The Cynical Optimist meets The Force Cast

A Star Wars podcast proves the galaxy is listening…

May 25, 1977. A sprawling space opera of epic proportions opens in theaters, instantly capturing the imagination of an entire generation with an irresistible force, and deeply embedding itself into modern global pop culture.

This galactic fairytale, created by George Lucas, fundamentally changed the aesthetics and narratives of Hollywood movies, while completely altering the film industry with groundbreaking special effects. It’s the definitive genre pastiche, meshing elements of science fiction, westerns, war films, and the quasi-mystical epic all into one big adventurous fantasy tale.

“Star Wars.” It’s become one of the biggest cultural benchmarks of the pasty thirty years. Characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, amidst a universe of exotic alien creatures and quirky robots, have become completely embedded in our popular culture. The film’s most memorable quips, lines like “May the force be with you,” have become a part of our everyday lexicon.

Since ’77, “Star Wars” has had its blasters set for stun and created its own universe of movies, books, comics, toys, cartoons and video games. It’s now a six-film saga, and while reactions have been mixed throughout the franchise’s long, illustrious history – there is still a contingent of diehard fans out there playing around in George Lucas’s sandbox.

Over the years, “Star Wars” fans have received a bad reputation. Stereotypes would suggest we’re all greasy-haired nerds – virgins living in our parents’ basements, swinging plastic lightsabers around and making Chewbacca noises. Unfortunately, fans like this do exist. There are, however, other virgin, basement-dwelling fans for practically every TV show or film – they just don’t have lightsabers. Instead they may have a stack of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fan fiction printed out beside their desk or some replica swords from “Xena: Warrior Princess,” but I digress.

The other “Star Wars” fans out there, the ones with level heads on their shoulders, are some of the nicest people you could ever meet. They engage in countless discussions about the films, enjoy collecting events and yes – attend fan conventions. Two such fans are Jason Swank and Pete Nadel, hosts of the weekly Star Wars podcast, The Force-Cast.

As the official podcast of TheForce.Net and RebelScum.Com (two of the biggest and brightest stars in a galaxy of fansites for “Star Wars”), The Force-Cast features the latest news, interviews, events and opinions from the Star Wars fan community.

Swank and Nadel live in North Canton, Ohio where they have completely normal, unassuming jobs. Jason Swank is currently the marketing and public relations manager for the Akron Symphony Orchestra, while Pete Nadel works in the Insurance Risk Department of a Fortune 250 electric utility company.

So how do two run of the mill Star Wars fans become mic jockeys for the biggest “Star Wars” podcast on the Internet? Well, according to Swank, it’s pretty simple.

“TheForce.Net was looking for a host to re-launch the podcast, so I quickly shot him an e-mail.” Jason attached a photo of himself with Ian McDirmid (the insidious Emperor Palpatine from the “Star Wars” films) as proof of his fandom.

Jason never expected to get a reply to his impulsive, but after a few weeks of waiting, Star Wars fan club president Dustin Roberts replied back, asking for a demo. Jason, who worked at a radio station for a couple years and spent some time on air as a promotions director, got with his best bud Pete and cut a demo.

“It was bad. It was really bad,” admits Swank. But despite their poor performance on the demo reel, and after a summer of waiting to hear back, Jason and Pete were brought on as the new hosts of the Force-Cast.

The quality of the show quickly improved, as Jason and Pete got more comfortable with the format, but they weren’t quite there yet. A few months in, the two began receiving emails from a “cocky radio guy” out of Chicago. “At first I thought he was just busting our chops,” said Jason. Turns out the guy just really wanted to help.

That “cocky radio guy” was Jimmy Mac, a radio personality who produced and hosted “The Star Wars Radio Special” for CBS, which featured his interviews with actors from all six of the films. After the final Star Wars film, “Revenge of the Sith,” came and went, Jimmy wanted to do more audio production involving his favorite pastime. Jimmy lives in the Chicago-area with wife Wendy Snyder, a well-known local talk show personality. “She is surprising tolerant of my obsession for ‘Star Wars,’” said Mac. The couple has two young boys, Michael (age 9) and Dylan (age 5) who share their father’s appreciation for George Lucas’s space saga.

Jimmy Mac was eventually brought on board to assist with The Force-Cast, bringing with him an extensive knowledge of broadcasting and production. “I liked what I was hearing and I thought Jason and Pete had fabulous chemistry,” said Mac. Jimmy Mac is right – if there’s one thing I’ve noticed while listening to The Force-Cast, it’s the automatic realization of who Jason and Pete really are. They don’t pretend to be experts, nor do they try to impress upon you elitist values like that “comic book guy” from “The Simpsons.” No – they’re just best friends with a deep bond in their mutual passion for “Star Wars,” and you can tell they just love talking about it.

With Jimmy Mac on board and a host of other contributors like collecting guru Dan Curto and human “Star Wars” encyclopedia Jay Shepard, Jason and Pete are hosting a professionally produced podcast. “We have it down to a pretty tight science now,” said Nadel.

On Wednesday nights, Pete arrives at the vaunted Force-Cast Studios about an hour before the show to breakdown the talking points and make sure they didn’t miss anything. Then Jason and Pete have a drink (or two) and it’s time for the live show.

“We worked very hard to pull off a live show. Ultimately it is the two of us sitting in Jason’s basement, chatting up Star Wars.” Okay, so there is a basement involved – but at least it isn’t Jason’s parents’.

The Force-Cast has a set schedule with several different segments. Typically at the opening of each show Jason and Pete may have some off-topic discussion before getting into the Billy Dee Clip of the Week, in which they play clips of Lando Calrissian actor Billy Dee Williams in various roles that are comical in their absurdity.

Then there’s the birthdays segment where Jason and Pete run down “Star Wars” cast and crew birthdays for that week, as well as listeners’ birthdays. Afterwards we get straight into the headlines, where the hosts run through the events of the past week that related to “Star Wars.” Who knows, maybe there’s a special interview with a member of the “Star Wars” community. The Force-Cast has interviewed Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), Billy Dee Williams (Lando, of course) as well as numerous authors, illustrators and Lucasfilm employees.

There might be a collecting segment where the Force-Cast gang and collector Dan Curto, goes over any big collecting and merchandise announcements for the week. Another hilarious segment of the show is The Outrageously Unthinkable Story of the Week, inspired by a famously overacted line from “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” in which Sio Bibble’s proclaims “It’s outrageous! It’s unthinkable!”

After a musical introduction from Jimmy Mac, the section features a story that is deemed too hilarious or unfathomable to put in the general news section. Past examples have been Chewbacca appearing on Judge Joe Brown or more recently, the Jedi Church.

The show is wrapped up with listener feedback, where Jason and Pete play voicemails and read e-mails from listeners and respond to them. Not to mention, the show is broadcast live on USTREAM.TV, where people can listen to the show and comment via chat room as its broadcasts

So what’s next for the Force-Cast? The once small operation has spread out in the form of “micro-casts,” with all manner of topics. There’s “A Galaxy of Music,” which plays songs inspired by the saga, as well as interviews with various people in the “Star Wars” community, and starting soon will be a “Clone Wars Roundtable” that will discuss the upcoming “Clone Wars” animated film and television series.

And yes, for those who have been living in a cave, “Star Wars” is back. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” hits theaters on August 18th and will be the starting point for a new animated television series airing on TNT and Cartoon Network this fall.

Of all the celebrities to have on the show, obviously a dream for Jason, Pete and Jimmy Mac would be to have the creator himself, George Lucas, on air.

“Why do you feel the story ends with ‘Return of the Jedi?’” is the question Jason would love to ask of the bearded one. Pete plays it safe, “What is the funniest thing that ever happened on set?” Jimmy Mac seems to sum up the feel of the show perfectly with his question, “If only 18 years passed between ‘Revenge of the Sith’ and ‘A New Hope,’ then why does Aunt Beru look like she aged 40 years?”

With over 150 shows under their belt, Jason and Pete have been on the air with the Force-Cast for close to two years now, and while they don’t typically keep track of the number of live listeners every week, The Force-Cast averages 50,000 downloads monthly.

Tune into the Force-Cast Wednesdays at 8 p.m EST at their And to get your daily dose of Star Wars, check out TheForce.Net and RebelScum.Com

You can also checkout the Force-Cast on Myspace and Facebook.