Lots of people love Star Wars but I wish it would disappear to a galaxy far, far away…
By Chantelle Burpitt, 25, from Trowbridge
As fans around the world gear up for another round of Star Wars mania, Chantelle Burpitt can only brace herself.
The latest Star Wars film, which cost $200 million to make, is expected to smash box office records this December when fans will queue up in droves to see their heroes back in action. The love of cinemagoers for the out-of-this world series has earned filmmakers $27 billion since the first film was released in 1977.
But the growing hype will leave former cinema usher Chantelle, 25, fighting to control a completely different kind of Star Wars hysteria — she’s absolutely terrified of the film’s science fiction characters.
Her fears have their roots from an experience when she was four years old, caused by an innocent gift given to her by her aunt. Her reaction developed an intense anxiety which has only got worse in adulthood.
Today Chantelle, a receptionist, of Trowbridge can’t stand to be surprised by robots or robotic-looking characters. She has a particular loathing for the fearsome Storm Troopers which have already featured prominently in the new film’s promotional materials.
She said: “My worst fear is bumping into someone in costume. Although that sounds like it would be a rare occurrence, it’s happened to me more times than I like to remember. It always seems to be happening to me.
“I fill with panic and have to run away. There’s nothing I can do – I just completely break down. I know it’s irrational but I have an intense physical reaction.”
Chantelle said one of her earliest memories was being given a talking doll by her aunt Teresa Rossi, 61.
She said: “My family liked to treat me to gifts and toys.
“I was given a little talking doll – and for some reason I was absolutely scared to death of it. My parents have told me that I cried my eyes out and pushed it away from me straight away. Apparently I couldn’t bear to look at it, let alone play with it.
“Ever since then I’ve had a deep-rooted suspicion of robots – things which aren’t human but pretend that they are. Unfortunately those types of characters are really popular with everyone else.”
Her fear grew during childhood until she was taken aged eight to the Bath and West Show by her grandmother Pat Burpitt, who died in 2012 aged 81.
She said: “The show had a man in a robot suit moving through the crowd, greeting people and posing for photographs. I had no idea it was going to be there, and when I turned a corner to see the character standing there I almost jumped out of my skin.
“Actually, I jumped straight onto my gran’s back. She was only a little lady, but she was obviously strong enough to cope with me clambering around all over her. I didn’t really know what I was doing.
“All I could do was hang on long enough, with my eyes tightly shut, until she was able to take me away from it. She was always very protective over me. I’ve been back since.”
Three Star Wars films were released in the early 2000s and at the peak of the hype, hundreds of billboards, adverts and shop displays were covered in likenesses of Storm Troopers and droids.
Chantelle said: “If I have a bit of warning I can prepare myself, but if I see the images unexpectedly, I’ll always jump.
“The absolute worst-case scenario is seeing someone in costume. Then I just couldn’t control myself.”
In her late teens Chantelle got a job at Cineworld Yeovil, where there were frequent promotional events involving Star Wars fans in costume.
She said: “The manager announced one day that there was a group of Storm Troopers coming in and we were to make them welcome. Everyone else was quite excited about it, but my heart just sank.
“I didn’t want to let the cinema down, but at the same time I realised I couldn’t be there when they arrived because I couldn’t predict how I would react. Even the thought of it was enough to make me nervous
“I plucked up the courage and asked my manager whether I could swap shifts to allow me to avoid them. He thought it was a bit strange, but he could see I was upset, so he agreed.”
Unfortunately, a diary mix-up meant that when Chantelle arrived for her agreed shift, she encountered a lot more than she bargained for.
She said: “I walked into the break room and encountered a sight I will never forget – a room packed full of Storm Troopers all getting ready to head out into the lobby for a live appearance.
“They were in full costume, with their helmets on, and as I walked in they all turned to face me.
“My first instinct was to freeze on the spot. I could feel panic rising in me and I was struggling to breathe.
“A moment later instinct took over and I found myself in floods of tears, experiencing a full-blown panic attack. All I could do to help myself was to get out of there as quickly as I could. It’s no exaggeration to say I ran screaming from the building.”
She phoned her mother, Sharon Pond, 56, in floods of tears after the harrowing experience.
She said: “She was surprised to hear me so upset, because she thought I’d outgrown my fear.
“Later the manager came up to me and apologised profusely. It was fine – I knew it was an irrational reaction, but I couldn’t help it.”
She said her strange phobia has caused some problems to her social life, although her fiance Wesley Mead, 24, is understanding and supportive.
She said: “There’s always a risk when we’re on a night out in town that a stag do will come through in fancy dress. In those situations I tend to ask Welsey to see if any of them are dressed up like Storm Troopers, Darth Vader or C3PO.
“We’ve been to Glastonbury Festival a few times where there are often people in costume, but over time I’ve learned which areas of the site to avoid and which ones are safe for me.
“We’ve had to cut dates short before. Once we were walking towards our local bowling alley and I saw from a distance that there were some Star Wars fans in costume milling around. All I could do was ask Wesley to take me home early.
“We try to go to the cinema at least once a week and there have been a few occasions where there have been Storm Troopers roaming about. It’s obviously something the management enjoy doing from time to time.
“If I see them from the outside, I put my foot down and just refuse to go in, which has ruined the evening.
“Wesley’s as understanding as he can be, but there are obviously limits to what he should put up with. The strange thing is that I know it’s irrational, but as things are there’s not a huge amount I can do about it.”
The new film, entitled The Force Awakens, stars franchise favourites Harrison Ford who returns as Han Solo, Mark Hamill who reprises his role as Jedi hero Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fisher who will once again play Princess Leia.
It also introduces a cast of new characters including a Storm Trooper named Finn, played by British Attack The Block star John Boyega, and a new droid character, named BB8, which was reportedly inspired by early designs for R2D2.
Chantelle said: “I know everyone says R2D2 is cute. I’ve never met one in real life, thank goodness. I know that if I did I would freak out.”
Chantelle said she was willing to give the new film a go to see if it has any effect in helping her to conquer her worries.
She said: “Everyone will be getting into the spirit and I expect Wesley will be keen to go and see it. It’s not as if I can hide from it forever – it’s the biggest film release for a long time.
“I think I’ll be OK in the cinema with Wesley there.
“But if there are Storm Troopers in the lobby as people are queueing up, that might be a different matter. I just wish they’d disappear to a galaxy far, far away!”