It’s nearly impossible to be a Star Wars fan these days and not have heard of the 501st Legion. However, I’m constantly surprised by people who know the name, but don’t know very much about the group. With that in mind I’ll be doing a regular column here on the Star Wars Report talking about the Legion and my time as a Legion member.
For this first installment we will be covering Legion history, both of the group and my own personal involvement.
The 501st was started by Albin Johnson in 1997 around the time of the Special Editions were re-released into theaters. Prior to this I don’t recall ever seeing Stormtrooper costumes at events, plenty of Jedi and occasionally a makeshift Darth Vader or Boba Fett, but never any Stormtroopers. For being such an integral and iconic part of the saga it’s surprising that no one ever built a Stormtrooper costume.
Albin quickly realized that Stormtroopers work best in numbers. One Stormtrooper is cool, but a whole squad is cooler. A basic website was created for people to share costume builds and photos and the Legion was born. It quickly grew into something much larger than anyone could have predicted.
Within 2 years there were over one hundred members. 5 years, over a thousand, and that number would double again within 2 years. The Legion grew exponentially. As of October 2014 the membership is over seven thousand active members in over 40 countries.
I first encountered the 501st at a local convention in 2007 but it wasn’t until a few months later at Celebration IV in Los Angeles that I first saw the troopers en masse. I was immediately intrigued and thought the armor was just the coolest thing ever. The next year the con rolled around again and the 501st were in attendance. I was hooked. I ordered my own set of Stormtrooper armor two weeks later.
Assembling the armor is a feat unto itself and I will focus a future article on construction of the costumes.
We’ve seen where they come from, but what the heck does a 501st member do?
The 501st Legion are known as the Bad Guys Who Do Good. We dress in the costumes to spread the love of Star Wars and give back to the community. We troop events big and small year round.
With so many members spread out all over the world, the Legion is broken up into different smaller regional groups called Garrisons. Here in the US nearly every state has it’s own Garrison. Then there are Squads which operate inside an existing Garrison. Once a Squad has grown large enough it can break off and become it’s own Garrison. Next there are Outposts, these are generally in different countries or more remote areas where there may only be a few troopers, not enough to form their own Garrison. Lastly, there are Detachments. This is a website or forum devoted to a particular costume type to help people build and improve the quality.
Every Garrison has their own particular method and way of doing things. In my garrison, Garrison Tyranus, we like to keep it simple. Our main goals are to support Star Wars, make kids happy and give back to the community.
The 501st does not charge for appearances, however, based on the specific event we may ask if the organizer can make a charitable donation. In 2011 the Legion helped raise over $11 million for charity both directly through our own efforts and indirectly by attending charitable events.
How does one join the 501st? It’s pretty simple, there are only three requirements. First, you have to own an approved costume. Second, you must be at least 18 years old. Third, you must attend at least one event per year in your approved costume.
Hopefully this has been informative and has helped everyone learn a bit more about the 501st Legion. In future columns I’ll be exploring more about the costumes themselves, both Legion acceptable costume types and Star Wars costuming in general.