Tag Archives: 501st legion

A Trooper’s Point of View: Under the Helmet

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The costumes of Star Wars are iconic.  They are some of the most recognizable costumes in the history of cinema.  Even those not familiar with the movies recognize the costumes.  They have made an indelible mark on pop culture.  Wearing the costumes, on the other hand, is a completely different experience.  First and foremost the costumes were designed to look good on the big screen.  They were designed to be archetypal, at a glance the audience could easily tell the good guys from the bad.  The costumes were not designed with normal human movement in mind nor were they meant to be worn for long periods of time.

We have to take this all into account when talking about actually wearing the costumes as a member of the 501st Legion.

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The iconic and ubiquitous Stormtrooper becomes far less menacing when you realize the field of vision is so limited that they can’t see something right in front of them, or that movement is so limited they can’t pick up something at their feet.  We wont even bring up the true enemy of the mighty Imperial forces, stairs.

As I said these costumes were designed to look good in a movie.  There is nothing about them that works in reality.  I’ve nearly fallen trying to go down one 8″ step.  The costumes are too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.  There is almost nothing about an armored costume that I would call comfortable, there is only ways of minimizing your discomfort.

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Let’s start with the helmet.  A Stormtrooper’s helmet first can not just be taken straight on and off.  Because of the shape which is more of a flattened oval than a circle, you have to do a “corkscrew” method to take the helmet on and off.  You start with the helmet at an angle and turn it as you pull down.  Once the helmet is on, your vision and hearing are limited.  Imagine you are holding a pair of binoculars in front of your face, that is how much we can see in front of us.  Our peripheral vision is completely gone.  Needless to say we have to be very careful and aware of the area around us.

Some interesting things do happen once we put on the full armor and helmet.  Every part of your body is covered so you get a great feeling of anonymity.  This helps the first few times you wear the costume out in public.  No one knows it’s you and it can be very freeing.  Conversely people act differently when they can’t see your face.  In some ways it can dehumanize you and some people will forget that there is a person inside the armor.  Thankfully our negative experiences are few and far between.

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The body armor limits your movements in a variety of ways.  The shape of the pieces and how they fit together prevents a lot of movement.  If we drop an item it’s almost impossible to pick it back up.  Something as simple as sitting in a chair becomes a complicated ordeal.  I still have no idea how Harrison Ford managed to sit with his feet up and legs crossed.  The most impressive feat I’ve managed is being able to sit in a car (not driving) wearing most of my armor.

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Then there are the armor bites, or armor kisses as some call them.  These happen when two pieces of the armor come together in places like elbows or knees, the skin gets caught between the plastic and pinches.  It feels just as pleasant as it sounds.

We can’t see.  We can’t sit.  The armor pinches and limits our most basic movements.  You must be asking why we subject ourselves to such torture.  It’s the smiles.  For many of us it’s something we have dreamt about since we were kids.  The first smile we see is our own in the mirror as the costume comes together.  Everyone always seems so happy to see us that in the end it’s all worth it.

Trooper’s Point of View: Trooping!

10733850_852462078118057_2004696549878913853_oIn previous columns we’ve talked about history with the 501st Legion, and joining the Legion.  After you’ve gone through all the hard work to build your costume you want to wear it.  This time around it’s the fun part: trooping at events.
To maintain active standing in the 501st you need to do at least one event a year.  These events can be almost anything from a convention, a charity event, a Lucasfilm event, or a parade.  There are many different types of events that we attend.  Here in Garrison Tyranus covering the state of Virginia, we prefer to do events that help promote Star Wars, have a charitable aspect or benefit children.  Personally I’ve trooped a wide variety of events from conventions, to Lucasfilm events such as movie premieres and the release of the latest Star Wars products, to charity events and hospital visits.

I can’t say I have a preference on the type of event, each one is rewarding in it’s own way.  Conventions are a lot of fun due to the looser environment and give us a chance to interact with a wide variety of people.  Charitable troops and hospital visits give a great feeling of giving back to your community and helping to make things brighter for others.

DSCN0815Each troop is unique and has it’s own set of challenges and rewards.  But, there are some things that are common to all events.

First, there is the problem of changing into our costumes.  Unfortunately I can’t yet drive while wearing armor so we need a changing area.  These can range from a bathroom or unused room at the event to a parking lot.  While most of the changing stays PG rated, the first few events can always be a bit awkward as spandex undersuits don’t leave much to the imagination.  You get over your modesty pretty quickly.  At one of my first events I had to change in the parking lot of a Chuck E. Cheese pizza.  It was a pretty surreal experience.

When we first enter into an event there is always a reaction.  No matter how much an event is planned, someone always seems to be caught off guard.  I love to watch the adults turn into children.  Immediately the pictures begin.  It’s funny that a lot of people just want a “Stormtrooper selfie” now.  We troopers love to pose for pictures and we will happily take photos as much as we can.  Just remember we can’t see or hear very well, so you may have to try and get our attention.

No matter how excited the adults get, it’s the kids who provide some of our favorite moments of any event.  Most kids are excited to see us but then there are those that get excited to see us from a distance, but change once we get closer.  They can’t decide how to react, they are excited to see us but also realize that we are the “bad guys.”  In some cases there will be a trooper who takes his helmet off to help assure the kids that we are not really bad guys.  It’s times like these that it helps to have a “good guy” costumer with us or someone who isn’t under a helmet.

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I’m excited for this year’s Star Wars Celebration.  Trooping at the conventions is always fun, especially when the con organizers work to make us part of the event.  It’s one thing when we have a table to ourselves, it’s another when we get to be a part of the convention.  Frequently larger conventions will use Stormtroopers as convention “security.”

Trooping is hard.  It’s physically exhausting.  The costumes are too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.  We don’t get paid and frequently have to pay out of pocket for expenses.  All that goes away when you see the people’s faces and reactions, knowing that you helped bring some happiness into everyone’s life.

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A Trooper’s Point of View: Getting Started

Storm Trooper-09So you’re interested in joining the 501st Legion.  How do you become a part of the Galactic Empire?  Membership in the 501st only has three requirements.  First, you must be 18 years old.  Second, you must own an approved costume.  Third, you must wear that costume to an event at least once a year.  It’s the second point that we will focus on this time around.

I frequently get asked “What costume should I build?”  That is not an easy question for me to answer.  First, the costumes are not cheap.  Your standard trooper can easily be a $500 – $1000 investment.  Secondly, they take a while to build.  It took me about three and a half months to build my Stormtrooper.  Lastly, these costumes were designed with looks first and comfort second.  With that in mind I tell people to go with what they truly love.  If it’s your favorite character or you have a connection to the costume it will make everything that much better.

Now is the part where I tell you that I did not heed my own advice.  When I first made the decision to join the 501st I dove in before I had thought about what costume I wanted.  I really had no connections or particular affinity for the Stormtroopers before beginning my build.  In building the costume and doing my research, I grew to love the iconic design.  Now the troopers are one of my favorite parts of the saga.

You saw the 501st online or at a convention and want to join.  First we recommend signing up to the local garrison forums.  It’s an easy way to introduce yourself to the group and to find out about events and members in the area.  Secondly, you need to decide what costume you want to build.  After you decide what costume you want, you will want to check out the appropriate detachment.  This is a website and forum dedicated to a particular costume type.  Here you can find other people with that costume, tutorials, helpful advice and more.  You can find links to both garrison websites and the detachment sites on www.501st.com.

Box 1After purchasing your armor the waiting is the hardest part.  That time between sending in your money and the box arriving can be painful.  The day finally arrives and you get the Big Brown Box.  You open it up and see all the plasticy goodness.  It starts out like Christmas morning as you open the box, but you quickly realize how much work you have ahead of you in assembling this.  A box full of plastic is exciting and terrifying.  Where do I start?

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This is where the detachments will come in.  You can see others who are building the costume as well as follow tutorials and a wealth of helpful information.  I started with the smaller pieces to test out and worked my way up to the harder parts.  This is where I say that it’s helpful to have that connection to the character or the costume.  If you truly love it, it will keep you going when things get frustrating or difficult, and they will get frustrating and difficult.

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Full bodyAfter trooping for over a year, I decided I wanted a new helmet.  I spent the better part of a year building, tearing down, rebuilding, sanding and repainting my new helmet.  It was test of my skills and my patience as it seems anything that could’ve gone wrong, went wrong.  By the time I was finished I had nicknamed it the “Hell Bucket.”  More than once I wanted to punt it across the lawn and give up.  Remember it’s not a race.  If it will help you, set deadlines, but set realistic deadlines.  Everyone in the Legion has been there before, and we want to help you.  Troopers helping Troopers is a motto many live by.

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Once you have completed your build you take pictures of yourself fully dressed and submit them to your local Garrison Membership Liaison.  They will review the pictures, making sure your costume is built to the Legion standards.  When you are approved you choose your Legion ID number and take your place in the Empire.

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Rhode Island Comic Con

2014 Rhode Island Comic Con
by Joseph Tavano

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The last time I attended a comic book convention was 1993. It was in the large conference room of a Marriott on the outskirts of town, and there were roughly 20 vendors from all over New England selling hard-to-find action figures, bootleg concert cassettes, VHS tapes of first generation Star Trek episodes, and long-boxes of comics as far as the eye could see. This monthly slice of heaven was free to all who could find it and pretty much the greatest thing my 13 year-old eyes ever gazed upon. My Dad would drive my friend and me to the “comic con” and set me loose among the stacks and tables to burn through the $20 I earned washing refrigerated trucks from his friend’s Italian sausage business.

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A Trooper’s Point of View: A History

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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