One of the nicest aspects of Mardi Gras is the way that it doesn’t end. Among friends, family, coworkers, and even strangers, the slightest mention of a costume or a parade or a meal is enough to set off hours of conversation and delight. I had to miss much of the season this year, unfortunately, due to work, but since returning these past few weeks have still been grateful for ample opportunity to share in the fun.
In such a spirit, I’d like to share a story: a story about Wookiees.
We’re a Star Wars family: one of our favorite things to do when we get together is sit back and flip through LucasArts picture books, or watch an episode of Clone Wars on DVD, preferably one with a great big lightsaber battle in the middle. (I mean, romance and political intrigue are fine, and plot development will certainly keep us tuned in, but let’s be real: what could honestly be more satisfying than watching a posse of elite Jedi light up and take down a fleet of advancing droids?)
So, like any family in the neighborhood, we’d planned our Mardi Gras for maximum fun, but from the day the date was announced, we knew that the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus was going to be an epic night for everyone. (UptownMessenger.com parade coverage is here, and a New York Times profile is here) The youngest among us dressed up as Yoda and Wicket the Ewok, and the oldest dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Republic assault gear and a poor man’s Darth Vader, wielding a Mardi Gras throw sword for a lightsaber and a leftover vampire’s cape to finish. Not to mix Star Wars and Star Trek metaphors, of course – such a sin would verge on heresy – but let’s just say this year’s costume budget was set to ‘improvise.’
As everyone remembers, Samedi Gras this year was the wettest day of the season, with Iris and Tucks both rescheduled, and Endymion braved only by tourists or those in scuba gear. (I’m serious: a friend who teaches swimming went in her wetsuit, and she said she had an incredible night, stayed perfectly warm and scored tons of throws.) Hours before Chewbacchus was scheduled to roll, none of us were sure whether the weather would allow it – we sat anxiously checking the social media feeds for conclusive news on whether they’d roll. It felt like picking the petals off a love-me-not: would they, wouldn’t they, would they?
We hunkered down at home, waiting. Finally, several episodes later, six o’clock arrived and we decided the only way to find out was to brave the elements and meet up with the Krewe in person. Foul only begins to describe it: driving over to the Big Top on Clio, where the Krewe was beginning to assemble, we could barely see for the thick of the rain and the dark, and circling a number of times before we found a spot, parked and waited for the call. (To all the Sixth District NOPD officers who saw a car idling on St Charles for half an hour, and never said a word, thanks. We owe you one.)
And waited. And waited some more, as the steam fogged up the windows, on which we drew caricatures of Jabba the Hutt. But the Force was strong that night, for not long past the hour and suddenly there they came, just upriver of the I-10 overpass. Piling out of the car and dashing onto the neutral ground at Euterpe, we met the parade as they, too, were making their mad dash down the street. Han Solo might have made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs, but he could learn a thing or two from the Krewe of Chewbacchus: the speed at which they moved was beyond impressive. It approached hyperspace velocity.
Their speed was one thing. But what was more impressive – apart from their costumes, which included among Wookiees, Greedos, Jawas, Iron Giants and X-wing fighters, and of course, the flagship float, the venerable Bar2D2 – was how hospitable they were, showering us with some of the most lavish gifts we witnessed in the whole of Carnival. Acres of beads. Dozens of moon pies, both lobbed from afar and offered up by hand. A large plush R2D2 with which one of us still sleeps at night. Gremlin dolls made from wine corks and individually decorated, and to top it off, a full-size Clone Trooper’s helmet, complete with walkie-talkie action. Despite the rain and the elements, the Krewe members went out of their way to run over and pour gift after gift upon our family, making every effort to ensure that everyone had the best time possible.
Had they wanted, the Chewbacchans could have just raced through the whole of their route, on the way to the Chewbacchanal at the Howlin’ Wolf. And for a moment, at the height of the stormy weather, we thought they might well do just that, to make the altogether sensible decision and head straight there from the Big Top and party the night away, high and dry in their own branch of the Mos Eisley Cantina. But no. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You would be hard-pressed to find a Krewe more dedicated, and more kind, than this one.
Say what you want about pop culture, and about Star Wars and its commercial manifestations, but one thing that must be said is this: that the spirit of Mardi Gras was never more on display than on a cold, rainy, deserted street underneath the interstate, when the city’s finest and most creative revelers showed out, embraced the moment for all it was worth, and heaped untold amounts of gifts on the few bedraggled spectators that showed to watch them, so many that our bags broke as we left. We’re still playing with the toys, we’re still wearing the helmet, and we’re still, to this day, working through the pile of Moon Pies.
The kindness of Wookiees: it’s a standard to which we should all aspire.
Benjamin Morris is the author of Coronary, a poetry collection, and The Bella, a novella. Around town, he can be found catching music on Frenchmen, crawling the galleries on St Claude, playing soccer in City Park, or tending bar at the Sovereign Pub Uptown. His column appears on Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.