Lucasfilm backing fundraiser for Make-a-Wish Foundation

Nerdist Industries has gathered its geeks to run to San Diego.

The pop culture comedy venture, co-founded by Chris Hardwick and Peter Levin, will kick off its “Star Wars” lightsaber relay race to Comic-Con on Saturday from Southern California’s Santa Monica Pier as a fundraiser for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

George Lucas’ Lucasfilm is backing the inaugural edition of what organizers hope will be an annual event leading up to San Diego’s fanfest that begins July 12.

“Everything is in place,” Hardwick told Variety. “It’s amazing to me that we were able to put all of this together. Lucasfilm has been tremendously cool.”

Idea was conceived by Levin as a way to raise money for a charity while also generating buzz for Nerdist’s products, including its YouTube channel, and get a leg up on the barrage of announcements expected to be made in San Diego.

“There can be a lot of negativity leading up to Comic-Con,” Hardwick said. “People want to dismiss things. We wanted to have a positive event and remind people that this isn’t really to promote a movie but to celebrate the things we all care about and are passionate about.”

Runners will pass off a custom Hasbro Ultimate FX Lightsaber at quarter-mile markers and are encouraged to wear costumes based on “Star Wars” characters.

To build buzz, Hardwick appeared on NBC’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” in February to announce the event (Daily Variety, Feb. 9), and he threw the first pitch during the L.A. Dodgers’ “Star Wars”-themed game on July 2. In between, he’s also appeared in online short films produced with Lucasfilm.

The latest short, penned by Broadway Video scribes and lensed at Industrial Light and Magic, tells the origins story of the Course of the Force as Hardwick carries the lightsaber from ILM to the Santa Monica Pier and interacts with “Star Wars” characters R2D2, Boba Fett, Ewoks and Tusken Raiders. Short also features a cameo from “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman.

Course of the Force starts at 10 a.m. with an event free to the public that includes live music by the Spazmatics and appearances by “Star Wars” characters and actors from the films, including Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca.

Hardwick serves as master of ceremonies and will be joined by Her Universe’s Ashley Eckstein and Nerdist’s Alex Albrecht and Alison Haislip along the way.

Celebs running legs include Drew Carey, Zachary Levi, Paul Scheer, Vanessa Lengies, Neil Everett, Michael Rosenbaum, FX’s Wilfred, Team Unicorn (Rileah Vanderbilt, Clare Grant, Milynn Sarley and Michele Boyd), Alex Heartman, Tyler Posey, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Kal Penn, Scott Mantz, Alie Ward, Georgia Hardstark, T.K. Nguyen and Adrianne Curry plus L.A. Galaxy players Edson Buddle, Pat Noonan and Bill Gaudette.

As of Thursday, Course of the Force still had slots available for $500 on July 8 and July 10.

Race, which will be streamed live on StarWars.com and the Nerdist YouTube Channel, will make stops at piers in Redondo Beach, Huntington Beach, Oceanside and Pacific Beach, where Nerdist will host “Conivals,” before ending in San Diego on July 11.

Sports marketing and events firm Octagon is handling the logistics of the run with cities along the way.

Hardwick will run the first leg of the race with a group of Make-a-Wish kids at 1 p.m.

Proceeds will benefit the Make-a-Wish chapters of San Diego, Greater Los Angeles and Orange County and the Inland Empire. Ebay, State Farm, Farmer John, Otter Pops, Hasbro, Shoebacca, Gogo, Rovio, Hyundai and PlayMechanix are sponsors of Course of the Force.

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