Illinois Athletics is hosting their third annual Movie Night at Memorial Stadium on July 30, and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is one of this year's options in the fan vote. Obviously, the other choices don't stand a chance. But this led to an interesting question from TCR follower Sam LeRoy on Twitter.
@Champaign_Room if you had to cast Star Wars as the Illini rebellion vs First Order of assorted B1G villians, who's who?— Sam LeRoy (@samleroy18) June 28, 2016
I love that question. In fact, I love it so much that I went ahead and wrote 2,130 words on the topic. Here's the entire Big Ten Conference cast as characters from the latest entry in the Star Wars saga.
Note: I guess this post technically contains major spoilers. Also, you're technically a stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder if you haven't seen the movie yet. Technically.
Illinois Fighting Illini | Rey
I mean, duh, this is a Fighting Illini community. Of course we're the main character.
Our beloved protagonist grew up as a lowly scavenger on Jakku while living in the shell of a bombed-out Imperial AT-AT Walker. So, not entirely dissimilar to what Illinois' conditions have been in recent years. Rey is a hesitant character, and this was perhaps best illustrated by her initial unwillingness to accept a newfound role within the Galaxy (i.e. refusing to take the Skywalker lightsaber). Remember when Illinois insisted on keeping Bill Cubit? Yeah — that also changed in a hurry after Josh Whitman discovered his own latent force abilities. Sometimes it just takes a little encouragement from peers and/or fans to get things kicking in the proper direction.
Lastly, Illinois’ history aligns rather well with Rey’s suggested lineage. Is she a Skywalker? A Kenobi? Perhaps a Palpatine clone? Whatever the answer may be, it seems fairly obvious that Rey’s family tree destines her for greater things. Similarly, the Fighting Illini claim 5 national titles (T-9th in the country), and those legends lay the foundation for a potential awakening under Lovie Smith.
Indiana Hoosiers | General Hux
Brendol Hux, the father of our esteemed commander, was a higher-up military presence in the Empire, and the Galactic Republic before that. So Hux Jr. clearly grew up in a very /r/TheEmpireDidNothingWrong environment, and it’s likely that this lifestyle is all he’s ever known. From his perspective, the ‘evil’ First Order isn’t doing anything wrong at all.
If I’m not mistaken, that’s exactly how every young Indiana native learns to root for the Hoosiers. One moment you’re learning how to sing the alphabet, the next you’re cheering on Bob Knight at a Donald Trump rally because your parents said it was the right thing to do. Make Indiana Great Again!
Iowa Hawkeyes | Chewbacca
Brute strength, inhumane roaring, inherent grittiness, and laser bowcasters; am I describing Iowa’s offense or Chewbacca? The lovable Wookie is one of the older characters of the saga and, while he’s never really been a main protagonist, he always seems to come up big during important moments. That’s not unlike a typical Iowa football season. The Hawkeyes never have the most talented roster, but they always seem to be contenders in the Big Ten.
It’s difficult to interpret the constant banter of Iowa fans on Twitter, but a trained ear can learn to communicate with relatively few mishaps. Just make sure to never publicly disparage Kirk Ferentz because your arms will get torn off as a result.
Maryland Terrapins | Finn
Maryland had a nice thing going for them in the ACC, but their jump to the Big Ten made it clear they weren't morally satisfied with the dark side. Stormtrooper FN-2187 faced a similar situation during the First Order's raid on Jakku. He saw some terrible things, and ultimately defected to aid the Resistance in their battle against evil.
We know Finn is returning for Episode VIII next Winter, but his status is slightly up in the air after getting slashed down the back by Kylo Ren's lightsaber. Maryland's football future also features some uncertainty! Former Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is the Terrapins' new coach, and 2016 will be his first-ever season at the helm of a program. It seemed like a good hire, but it may take several years for results to materialize in the Big Ten East.
Minnesota Golden Gophers | Boba Fett
After spending about two days brainstorming a comparison for Minnesota, I decided to cheat and pick a character that didn't appear in The Force Awakens. I needed someone highly overrated, and the movie didn't really have anyone that fit the bill. So the only logical choice was Boba Fett. This bounty hunter is a fan-favorite after appearing in Episodes IV-VI, but he was ultimately killed by a blind Han Solo after having spoken only a small handful of lines. Why is that cool? It's not, and it really reminds me of Minnesota.
And, man, Minnesota has without a doubt been the most overrated team in the conference over the past few seasons. Former Golden Gophers coach and media-anointed superman Jerry Kill built a winner from nothing, sure but, his teams got incredibly lucky while playing a soft Big Ten West schedule.
Also, Gophers senior quarterback Mitch Leidner is being projected as a First Round NFL Draft pick by ESPN's Todd McShay. You know, the guy who's arguably the worst passer in the entire conference. But he did have one above-average game against Illinois!
Michigan Wolverines | Kylo Ren/Ben Solo
At it’s core, Star Wars is a story about the Skywalker family. Anakin burned everything to the ground, Luke tried — and evidently failed -- to fix it all, and now Kylo Ren is the last confirmed descendent. Well, it isn’t too farfetched to suggest that Michigan is the most important program in the Big Ten. I’d even go as far as saying that the conference is clearly better and more entertaining when the Wolverines are at their best.
It may be a tough pill for fans to swallow after the death of Han Solo, but Kylo Ren does have some redeemable qualities. Will he eventually become this generation’s new hero? Will Michigan overtake Ohio State as the true team-to-beat? Only time will tell.
Also, Michigan alum Darth Vadar narrates the football team’s pregame video. That counts for something, right?
Michigan State Spartans | Captain Phasma
Michigan State is clearly one of the better programs in the Big Ten, but are they really in the same conversation as Michigan and Ohio State? Hell no. This makes Captain Phasma the only adequate comparison for the Spartans. The commander of the First Order’s stormtroopers was marketed as one of The Force Awakens’ main villains pre-release, but she only ended up with, like, 2 minutes of screen time. But those 2 minutes were awfully important! Phasma proved to be a complete pushover, and her choices during critical moments led directly to the destruction of Starkiller Base. Remember the last time Michigan State was in the spotlight? They got dropped 38-0 in the College Football Playoff, embarrassing the Big Ten in the process.
Michigan State has fantastic branding, though. Their uniforms aren’t quite as flashy as Phasma’s chromium armor, but that logo is plenty marketable towards younger college football fans.
Nebraska Cornhuskers | Maz Kanata
The Cornhuskers claim 46 conference titles and 5 national championships, making them one of the more noteworthy programs in the sport. Likewise, Maz Kanata's 1000+ years of experience have made her a galactic power in the smuggling business. Her middle-of-nowhere castle on Takodana also bears a striking resemblance to the barren landscape of Nebraska.
Maz isn’t an on-screen force user, but a deleted scene during the First Order’s raid of Takodana suggests otherwise. You know what else got deleted? Nebraska’s Big 12 history. Exactly zero fans outside of Lincoln care about that past, foreign success. It means nothing to us.
Northwestern Wildcats | C-3PO
You may not recognize Northwestern thanks to their recent 10-win season, but they’re unquestionably the C-3PO of the Big Ten. When the 11:00am football wave is nearing conclusion and ABC cuts to the Wildcats warming up, your immediate reaction is probably a sarcastic laugh/eye roll combo. This is also the only acceptable response upon hearing a line from our golden-clad protocol droid. Speaking of which, Threepio knows over 7 million forms of communication; it’s abundantly clear that he spends most of his Saturday afternoons in the library.
Thank the Maker for Lovie Smith. Hopefully Chicago’s Big Ten Team will stop getting in the way of our televisions after a few losses at Soldier Field.
Ohio State Buckeyes | Snoke & Luke Skywalker
OK, HEAR ME OUT.
Ohio State is the main antagonist of Big Ten football. Urban Meyer has an absurd 50-4 record across four seasons with the Buckeyes, and they’re a constant threat to make the College Football Playoff. Despite the fact that we know next to nothing about Snoke, it's a safe assumption to say he's the entity pulling all the strings behind Kylo Ren and the First Order. Snoke is also described as an "ancient being" with a vast knowledge of the dark side, which can be interpreted as a subtle nod towards Ohio State’s resounding history of success.
However if you pay attention, something funny happens when the Buckeyes represent the Big Ten on a national stage. The entire conference lets go of their hatred to rally behind them on social media, making them the de facto Luke Skywalker of our fledgling rebellion. We furiously root for the ‘good guys’ to come out on top over the dreaded SEC.
Plus, the annual handover of the Illibuck trophy to Ohio State is rather symbolic of Rey handing over the lightsaber to Skywalker.
Penn State Nittany Lions | Lor San Tekka
Penn State’s move to the Big Ten in 1990 laid the foundations for the conference’s modern presence on the East Coast. Similarly, the latest Star Wars entry started when Lor San Tekka passed on a map fragment to Poe Dameron and BB-8. Both clearly know the importance of geographic domination.
After serving his initial purpose, though, our elder Church of the Force member got the hell out of the way via decapitation. Coincidentally, that's awfully similar to the punishment that the Nittany Lions received from the NCAA after the 2012 Sandusky scandal. But Penn State somehow managed to stay alive, and their reward includes yearly games against Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State. Good luck with that, James Franklin.
Purdue Boilermakers | Jakku
Don't let your eyes deceive you -- this lawless desert wasteland used to be an important place! Jakku was the home of a secret Imperial research base and, shortly after the destruction of the Second Death Star, this planet became the site of the Empire's final stand against the Rebellion. Believe it or not, Purdue football also resembled something decent at one point in time. Drew Brees, Cliff Avril, Mike Kerrigan, and Rob Ninkovich are just a few of their recent players that went on to have NFL success.
But the Boilermakers are terrible now. So, so terrible. That's why they they're getting compared to an Outer-Rim planet that's essentially a knock-off version of Tatooine.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights | Kanjiklub
What’s that sound? It’s Rutgers, and they’re here to steal your Big Ten media payout. Jim Delany made a deal with these cutthroats in order to secure the East Coast media markets, and he secretly has no intention of meeting his end of the bargain. But what exactly is Kanjiklub, you ask? Perhaps this clip will help jog your memory.
Here’s a part of the group’s official description from the Star Wars Databank.
An Outer Rim criminal organization, Kanjiklub is a rival of the Guavian Death Gang. But while the Guavians are cold and technologically adept, the Kanjiklubbers are street fighters, brawling with improvised tactics and wielding a hodgepodge of blasters, knives and clubs. The group’s wild style reflects their origins as renegade slaves of the Hutts.
What more is there to say? They are Rutgers.
Wisconsin | Poe Dameron
Poe was originally supposed to die in the Tie Fighter crash near the beginning of The Force Awakens, but J.J. Abrams rewrote the script because Oscar Issac is a great actor. Now he's one of the main new characters! This is essentially what happened to Wisconsin when the Big Ten put them in the West Division. The Badgers went from a perennial middle-of-the-pack program to being in contention for the conference title game every season.