May The Folds Be With You

The Force is strong with Chris Alexander, it is.

The classic science fiction movie “Star Wars” debuted in 1977, when Alexander was 13. Ten years before, he had fallen in love with the art of origami, after his mother taught him how to make a paper cup. Today, in a galaxy very, very close by, he’s combined those two loves to form his own Empire — “Star Wars” origami.

“It started out as an accident,” Alexander said. “About 15 years ago I was teaching some kids how to make a penguin when I noticed the creature looked very similar to a B-Wing (one of the Star Fighters from “Return of the Jedi”). I looked at the penguin and thought, ‘If I turn him sideways, adjust the head and feet, I can make my first ‘Star Wars’ model.’”

Driving home from his penguin lesson, Alexander did exactly that. While steadying his steering wheel, he took a piece of paper and folded a B-Wing. Satisfied fully, he then set a goal for himself — invent an X-Wing (a interceptor and dogfighter of the Rebel Alliance) by the end of the month. Mission accomplished.

But, Alexander admits it should have died there.

A few weeks later, having successfully created two models, Alexander took them to show a friend of his, who worked in the special effects business (also a big “Star Wars” fan). Looking over his friend’s creations, he asked Alexander what else he could make. Having no other designs in mind, he told his friend that was all. There were no others.

“He told me I should write a whole book about it,” Alexander told Lagniappe. “I didn’t know how to write a book. I didn’t know how to invent models or how to draw diagrams. My friend said, ‘Teach yourself how to do it.’”

As Yoda once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Last August, Alexander released “‘Star Wars’ Origami,” the first book of its kind, containing detailed diagrams, and instructions for creating paper models from the famous space trilogies, all of which are his original designs.

On Oct. 26, he’s bringing his talents to Page and Pallete Bookstore in Fairhope.
Karin Wilson, owner of Page and Pallete, said she met Alexander at the last New York Book Expo and spoke with he and his mother.

“It was really cool because he has been doing this (origami) since he was a kid, and his mom taught him,” Wilson said. “He is very passionate about teaching people of all ages how to do origami. His enthusiasm is contagious and people were flocking to see his demos.”

This wasn’t always the case.

“I met George Lucas at one point, during the time I was looking for a publisher, and made a special origami gift for him, and he loved it,” Alexander said. “He told me who to talk to in the Lucas Conglomeration, the head of Licensing, which told me they weren’t interested in releasing the rights to myself or a publisher because a book like this (origami) would never sell.”

Alexander was persistent, refusing to take no for an answer.

Over the last 15 years, he volunteered at every “Star Wars” event he could think of, traveling from Los Angeles to Indianapolis and all the way to Boston. Alexander specifically remembers the exhibit in Boston at the Museum of Science Boston, called: “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination.”

In one day, and one day only, Alexander, his staff and volunteers taught over 1,000 museum guests “Star Wars” Origami.

“One part of the studio company (Lucas Films) was like ‘nah, this will never work,’ and the other was like, ‘Hey we want you to come do “Star Wars” Origami at our events.’ So I kept trying,” Alexander said.

Thomas Angleberger helped open the door for Alexander.

In 2010, Angleberger released “The Mysterious Case of Origami Yoda,” a story of an origami finger puppet Yoda who communicates with classmates for his “loser” master. The book was an instant hit with young people, so Lucas Films decided it was time to try a full book of origami and called Alexander, asking if he was still interested in doing a book, since his name was highly associated with the concept.

“That’s how it happened,” Alexander said. ” It wasn’t like I figured out what the magic phrase was and they said ‘OK, go for it.’ It was 15 years in the making.”

The book is currently at 20 on Amazon’s Top-Selling Craft books, and has made a few Best Sellers list, according to Alexander.

“The book is fully illustrated and easy to follow,” Wilson said. “Really great for the whole family.”

Alexander will be teaching “Star Wars” Origami at his appearance at Page and Palette, telling Lagniappe the models will depend mostly on what people want to do, but it would be wise to expect a Yoda and perhaps a Clone Trooper Helmet.

“I think because he is doing demonstrations and the book appeals to young and old, the response should be awesome,” Wilson said. ” I’m very excited for those curious attendees as well as ‘Star Wars’ enthusiasts.”

The original title of this story, as published in Lagniappe: May the folds be with you – a chat with a Star Wars Oragami Jedi. It originally appeared in the October 17, 2012, print edition.