Tag Archives: 501st legion

Dark Times and The Force Awakens

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As of the time I’m writing this we are 31 days away from the release of The Force Awakens and the beginning of the sequel era for Star Wars.  Looking back over the last 20 years of Star Wars it’s amazing to see how much Star Wars has changed.

After the release of Attack of the Clones in 2002, George Lucas was giving many interviews explaining how Episode III would be the end of the saga.  Since the mid 90’s, we had come out of the dark times of the 80’s and been enjoying new Star Wars content on a regular basis. I wasn’t ready to give all that up again and once more let Star Wars drift into the background.  I couldn’t imagine a world without new Star Wars.

It’s such a strange concept now to think of a world without Star Wars, but in 2002 it felt like it could be a real possibility. In order to stave that off and prolong the Star Wars story as much as possible, I actually decided to stop reading the Expanded Universe novels. This was right as the New Jedi Order was kicking into motion. To this day, I still haven’t finished anything beyond book 6 of the NJO.


This feeling of Star Wars ending stuck with me even after I joined the 501st in 2008. At the time, I felt like I was joining the group after they had peaked with the Rose Parade celebration in 2007. My feeling was that this would be a fun ride for a few years and then Star Wars would slowly drift away as other things came up to take it’s place in the geek pantheon.

How little did I know? Since then Star Wars has only gotten bigger with each passing year. Clone Wars came and broke the mold for an animated series. The 501st Legion and other club memberships continue to grow each year.

Now, 3 years after the Disney & Lucasfilm merger we have not one, but 5 new films slated for release over the course of the next 5 years, and who knows how much more beyond that. As Star Wars gets bigger and the excitement for the future of the saga grows, it gets harder and harder to ever imagine a return to those dark times of the 80’s. At least I know I’ll have plenty of Star Wars books to read if that should happen again.


Star Wars: The Next Generation “Midnight Madness”

Star Wars: The Next Generation
“Midnight Madness”

As a young father with limited resources, my Star Wars toy habit was on hiatus when the prequels were released.  Admittedly, I would peruse the toy aisles in Wal-Mart and Target when the family was shopping, and the Star Wars aisles at Toys ‘R’ Us and Kay-Bee were always my first place to browse when we went to the toy stores.  But apart from some Playskool Star Wars toys for my daughter and Galactic Heroes and Jedi Force figures for my son, it wasn’t until the release of Revenge of the Sith around my son’s third birthday that my Star Wars collecting was reborn.

That being the case, I had never considered going to Star Wars events (other than the movies) when my children were very young.  I certainly wasn’t going to any “Midnight Madness” releases of Star Wars toys I couldn’t buy anyway.  All that changed in 2008 when, in anticipation of the release of The Clone Wars in August, Toys ‘R’ Us stores hosted a “Midnight Madness” event to release the new line of Star Wars figures and toys.  Fortuitously, we were visiting family in Atlanta when the day arrived, so we headed up to the Kennesaw store at about 10:00 to get in line.

I didn’t know what to expect from something like this.  Apart from keeping the kids up way past their bedtime, I wasn’t concerned about taking them to Toys ‘R’ Us for this event.  After all, Star Wars fans are well known for their kindness and cordiality, so I was certain that everyone would be on their best behavior.  My wife, on the other hand, was sure that our younglings (small even for their ages) would be trampled by maniacal fans storming the store in competition for a big Millennium Falcon or V-19 Torrent Fighter.  Once we saw other families with their children there and talked to the folks near us in line, her concerns were lessened.

Then the unexpected occurred.

dsc04088Out the front doors marched a couple stormtroopers, a Republic Commando, and a bounty hunter named Boussh.  My wife and the kids watched as others stepped forward to see the life-sized action figures.  With some coaching and prodding, I was eventually able to get my six year-old son to meet the members of the Georgia Garrison of the 501st.  Within a few minutes, we returned to our place in line as my wife checked to ensure the youngest shazling was unscathed after his encounter with the Imperials just in time for the doors to open.

As we entered the store, all the customers who had been waiting in line calmly took their carts to the display and began picking the figures and toys they wanted to purchase.  There were more than enough Millennium Falcons and AT-TEs to satisfy customers, though some of the more highly anticipated figures were disappearing quickly.  I made sure to get my Yarna — certain that she would sell out immediately.  Luke chose a Captain Rex and Darth Vader.  And I topped off our shopping list with a V-19 Torrent Fighter.  We weren’t going to be big spenders, but this selection would put us above the price point to allow us to get a free holographic General Grievous Toys ‘R’ Us exclusive.

By the time we made it back to the in-laws’ house, both kids were asleep and my wife was happy that (1) they hadn’t been trampled and (2) I hadn’t emptied the bank account.

With another “Midnight Madness” on the horizon, I thought it would be beneficial to make a few suggestions for parents who are considering a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us on September 4th.

Make sure the store you’re considering is Clock Midnightactually hosting this event.  Although official site for the 2015 “Midnight Madness” states that all locations (except for those in Paramus, NJ), my local Toys ‘R’ Us has told me that they will not be even participating in “Midnight Madness” this time around.  I live in a relatively small city without a large contingent of Star Wars collectors.  If yours is the same, you may have to drive a bit further to find a store that will be hosting Destination: Star Wars, the official designation of the event.

Check to see if the 501st Legion, Rebel Legion, or Mandalorian Mercs will be attending.  Part of the magic of events like this is seeing your kids’ favorite characters from the movies, television, and toy aisles come to life.  Through their websites, you may even be able to find out which characters will be at certain stores.  Even if your local Toys ‘R’ Us is hosting Destination: Star Wars, you may want to go to another location if you want to make sure to have some interaction with Star Wars characters.

Consider costuming.  You might want to join in the fun, too.  Most everyone enjoys dressing-up — especially kids.  Even if your kids don’t have a costume and you lack the ability to craft a screen accurate costume yourself, ask your younglings if they would like to dress-up as one of their favorite characters for the event.  Let them help put together a costume.  A robe, some plain pants, and a toy lightsaber can make a convincing Jedi.  Cardboard and foam sheets can become Stormtrooper armor.  Be inventive.  Your kids will always remember the time you let them go out in public in costume when it wasn’t even Hallowe’en!  And if you have the energy to put into it, think about becoming a character yourself.  Those present for the event will enjoy having a character along with them for the night, especially if none of the well-known organizations aren’t in attendance.

HanSoloShirtWear Star Wars items.  In 2008, I didn’t have a single Star Wars T-shirt.  It seems unbelievable to me now that I have several* in my closet and drawer.  Still, I had the wherewithal to pull out an old iron-on transfer from my collection to put on a white shirt.  (For those who are shouting about the audacity of actually using an iron-on from the ‘70s, never fear: I scanned it into the computer and printed it out on iron-on transfer paper for printers.)  With Star Wars in public awareness, you can likely find an inexpensive shirt at Target or Wal-Mart for the occasion.

Set aside some money now.  We all know that Christmas is coming in just a few months.  And while I was reluctant to make big purchases at my first “Midnight Madness” because I knew that Santa would be bringing one or both of the big vehicles to my house in December, as I think back to that night, it would have been an exciting impromptu summer holiday for my younglings had we brought home the big Millennium Falcon that night.  Even if you decide to limit your spending at this event, it’s best to prepare beforehand so you can budget yourself accordingly without taking out a credit card because you suddenly decide to get more than you had planned.  Knowing how much you are able to spend will help you choose what is most important to you on September 4th.

If you have other ideas or advice to add to this list, feel free to add it below in the comments or contact me @shazbazzar on Twitter.  Happy hunting on “Force Friday” this September!

A Trooper’s Point of View: The Next Star Wars Generation

This weekend marks my seventh year as a member of the 501st Legion.  I remember it very clearly, I was so happy to have finished my armor after nearly 3 months of working on it.  I suited up fully, made sure everything was where it was supposed to be, took my pictures and submitted them to my local Garrison’s membership officer.  A short time later I received the email that said I had been approved.  I was now TK-5990, a Stormtrooper of the 501st Legion.


It’s funny to looking back to where Star Wars was at in 2008.  Clone Wars was just about to premiere, but there was no indication we would ever get another film.  Honestly, I thought I was joining the club after everything had peaked and I would have a fun ride until Star Wars disappeared from the pop culture landscape like it had in the dark times of the 80’s.

I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.

I have two approved costumes with the 501st.  My Stormtrooper armor, due to age and the number of modifications and repairs I’ve done over the years, has been converted into a Sandtrooper.  I recently made a second costume, a reserve TIE Pilot/Imperial Crewman.  I needed something that could travel better for flying out to Star Wars Celebration in August, so I went with a soft goods uniform.  It is nice to be able to sit down in costume.  Both of these costumes are from the Original Trilogy.


The majority of the costumes in the 501st Legion come from the Original Trilogy era.  There has always been a worry with members that kids would not recognize the classic characters as the original films got older, and they would only recognize the newer characters from the Prequel Trilogy and newer materials.  However, this has not been the case.  Darth Vader and Boba Fett continue to dominate the photo opps at nearly every event.  Kids consistently recognize the classic Stormtrooper.  I’ve heard kids correcting others that mistakenly call us Clonetroopers.  The Rebels TV show definitely helps to increase the visibility of the Original Trilogy era costumes as well.

Star Wars has shown us all that it will not go quietly into the night.  Events like San Diego Comic-con and Star Wars Celebration show how relevant Star Wars continues to be.  I can’t fathom Star Wars ever disappearing from the pop culture landscape.

Seven years later and I am having more fun than ever trooping.  Being a part of the 501st has given me so many fun experiences and opportunities.  Here’s hoping for another seven years and beyond.


A Trooper’s Point of View: Brotherhood

In previous columns I’ve gone over the ins and outs of being a trooper in the 501st Legion, what it’s like to wear the costumes, building the costumes and more.  This time we are shifting the focus to outside of the costumes.


The 501st is a lot of things, but first and foremost we are a club.  A place for like minded people to gather and celebrate their shared love of Star Wars and costuming.  There were a lot of things I did not realize about the Legion before joining, one of the biggest things was the friendship and bonds that would form.  Never was this more evident than at the most recent Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim.  The 501st Legion is a worldwide group and a major event like Celebration pulls people in from all corners of the globe.

Even before arriving in Anaheim I had already met several Legion members en route in the Atlanta airport.  I’m not the most outgoing person and I’m usually the last person who will talk to a random stranger, especially in an already awkward and stressful place like the airport.  But seeing others wearing their Legion T-shirts was like seeing a familiar face in the crowd.  As the convention progressed I found myself spending time with Legion members from all over the world including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and all over the US.


How does something as silly as dressing like plastic spacemen connect us?

Just from my own experience when I first took the plunge to join I had no idea what I was doing.  That forced me to join the various forums and community for tips and tricks on building.  Going through that first build was an experience unto itself, but it was also one that every member had been through.  The agonizing late nights as you try desperately to get the pieces to work, the frustration as it doesn’t work and you have to undo or redo hours of work.  We’ve all been through it before, so we want to help others in getting it done.

Once you are approved and you are out there trooping you spend countless hours side by side with the same people.  Trooping is physically exhausting so most events end with a gathering for food and sharing stories.  It’s easy to see how bonds can form.


In Star Wars this connection is mirrored with the Clonetroopers.  As soon as the troopers were introduced in the Attack of the Clones the expanded universe began to write stories of the troopers being a brotherhood, sharing a common bond and being a part of something bigger.  They were all brothers in arms.  The 501st is much the same.  We all come from different backgrounds but share this common thread that connects us.  I like to think that the way the clones acted and connected may have been at least partially inspired by the Legion and it’s members.

A Trooper’s Point of View: Under the Helmet


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.