Interview: Jess Black, founder of Cambridge’s Star Wars society

Scarlet Rowe 18 October 2021
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Meet Jess Black: Founder and President of the one and only Cambridge University Star Wars Society (CUSWS). For people who do not know anything about CUSWS, then Jess describes it as “a wholesome gathering place where a lot of people who don’t necessarily like Star Wars hang out and have fun, vibe and watch Star Wars. It is a safe haven where people can go after a busy day of working on their essay and relax among Cambridge’s coolest people”.

If you are not one for descriptions, then Jess has also made your life easier by summarising CUSWS in three words for you: “community, friendship, [and] family”.

As for the society’s key values, they are “fun, inclusivity, diversity, friendship, and symbiosis.” I ask Jess what this last word actually means as I vaguely remember it from GCSE Biology but that is about it. Jess helpfully informs me that in CUSWS , “people feed off each other, and become better for it”.

CUSWS was founded by Jess in 2019 in the second week of Michaelmas. At the time, Jess’s friends Ethan and John recommended that Jess set it up as “everyone just wants to hang out, make friends, and watch movies.” And so, long story short, Jess did just that, and “over the coming weeks CUSWS grew and grew so that by the end of term,  there were 20 or 30 people attending. “Everyone”, Jess assures me, was “having a nice time”.

Now for the trivia: Jess’s favourite Star Wars film is Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, which CUSWS watched this week. Jess watched this episode “as a little kid” and tells me that it is “creatively ambitious with lots of colours”. Jess is also a fan of The Star Wars Holiday Special which was released in 1978. This is because it is “Christmassy and vibey”. Jess informs me that “everyone says it is the worst thing ever made but it is fun to watch with a drink in your hand and a friend by your side”.

Jess’s favourite Star Wars character is Rey Skywalker, played by Daisy Ridley, who first appeared in Episode VII- The Force Awakens. Jess explains that Rey is the first woman to have led the Star Wars movies, and that she is a “really cool character who goes on a really cool journey”. Importantly, “her story is not defined by a man”. Jess is also a big fan of Princess Leia, played by the late Carrie Fisher, who first appeared in Star Wars in 1977, and is still in it today at the age of 60. Jess argues that Carrie was “an icon for living with mental health disorders”, before adding that “having older women starring in movies is cool, as Hollywood doesn’t usually do that.”

Jess acknowledges that there are any problems with Star Wars: “Disney isn’t doing much to increase representation, which they should be doing as lots of kids watch. There are lots of straight white actors, and the Fandom can also be a problem”. However, Jess adds that CUSWS embraces inclusivity, and elevates the positive aspects of Star Wars, while also not ignoring the negative. Jess has written on the CUSWS an article entitled “Star Wars Isn’t Gay Enough: Why We Need More LGBTQ+ Representation in a Galaxy Far, Far Away”, which is well worth a read.

As many of the original CUSWS cohort, including Jess, are graduating this year, I ask Jess what will become of CUSWS going into the future. Jess informs me that she aims to find her successor by “scouting the field”. As well as this, Jess aims to “continue to grow and accept new and friendly faces” to the society. Last but not least, she hopes that, week by week, the society will “continue to ensure that everyone has a nice lovely evening”.