The force is strong with the Fiesta Bowl Rugby and Balloon Classic

A view of the Yoda balloon that will ascends to a galaxy not so far away next month at the Fiesta Bowl Rugby and Balloon Classic at Scottsdale Stadium. (Submitted photo)

A view of the Yoda balloon that will ascend to a galaxy not so far away next month at the Fiesta Bowl Rugby and Balloon Classic at Scottsdale Stadium. (Submitted photo)

The Fiesta Bowl Rugby and Balloon Classic is taking advantage of a box-office hit this year as they introduce a post-event show that can attract non-rugby fans to the rugby-centered event.

After Arizona State University takes on the Mexican National Team at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 23 the hot air balloon glow will feature familiar faces, or masks, as two Star Wars characters and other balloons will light up the sky.

Benoit Lambert has traveled the world with his Darth Vader and Yoda hot air balloons and he will be making a stop in the Valley this spring.

Mr. Lambert, 35, says he’s been a Star Wars fan since he was 8-years-old and he recently tied together two of his loves — balloon piloting and Star Wars.

“We decided to do it for the 30th anniversary of Episode IV,” he said in an e-mail interview from Court-St.-Étienne, Belgium. “I decided to do Darth Vader because everyone can recognize Darth, whether or not you’ve seen the movies.”

Jennifer Moser, co-founder of the Fiesta Bowl Rugby and Balloon Classic, says the event is always looking to grow and given the popularity of Star Wars and the release of a new movie, it made sense to reach out to Mr. Lambert.

“We thought the balloons would be great for families and we know that they’re very popular so it would be something new and different to add that would be exciting for everyone to see,” Ms. Moser said in a March 2 phone interview. “If you’re a fan of rugby, you can come to watch rugby or you can be a fan of the balloons and come to watch the balloons, or both.”

Mr. Lambert says shortly after completing the balloons, he began touring them and has been stunned by the popularity that has taken him to three continents.

“I never imagined that,” he said. “It was my dream to fly it and now I share it with everyone. The popularity is high in the U.S.A and Asia, less in Europe. Our first flight was in Albuquerque, people were crying, applauding. Star Wars is in the U.S.’s blood.”

The addition of balloons may attract non-rugby fans to a rugby event, but Ms. Moser says that is not necessarily the goal of bringing the balloons.

“That’s definitely an added perk but it’s really just adding a cool element to the rugby event,” she said. “You can watch the rugby, you can stay as it’s getting dark and watch the glowing in the balloons — it’s just something different to see. It was really about bringing families out and giving them something to do in the afternoon through the evening.”

Darth Vader will also make an appereance at the Fiesta Bowl Rugby and Balloon Classic at Scottsdale Stadium next month. (submitted photo)

Darth Vader will also make an appearance at the Fiesta Bowl Rugby and Balloon Classic at Scottsdale Stadium next month. (submitted photo)

Jason Rose, co-founder of the event, says the late start time and the cooler temperatures that come with it might increase attendance.

“We’ve moved (the match) to five o’clock so it’s going to be a lot cooler, a lot of shade,” he said in a March 2 phone interview. “It’ll be a comfortable environment experience to come watch the match. We think with the event and the intriguing match-up that we’ve got, we’re going to see a sizable crowd.”

Mr. Lambert says this will be the first time Darth Vader and Yoda will visit Arizona, and he joked about bringing his balloons to a rugby event.

“I am not a big fan of rugby, I play with a bigger balloon,” he said. “We are excited to be there, it’s our first time in Arizona with shapes and the show looks good too.”

Ms. Moser says the balloons should help the event grow, and that is the goal every year.

“We’re always challenging ourselves to come with something that tops the previous year,” she said. “We’re always looking for the things to add and continue to add.”

Mr. Maskulinski serves as Sports Correspondent for the Scottsdale Independent and can be reached at jmaskulinski@newszap.com

Scottsdale Independent Sports Correspondent Justin Maskulinski can be contacted at jmaskulinski@newszap.com. Follow him on twitter at twitter.com/Maskulinski.

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