Narrabri man Rod 'Rocket' Strong has been a science fiction fan for as long as he can remember, and more recently, this passion has led to the formation of a regional Star Wars group in the New England North West.
Rocket's passion for sci-fi began as a child when he would watch re-runs of Doctor Who, Star Trek, Battle Star Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and others in the late 1970s.
He had a collection of Star Wars action figures long before he ever had the chance to see the movies, and from the moment he first saw A New Hope, he was hopelessly addicted.
"It was the perfect escape from the harsh realities of real life," Rocket said.
In 2019, frustrated with the lack of events in regional Australia, he set about to create his own group, with the intention that he would eventually host events of his own for like-minded souls.
After spending a few weeks working on content, the Knights of the New Republic Facebook page officially launched on May the Fourth 2019, a day known to fans around the world as Star Wars day.
The launch was low key, but was celebrated by visiting Inverell for its May the Fourth celebration.
It was here that Rocket met Sons of Obiwan Saber Academy founder Luke 'Master Yoda' Boyton, who he would become friends with.
Rocket had already ordered one of the Australian-made lightsabers the Sons produce, and this would soon become an obsession.
He now owns six in his personal collection, with another four on order to be used as 'Padawan' saber for running events in and around Narrabri.
"The group grew and evolved over the following twelve months, with a few small events hosted by the Knights, including booking the Sons of Obiwan for the Back to the Bri' festival over the October long weekend in 2019, and a cosplay appearance at the midnight screening of the final film in the saga The Rise of Skywalker," Rocket said.
"To commemorate the group's first anniversary, a Star Wars themed dinner party was planned, with a number of prizes up for grabs, but then the world changed with COVID-19, and sadly this, and other events the group had planned to attend during 2020 had to be cancelled.
"But the first anniversary was still celebrated with a series of four competitions over four weeks leading up to the big day, with winners across the region receiving their prizes in the mail."
In mid-2020 Moree's Byron Phillips and Wee Waa's Damian Edwards came on board as admins of the group.
Byron has a strong love of cosplay, while Damian dabbles in both cosplay and lightsaber tricks.
Most recently the group attended screenings of the original Star Wars trilogy in Tamworth, where fans were delighted with the cosplay and lightsaber antics of the group.
While events had to be cancelled in 2020, the Knights have big plans for 2021.
"A second anniversary event is being discussed, as well as visits to the Dark Sky Awakens festival in Coonabarabran, and further afield," Rocket said.
"We plan to host more events locally, including competitions and other fun stuff."
Earlier this year the Knights did a t-shirt run of their own unique logos, designed by Rocket and given a professional polish by a graphic designer in the UK. The run was followed a few months later with a hoodie run, also featuring one of the Knights' logos.
The Facebook page features news and reviews from the Star Wars universe, and the Facebook group (of the same name) is where the Knights post memes and "other goofy stuff" related to Star Wars.
With over four hundred members from all over the world, the group is slowly but surely finding its mark. With both the page and group constantly evolving to meet the demands of followers.
The Knights is a not-for-profit group, with proceeds from all sales and fundraising going back into securing equipment (such as the Padawan sabers) and to run future events.
They also have a MyCauses page set up, where donations can be made to help get more events off the ground, and they would welcome any corporate sponsorship, to help the group grow.
The Knights are more than happy to travel across the region to other events once it is deemed safe to do so.
The Padawan sabers will be used to run workshops in lightsaber spinning, and a moving meditation program under development by Rocket who is a qualified meditation teacher. The program will be a cross between saber spinning, and Tai Chi sword.
And if the cosplay side is more up your alley, the group has links to two international cosplay clubs: The Rebel Legion (for light side characters) and The Dark Empire (for dark side characters).
"Both of these groups are restricted to over 18 years, but we can also put the younglings in touch with The Galactic Academy (a cosplay group for kids) so they can take part in the fun too," Rocket said.
And for those mega fans who are interested in a Star Wars-themed wedding, vow renewal, commitment ceremony, baby naming or more, Rocket is a qualified celebrant who can officiate these events.
"All in all the Knights of the New Republic is a great group of people who just want to share their love of Star Wars," Rocket said.
New members are always welcome.
For more information about what they do, or to get in touch with them, go to the Knights of the New Republic Facebook page.