HANCOCK COUNTY — On a recent Thursday evening, Michael Tucker roamed a dimly lit gallery space on the east side of Indianapolis, instructing a group of eager students wielding illuminated plastic swords.
Though the T-shirts and jeans resemble nothing like the Jedi robes of the warriors they strive to emulate, the moves Tucker leads them through come close.
Tucker, a 2010 graduate of Greenfield-Central who recently relocated to Indianapolis, is a trained sword fighter whose love of Star Wars led to create a unique experience for fellow fans with the help of one very well-known prop.
He offers weekly classes out of the facility, training a group of about 20 die-hard fans to duel against one another with lightsabers — all while utilizing classic combat techniques. His business, the Indy Lightsaber Academy, opened in May, months ahead of the latest release in the series, “The Force Awakens,” which premieres in local theaters today.
Tucker, 24, predicts the following the academy has gained from its clients, who range in age from 10 to 60, will outlast the flurry of attention the new film has drawn to the series.
“There’s a lot of interest in this,” Tucker said. “It’s unlike anything else.”
A paralegal by trade, Tucker devotes about 30 hours of his own time each week to the fledgling enterprise, which came to fruition by chance last spring when he answered a Craigslist ad seeking a stage-combat instructor with martial arts background.
Tucker, whose dramatic background began with theater productions at Greenfield-Central High School, has received extensive weapons training over the years; he met with the poster, Doug Durbin, after spotting the ad.
Durbin of Indianapolis pitched the idea to open the Indy Lightsaber Academy but said he needed someone with combat-training experience to design the class.
Tucker, who recalls watching his “Star Wars” tapes as a child so many times he almost ruined the tapes, was up to the challenge.
“It was the perfect match,” he said.
He drew from his experiences on stage and developed a routine that could be taught to students.
In all, he and other instructors from the academy teach seven forms of fighting that draw from various styles, Tucker said. Some forms are based around two-handed Samurai-style combat; others styles resemble fencing, and one requires students to fight with two lightsabers, one in each hand.
Brian G. Hartz, who helps Tucker instruct students, said it’s been a challenge to adapt the fighting seen in the movies to what can be re-enacted in the real world.
“All we know about it is theatrical, in terms of what we’ve seen in the films,” Hartz said. “But we have something for every style. Some are focused more on offense, and some are centered around defense.”
Tucker said he purposely designed his classes to make sure some form of instruction is accessible to anyone who can hold a lightsaber. He’s taught students of all abilities, including some who use wheelchairs and some who are blind or deaf, he said.
“I don’t care how good you are; I don’t care how well you can execute a move,” Tucker said. “I want someone who’s passionate; and if they’re willing to overcome the odds, I’ll help them.”
Kelly Snyder of Fishers, a regular at the academy, said she discovered the organization after bringing her kids to a demonstration at a public library that Tucker and several other instructors put on.
Snyder, a self-described “Star Wars fanatic,” said she told her husband about the classes, and the couple decided to take a lesson. After the first, they were hooked, she said.
“It’s pretty intense,” she said. “You really have to be meticulous about your movement and careful about how you strike. I like that attention to detail. I feel like I’m actually learning an art.”
Snyder said she’s never been drawn to martial arts but admits the classes hold a separate appeal.
“If it didn’t have a lightsaber involved, I’m not sure I’d be in the class,” she said.
The lightsaber blades used at the academy are polycarbonate tubes illuminated by small light bulbs in the aluminum handles. They’re no child’s toys, either; they run anywhere from $80 to thousands of dollars, “depending on how many bells and whistles you want on it,” Tucker said.
Students are required to bring their own lightsaber to the classes, but Tucker offers wooden practice swords as an alternative to clients who haven’t invested in a saber.
Tucker said he intends to develop the company into a full-time business. He and other founders of the company are trying to establish partnerships with community organizations, and he hopes to hold an after-school league for students from local schools.
While he’s pleased with the progress the company has made in the last eight months, he wants to see more, he said.
“A year ago, we were all sitting around wondering if we could make this work at all,” he said. “We’ve proven that, and now we need to take the next steps to expand.”