I have always been a Star Wars fan from way back when I saw The Empire Strikes Back in the theater (1980) when I was 5. That film really opened the door for me to genre sci-fi and fantasy films and books. SW was my gateway and I never looked back.
Fast forward to December 2014 when we saw the 1st teaser for TFA and that image of Kylo Ren in the snowy woods. I was obsessed with that moment and even more so because he looked long and lanky. I thought “I could pull that off!”. There was a time I wanted to try a TK, but couldn’t get one that would fit me without leaving gaps between the pieces of armor and frankly, I’d look ridiculous next to other TKs. Kylo Ren seemed like a perfect fit because his costume was mostly fabric and could be more custom fit to my oversized frame. As more images of him came out in the spring of 2015 in The Force Awakens press and fan events, I decided I wanted to make a costume for New York Comic Con. At this time, I still knew nothing about the 501st. From April to September, I worked with a dance costumer who worked in my office to guess and stumble our way through the process and try to put together a look based on trailers and Celebration images (grainy ones). I ended up with something that, from the point of view I have now, was not so great, but at the time I was totally stoked about. I wore it to the Con and was one of the only Kylo Rens there. Can you imagine!? I wore the hell out of that costume, and ended up wearing it to a Star Wars day at a local New Jersey science museum where the 501st were volunteering. I met a few of the members from the Northeast Remnant and the Empire City Garrison and one of them in particular really got me excited about making my costume more screen accurate. Shane was in the ECG and pointed me to the forums – and down the rabbit hole I fell.
The Kylo Ren CRL was completed, I think, in February of 2016 and when it went live, I got a dose of reality when it looked like none of what I had was even remotely close to the actual costume and far from any approval. It was sobering to think that what I had just didn’t cut it, but it started a new adventure of researching a much more vast archive of information and connecting with a new costume person who really got into the process with me and was on board for the long haul. From March 2016 to October 2016 we did a deep dive and put it all together. It was mostly ready by Halloween, my first time wearing it (no neck seal yet!), submission photos were taken in late December and I submitted in January 2017. An excruciating 3 week wait (it was Garrison election time) and approval finally came in late February. Day ONE I had 50 new Facebook friends and a new world opened up. FULL access to the Garrison forums was crazy, seeing all the event postings was like WHOA and I signed up for my first troop in early March. I was so nervous but I think I kept myself together and realized I was kind of a natural with the kids, posing for pictures and making people smile and laugh…high fiving everyone. It was great. That 1st troop also showed me that Kylo Ren was extremely popular, especially with the younger kids. While we may think he’s a tantrum throwing weenie, he’s still got an awesome costume.
After 5 months, I’ve had the absolute pleasure to to volunteer at 10 Troops, from cons to charity walks to special events, it all comes down to bringing joy to other people’s lives, bringing smiles to fans of all ages and giving the gift of Star Wars to everyone I cross paths with while in my costume. I’ve met fantastic new friends who I would have never met before who share my enthusiasm for what we do. We are a special breed of people, to be sure. Sometimes you tell people about the 501st and they just don’t get it and their eyes glaze over instantly. Even some huge Star Wars fans that I know don’t get it. That’s what’s so amazing about this group. It’s unique and invested and obsessive about what they (we) do.
I’m not sure I can narrow down all that I’ve experienced to a single favorite moment, but perhaps a series of moments. One advantage to having a cloth costume is that you can kneel and squat and get closer to the kids’ height. I’ve had great conversations with so many young people about everything from why my “belt banger” lightsaber can’t be fired up (I always say the fire marshall told me not to) to answering questions about my stilts (I’m not wearing any!) and discussing the merits of Han Solo and how he was apparently a better father that I gave him credit for (He was not!). I’ve been bowled over by full-speed running hugs from toddlers, and hidden behind columns from a few frightened youngsters more than a few times.
It is truly a delight to be a part of this 501st Legion group and the best Garrison around. It’s such a delight, that I’ve begun work on my second costume. Stay tuned, but when I saw them on screen, I knew I was going to make one. We’ll see what my wife says about it when I have to get another trunk to store it in our apartment… Wish me luck!