A’s Doolittle hyped for ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Q&A: Sean Doolittle discusses his 'Star Wars' fandom, why he doesn't hate Jar-Jar Binks, and the pros/cons of Twitter. 

CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images

Oakland Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle is a man of many interests. He jogs in from the bullpen to the fury of Metallica’s "For Whom the Bell Tolls," eliciting a thunderous ovation from A’s fans in the right-field bleachers. He also has a compelling back story, as a converted first baseman who changed his career path to become a pitcher, an adventure that wound up leading him to the 2014 All-Star Game.

Doolittle is also recognized for his dedication to and work with American military veterans on a regular basis and recently served Thanksgiving dinner to Syrian refugee families in Chicago with his girlfriend, Eireann Dolan.

He’s also an unabashed "Star Wars" fan. As such, he’s quite excited about the upcoming film "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," and as its Dec. 18 release date grows near his anticipation has risen exponentially. How else are ballplayers supposed to spend the cold, bitter months between season’s end and spring training’s start?  

Within this context, Doolittle was kind enough to spend a few minutes sharing his thoughts on the new movie and the "Star Wars" universe. Does he have any specific hopes for the new film? What about the infamous legacy of the prequels? Did Han Solo shoot first, or was it Greedo’s doing? All is revealed in our Q&A below …

(Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part conversation with Doolittle, who reflects about the 2015 A’s, his frustrating injury-plagued season and more in Part 2.)

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is out on Dec. 18. Do you already have your tickets?

Sean Doolittle: (Chuckles) Yes I do, yeah. I bought them maybe a week or two after the first trailer came out and you could start to go online and order tickets. A couple of weeks went by and I started to realize that, ‘If I don’t get my tickets soon I might not be able to see the movie in the first weekend because then it might be sold out and I won’t be able to go on Twitter without it being spoiled’, so my brother and I got on the internet and we don’t have to worry about that anymore.

The hype for the movie helped set all kinds of records for presale tickets those first few days, so that makes sense. It’d be hard to be shut out and not see it the first weekend and then inevitably hear all about what happens.

Sean Doolittle: Yeah, you’d have to go radio dark and not look at your phone or go on the internet or anything.

Everything is very vague and mysterious regarding the role Mark Hamill will play in the movie, whether Luke Skywalker is now a "bad guy" or something. That’s the type of twist that would totally be ruined if you waited to see the movie. As for the "is Luke on the Dark Side now?" angle, do you have any personal theories regarding that?

Sean Doolittle: Hmm … no? I think one of the coolest things about "The Force Awakens" is that they’ve done such a great job building the hype for the movie without giving away anything. There are all these new characters and we don’t really know their back stories. We don’t even know if some of them are good or evil. And you know, the image of Luke in the trailer where –€“ well we assume it’s Luke –€“ where he puts his robot hand on R2-D2 … I don’t want it to happen but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s on the Dark side in the new movies. That was something that … in "Return of the Jedi," it was clear that the Dark Side is definitely in there as well as the Force or the Light Side, he definitely had this kind of battle going back and forth. I really don’t know … I would hate to see him switch teams, but maybe that’s what happens.

For anybody that may not know you other than being a pitcher or being on the A’s, just how big of a "Star Wars" fan are you? You tweet about it quite a lot, so you must be pretty obsessed with it.

Sean Doolittle: Yeah definitely. I think — and the same can be said for a lot of people with the release and anticipation of the new movie, I think people have gone back and revisited "Star Wars" and maybe watched the original trilogy or even sat through Episodes I, II and III. That’s kind of what happened with me, when stuff about the new movie got leaked. Over the summer, I remember sitting in the trainer’s room while I was on the disabled list when the first trailer showed up online. I was sitting in there with ice on my shoulder watching the two-minute video ten times in a row trying to figure out what it was all about. "Star Wars" was one of those things that … I don’t want to say I "grew up" on it, but those were the movies my brother and I watched with our dad when we were kids. We were a military family, and I don’t want to say my parents were strict, but it was cool when we were allowed to stay up late and eat pizza and watch "Star Wars." So I think it’s something that I was introduced to at an early age so I’ve always been a fan.

You were approximately 11 or 12 when the first prequel, "The Phantom Menace," came out in 1999. How did that one help or hurt your experience?

Sean Doolittle: I don’t think the prequels were anywhere near as good as the original three, but … I know there are a lot of "Star Wars" purists out there that kind of stick their noses up at Episodes I, II and III, and I know for the younger generation they just weren’t as good as the original three. People make them out to be these offensive movies that set "Star Wars" back all these years … I mean I get it, I get that they look at them differently but I also don’t think they were anywhere near as bad as everyone made them out to be.

What made the original "Star Wars" so good was that all the special effects were done by hand. They built the sets from scratch, all the ships and star destroyers and fighters were models that they filmed in front of a screen. When the AT-ATs are walking on Hoth, they filmed it incrementally so it looks like it’s walking. That stuff’s so cool, and then maybe some of that was lost in the new ones when everything was CGI. That’s maybe part of the reason why the super-intense "Star Wars" fans didn’t like them as much.

To that end, what’s your official stance on Jar-Jar Binks?

Sean Doolittle: (laughs) I watched a video yesterday that claimed that he … the theory was that he was even more powerful than a Jedi. In the second and third Episodes we were going to learn more about him and he was going to have a bigger role, but after "The Phantom Menace" George Lucas almost wrote him out because people didn’t like him so much. A lot of folks think he was in a sense a metaphor … I don’t know about that, but I think he was just really goofy. I think he was there for some comic relief that just didn’t land the way I think they thought it would but I’m not as hung-up about it as everybody else.

OK, now the ultimate question: Did Han Solo shoot first?

Sean Doolittle: (laughs) Oh, man … I don’t know. I really … I don’t know … no, he didn’t.

That question made the list because it’s such a hot-button issue for "Star Wars" fans. I asked (actor) Simon Pegg about it at an event a few years ago and he launched into a five-minute speech about the whole ‘Did Han or Greedo shoot first?’ thing. 

Sean Doolittle: That’s funny. No, I haven’t really thought about it much but that’s really funny.

You tweet a lot about a number of things: "Star Wars," topical things, the NFL’s catch rules (and controversies about it), video games, and so on. As a professional athlete, you surely know how Twitter can get people in trouble sometimes … but it can also make some people more popular than they would be otherwise. What, from your perspective, are the best and worst qualities of Twitter as a social media device in terms of how the internet works today?

Sean Doolittle: I try to use it in a way that shows fans and other people a different side of me that they wouldn’t see just from watching the game. It’s a great way to do that, to show that you’re not just a baseball robot. You have other interests beyond playing the game, that’s not going to be the only thing that defines you as a person. Maybe you have charities that you work with, other interests that you do, hobbies, in your spare time.

It’s almost a way to market yourself a little bit, and I enjoy doing that. The majority of the stuff I tweet, I keep it light on purpose, I try to make jokes that are intentionally over-the-top corny. Part of it is because I know that that’s safe, like you mentioned I know that if I make an awful pun or wordplay joke then my mentions won’t be as bad as when a guy branches out to comment on a social issue or religion or a topic that people are clearly divided about. That gets into a really weird area of Twitter that I really try to stay away from.

The good thing about it is you get to show people who you are and what you’re into and have some fun, make some jokes. The bad part is that you’re kind of open to a lot more criticism and people trying to bring you down. People might go on there and read something you wrote and look at it in a way that they might find offensive, and then they’ll twist your words around and the next thing you know you’re backpedaling and trying to explain yourself, and that whole situation is never fun.

And during the season, it can get really bad. If I blow a save, there are a lot of pitching coaches on Twitter that aren’t afraid to let me know that I should’ve done something differently. That part kind of stinks but I feel like there’s a lot more good that comes out of Twitter and social media than bad, as long as you’re careful about the kind of stuff you’re putting out there.