Jan. 8, 2020


Mark Lanier, a mechanical technician in UNT's Physics Machine Shop, helps make instruments and parts for lab equipment, including the physics department's particle accelerator. Lanier has been in the manufacturing industry for 25 years and, in a sense, it all started with a bag of Wonder Bread in 1977.

Since joining UNT's Physics Machine Shop, Mark Lanier has helped create parts for the particle accelerator that help focus and control the ion beam and pieces that compose the beam line to hold a vacuum similar to the atmosphere in outer space.

“One day my mom brought home this bag of bread — it was Wonder Bread,” says Lanier, who was 8 years old at the time. “On the outside of the package it said it had a Star Wars card inside, so I started eating as much Wonder Bread as I could to collect these cards.”

After he begged his parents for weeks, they took him and his younger brother to see the film at the local drive-in. As he ate homemade popcorn in the bed of his dad's pickup truck, Lanier's life changed forever.

“I can remember the opening credits coming up on the screen when you had that scrolling text that says, ‘In a galaxy far, far away.' My imagination was just totally blown away by what I saw on the screen, these spaceships and light sabers and laser guns,” Lanier says.

And he says it's no coincidence he now builds parts for particle accelerator lasers using robot-like technology.

Star Wars definitely boosted my interest in science and technology, because by seeing the movies I was exposed to all this technology that was just out of this world,” says Lanier. “Now, basically, I can program robots and stuff like that. The CNC machines in the Physics Machine Shop are basically a robotic type of technology used to create things.”

Those interests also influenced Lanier's hobbies outside of work. He built his own light saber using 14 different components he made with a 3D printer. The movies also made him more curious about space, which led to him joining an astronomy club and even building his own telescope.

With last month's release of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker drawing the Skywalker Saga to a close, Lanier reflected on what the films have meant to him personally since that night at the drive-in 42 years ago.

“I think about how I got to see it from the very beginning when nobody had ever seen anything like that,” Lanier says. “I feel like I've appreciated it longer than most people have.”

Ahead of the release of Episode IX, UNT POD talked to Lanier and other members of the UNT community about their Star Wars memories and the cinematic and cultural impact of the franchise.

Also featured in the episode are:

  • Stephen Mandiberg, media arts lecturer
  • Jennifer Porst, media arts assistant professor
  • Kevin Yanowski, catalog management librarian
  • Julian Mondress, sophomore and UNT Star Wars Club president
  • Jaena Ice, freshman and UNT Star Wars Club social media manager
  • Wesley Belisch, sophomore and UNT Star Wars Club member