Fan Focus: Dave Byrne

Welcome to Rebel Briefing’s Fan Focus feature. Our mission is to celebrate the people who put the Force into Star Wars: the fans. Whatever your passion is, we’d love to tell your story. This week we chat to Dave Byrne about the upcoming May the 4th Be With You Festival, which starts tomorrow.

Taking time off from his 501st Ireland Garrison duties, Dave Byrne is up to his neck preparing for this year’s May 4th celebration. As festival coordinator, he is busy putting the final touches to the event, which, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, promises to be one of the best yet. Let’s find out more.

Rebel Briefing: Hi Dave, thanks for talking to us. As always, let’s start by asking what your favourite Star Wars film is and why?

Dave: The Empire Strikes Back because the screenplay is a masterclass in writing. The characters have more depth, and the film is darker. There’s great excitement when you see new characters for the first time. Empire’s production values are off the chart, considering the time it was made. The music score is one of my favourites, too. Not only is the costume design out of this world, but you are also left with one of the best cliffhangers of all time. It’s a masterpiece.

Rebel Briefing: What’s your first Star Wars memory?

Dave: My dad taking me to see Star Wars in 1977.

Rebel Briefing: Who is your favourite character?

Dave: Han Solo.

Rebel Briefing: Tell us more about The May the 4th Festival.

Dave: It is a celebration of all things Star Wars. It’s also Ireland’s biggest Star Wars festival.

Rebel Briefing: What’s the inspiration behind it?

Dave: The incredible Skelligs Coast in County Kerry, Ireland, was used in The Last Jedi and briefly in The Force Awakens. Brothers James and John Murphy from Portmagee Whiskey saw an excellent opportunity to attract tourists to the area. The idea is for fans to experience this beautiful Star Wars location. The brothers contacted Failte Ireland – the Irish National Tourism Development Authority – with their idea for a Star Wars-themed festival based in Portmagee and Valentia. Failte Ireland liked the idea and came on board. It also recommended they contact the 501st Ireland Garrison, and that’s how I got involved. We were able to guide the brothers on what fans would love to see at a Star Wars festival.

Rebel Briefing: How long has it been going?

Dave: We started the festival in 2018. 

Rebel Briefing: Because of COVID restrictions currently in place, how will this year’s festival work? 

Dave: This year’s event is a virtual festival where everything is moving online.

Rebel Briefing: And what do you guys have planned?

Dave: This year’s event will bring fans together online to celebrate our favourite galaxy far, far away. We have many fun events planned for all ages. This includes 100 of the best fan-made films, which viewers will be available to watch over the net. We will also chat with the directors. There are some fantastic pre-recorded interviews with stars from the Star War universe to enjoy, too. In addition, fans can learn how to make their own stormtrooper costume. The 501st Ireland Garrison and other Garrisons worldwide are on hand to explain how to become a member. We have many special guests joining us. We have competitions, including the ultimate online Star Wars quiz. Please visit the site every day during the festival, which runs from May 1st to May 4th.

Rebel Briefing: How popular is the festival?

Dave: It’s hugely popular with fans around the world. The Skellig Islands are a massive draw, and the area is among the top 10 Star Wars locations in the world. People from Ireland and abroad come every year.

Rebel Briefing: Star Wars put the Wild Atlantic Coast on the map. Do you think more fans are coming to Ireland because of the movies? 

Dave: More fans are coming to Portmagee and Valentia because of the film. The locations are now firmly on the Star Wars map.

Rebel Briefing: What has been the highlight of the festival so far?

Dave: For me, it’s watching Star Wars outdoors on the big screens. There’s something amazing about sitting outside watching your favourite movie under the stars.

Rebel Briefing: What’s your favourite Star Wars location in Ireland?

Dave: There are a couple of locations from The Last Jedi, but Portmagee, Valentia Island and the Skelligs will always be my favourite. The people down here are so welcoming, and I’ve made great friends. The Skelligs are impressive for their natural beauty.

Rebel Briefing: Do you have a good story you can tell us about the festival?

Dave: As I mentioned above, we have 100 fan-made Star Wars films online for people to watch. We’ll be interviewing some of the filmmakers about how they made the movies. Because the festival will be online this year, we can talk to directors from across the world via Zoom. This would be difficult during a live event because of the budget – it would be too expensive to bring the filmmakers to Ireland. Instead, they are joining us online to be part of the festival. I think that’s pretty cool.

Rebel Briefing: It must have been exciting when Lucasfilm came to Ireland to film the Ahch-To scenes?

Dave: Ireland has come a long way since films like Braveheart, Far and Away, and the Commitments were made. They were the biggest films to be made in Ireland during the 1980s and ’90s. Irish President Michael D. Higgins introduced section 481, which is a tax incentive for foreign filmmakers to come to Ireland to make films. Screen Ireland is also instrumental in promoting Ireland as a destination for directors and producers. To secure a movie from the biggest film franchise in history is an incredible coup. The excitement was tremendous and a significant achievement for Ireland.

Rebel Briefing: What are your plans for next year’s festival?

Dave: We plan to host our biggest festival yet. We are building a two-metre bronze statue of Luke Skywalker that will be revealed in Portmagee next year. Construction is already underway, and we’re hoping to have a very special guest to unveil it.

Rebel Briefing: Any tips for fans who plan to come to the festival or visit Ireland to see the filming locations?

Dave: Do some research first before you come. Book your accommodation well in advance, too. Follow as we’ll continue to update the site with information about what to do on and visit on the Skellig Coast.

Rebel Briefing: Why is Portmagee the home of the festival?

Dave: Portmagee is where it all began. The cast and crew were based there while shooting The Last Jedi. There’s no better place to celebrate Star Wars than on the Skellig Coast.

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