April 29, 2008

Bad guys doing good deeds

This in from the Florida Times-Union Jacksonville.com:

Bad guys doing good deeds
By WILLIAM MARDEN, Special to the Times-Union

Aaron Kahler is a tough-looking, bullet-headed man, a former Marine who works as a Jacksonville bail bondsman.

But in his spare time, he dresses up like a stormtrooper.
Which explains why you could find him near Friendship Fountain recently, sealed into that futuristic-looking white armor and wielding the energy weapons Darth Vader's infamous brigades made famous in the Star Wars movies.
He was shooting menacing looks alongside fellow members of Squad 7, the Jacksonville contingent of stormtroopers who make up Darth Vader's 501st Legion, otherwise known as Vader's Fist.
As he and six other members of Squad 7 took a break from the summerlike heat (and those hard plastic costumes do get hot), they drew a constant procession of young and old who couldn't get over the shock of seeing some of the most famous bad guys in cinema.
Despite their reputation, these bad guys had just finished walking 3 miles in the heat to raise money to fight juvenile diabetes. That's not unusual, Kahler said, because most of the 4,000 or so active members of the 501st Legion spend much of their time raising money or working for good causes.
Why would grown-ups around the world spend thousands of dollars, and untold hours, playing Star Wars make-believe?
To Kahler, it's as simple as the lure of the movies themselves and the chance to play the villain.

"I got into it two years ago," Kahler said. "I was a Star Wars fan from the time I went to see the first movie when I was 4 years old. I've been a fan ever since. I wanted to wear a costume like the Star Wars troopers even before I learned what they do for charity."
Kahler leads Squad 7, with 31 members on the First Coast and another three who live in the Tallahassee area. There are chapters in Tampa/St. Petersburg and a few other Florida cities.
He said the squad has helped the Ronald McDonald House and Wolfson Children's Hospital, including raising $1,000 to participate in the Red Wagon Parade.
Members take great pains to make their costumes as accurate as possible. Some make their own from molds, Kahler said, but most buy a kit that has black plastic under armor and the infamous shell of white outer armor. The kit costs about $1,000.
That's only the first step.
"We spend a lot of time screening still [pictures] from the movies to make the costumes as accurate as possible," Kahler said.
Troopers add bandoliers and pouches, and either modify Hasbro's toy stormtrooper blasters, or buy something such as a Hyper-firm long rifle, found online for $475.
And how do their loved ones feel about this?
"When I first got involved with it, my wife thought I was the biggest dork on the planet," said Kahler, who is married with two daughters. "It took two meetings for her to get into it and now she has armor herself. She hadn't seen a Star Wars film until we got married."
J.P. Fouchey has been a member for a couple of years and has two children, ages 8 and 21/2. He said his kids "love it" when he's in costume.
Attending events means the troopers must prepare to spend up to three hours just having fans take pictures of them, Kahler said.

Besides charity work, the squad also attends events such as MegaCon, the comic book convention in Orlando, as well as mall appearances.
Another Squad 7 member, Fabian Perez, said, "I've had more pictures taken of me in the last two years than the first 36 years of my life."
He said the payoff is putting smiles on people's faces.
But members of the 501st Legion don't deny that the chance to play the bad guys is a big part of the lure.
Arthur Pugh, 39, who has been in the squad for several years and a member of the 501st since 2003, said he joined because, "everybody likes playing the nameless, faceless bad guy. And those uniforms were just so cool."

No comments: