April 7, 2008

What do Storm Troopers have to do with St. Patrick's Day?

Just after the St. Patrick's Day parade, the communications director had me do a writeup on the 501st and what I do with it. Here's what I came up with:

In a word, nothing. However, if you were in Boston for the South Boston Saint Patrick's Day parade, you might have seen a number of people dressed in the manner of the characters from the Star Wars movies. Odd, considering that the last Star Wars movie was released in 2005, with no other feature films planned (although there will be an animated, CGI feature coming in August).

I belong to an organization called the 501st Legion, a group that's dedicated to costuming on the Imperial side of the Star Wars films. We portray the bad guys (or, as we like to say, we're the good guys fighting for the wrong people), and our sister group, the Rebel Legion, does the good guys. I'm a member of the New England Garrison, which covers Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. (Connecticut has their own garrison).

Generally, we're functional adults, hold jobs and share a passion for the Star Wars movies - where some people spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on antique cars, golf and other 'socially accepted' things, we put money into making screen accurate costumes, which have been hailed, by Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and George Lucas (the series creator) as better than the costumes in the filming of the episodes.

Why would someone do this? Or, why would any normal person do this?

I do this because of one reason - we bring a certain type of joy to people, mainly children, who share a passion for things that most adults don't. Often, when I've marched in a parade, attended a convention or have been out in armor, kids who see me and my fellow legion members will light up. Star Wars captured my imagination as a child, and does so for many people today - seeing something like that, for a child, is mind-blowing, inspiring and exciting. Seeing a kid get excited seeing something from their favorite film is more than enough reward.

We don't just walk around and just exist. One of the primary motives for the group's existence has been charity work. Two years ago, Katie Johnson, the daughter of the Legion's founder, died of a brain tumor, after a lengthy battle with cancer, at a very young age. The group rallied around her family and sick children everywhere - we raise money for funds to help research cancer treatments, we walk in charity walks, visit children in hospitals, all to help make something of a difference for them. Their world is hard enough, and the hope is that we can do something memorable, and maybe make a difference in their lives.

My start with this came in late 2003, as a college undergrad. I purchased a suit of storm trooper armor (or, if you want to get technical, an FX TK Suit), put it on, did some Halloween things, attended a couple conventions and parades since then, while working with the group, tracking the world wide events that go on. I've just started contributing to the legion's history project and their bi-weekly podcast.

It's a hobby that's really out there. We catch a lot of flak from people who don't understand why we do this sort of thing. We're not a group of geeks who don't have a life. I can easily say that the group is like an extended family. Our events double as reunions from people of all walks of life and places in society.

Currently, there's just under five thousand members on every continent, and we're out every week, somewhere in the world, trying to make the world a better place.

It's up here.

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