ST. JOSPEH, Mo. — A 22-year-old man named Wes McKellar, a Catholic seminarian in the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, received a surprise phone call from Hollywood film director J.J. Abrams before an advance screening of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
It happened with the help of 3 Little Birds 4 Life, a non-profit organization that grants wishes to young adults with terminal conditions, a group that is often phased out of wish- granting organizations because of their age. In their news release, they say that McKellar suffers from a terminal brain tumor that affects his motor control and speech. He was first diagnosed in January 2014 with stage four Glioblastoma/PNET cancer. Though he was cancer-free after successful surgery later that year, the tumor returned in September 2015. His oncologist gave him three to six months to live.
McKellar is a lifelong fan of the Star Wars series. His family and friends weren’t sure if he would survive to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens when it was released on December 18.
Father Greg Lockwood, a priest who works with the Diocesan Vocations Office and who has stayed near Wesley and his family over the time of this crisis, contacted 3 Little Birds 4 Life about granting McKellar’s wish.
“He told me Wes’s story, and that his only wish was to see the new Star Wars movie,” Ashley Swip, 3 Little Birds 4 Life founder and executive director said. “Two weeks earlier, LucasFilm had provided a special screening to another young adult with cancer, so we knew Wes’s chances were slim to none, but we had to try.”
According to the 3 Little Birds 4 Life news release this is how they were able to accomplish it:
- To make McKellar’s wish come true, they launched a social media campaign (#Wookies4Wes) in the hopes of reaching the right person. Representatives at LucasFilm, the company that has produced all seven Star Wars movies, assured Swip they would forward the request to Kathleen Kennedy, the company’s president. LucasFilm has received over 10,000 requests to see the new Star Wars early due to health issues, but only a handful of those requests can be met.
- Simultaneously, McKellar’s parish priest, Father Rogers of Saint Andrew the Apostle, called Lamar Hunt Jr., member of the founding family of the Kansas City Chiefs. He reached out to contacts at Disney, who passed the story to director J.J. Abrams. Abrams, whose mother passed away from the same form of cancer in 2012, called McKellar directly on December 5th.
“It was a surprise to the whole family,” Swip said. “He understood what Wes was going through.”
Three days later, LucasFilm representatives arrived at the McKellar home to present the special pre-release screening. Since many details of the story and characters of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens remain behind a veil of secrecy, McKellar was allowed to watch the movie with one other person, and his family was not allowed to take pictures of the occasion. He and his 15-year-old brother went behind closed doors to watch the movie.
“He loved it,” Swip said.
“Having LucasFilm grant Wes’s wish was a team effort on many different fronts. People coming together in this community to grant Wes’s wish is how 3 Little Bird 4 Life grants most wishes. We would like to thank Disney, LucasFilm, Lamar Hunt Jr., John Levin, and many others that helped, shared, and in the end helped grant Wes’s wish. It would have been impossible without them.”
3 Little Birds 4 Life was founded in 2011 following the passing of Swip’s brother, Tyler Gifford, from malignant melanoma. The organization grants wishes on an ongoing basis, and has granted 158 since July 2012. To find out how you can help grant the wish of someone diagnosed with cancer, please visit www.wishwishwish.org, or call 1-888-370-8885.
-Most of this information comes from a news release from 3 Little Birds 4 Life. –