines wrapping around the convention center. The Greeks are also going to be able to hold their festival outdoors and roast a big lamb on a spit for the first time in years.
Hopefully Darth Vader and a couple of Magikarps will find their way there.
Every month in “Shattering Conventions,” author Bob Calhoun crashes a new tradeshow, convention or conference looking for a way to fit in—even when he doesn't always belong. Calhoun is the author of "Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor." You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.