A little history about myself will help explain this. . .
I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I was about 5 years old when the original movie came out in 1977. The first movie I got to see in the theater was The Empire Strike Back. Back then that was all that there was for me, a small kid with a huge imagination that had space ships, 3 3/4 inch action figures and anything else I could get my hands on. I was hooked since those days and would never lose my thrill or love for the Star Wars universe. I even have the BBC radio versions of the movies on cassette tapes, yes I date myself, and even better yet I even have copies of the that Star Wars Christmas special, yup it’s true. Now fast forward from my childhood until the premiere of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I was at the midnight show on opening night was someone at the theater in line had a lightsaber that lit up and I said to myself I want one of those. After the movie, I remember seeing a magazine and it had a picture of the 501st Legion in it they were marching at the premiere in Los Angeles. I thought that the 501st was just a group of the actors (extras) in the movie that were hired for the premiere. I thought, “Wow, I want to do that.” I never knew the 501st was made up of die hard fans like myself. Now over 15 years had past but Star Wars has never left that kid inside of me. Even to this day, I still get Star Wars gifts from the people that know me the best.
So now I’m 40 something and I’m working one day in Goshen, NY at this community event and a friend of mine comes over to me and say I have some people you have to meet. To my surprise I walk around a corner and here is the local Garrison of the 501st legion. They were right out of the movie and I couldn’t stop smiling. Real people in stormtrooper armor and they even talk. I then was introduced to the Hudson Valley Squad (HVS) leader Gerritt Overeem. We spoke for a while and I got information on were I could buy a set of armor and become an official member of the 501st Legion. I just though the 501st guys were hired by the movies, then I thought, “Holy C@*p! I could be a real life stormtrooper.” Well, there wasn’t anything stopping me after that. I hit the forums as instructed and emails were sent to find my armor and parts. Six months later, the big brown box is delivered to my door and that 5 year old kid came right back out and it was Christmas again. I then got back in touch with Gerrit and told him it’s time and, with guidance, I started my journey to become an Imperial Stormtrooper.
Now just as with everyone else, this process took me a while to get this done. The armor is custom made for each individual so there was a lot of measuring, fitting, remeasuring, cutting and gluing. These costumes are required to be so exact and be a movie accurate replica right down to the size of the button and paint colors. Now after 8 months I was complete. I submitted my pictures and was finally approved as an official member of the 501st legion. My official first troop was an outdoor movie in a local town. It was great to be there and everyone just loved the way we looked it was just me and Gerritt there as stormtroopers. This also gave me the insight as to why stormtroopers were said they can’t hit anything, you literally can’t see anything in theses helmets, haha. So I go to my next troop and it was at the Hudson Valley Renegades Star Wars baseball game. I met a bunch of the guys from the Garrison that night and when I showed up they made me feel like I knew them all for so long. Now we’re all dressed, I’m standing waiting to go out onto the field and be introduced by the commentator for the game. There are about 12 of us there and I’m standing in line. I remembering being in this bucket and getting choked up, why you ask, because I looked to the right and left just in front of me and there is Darth Vader (breathing no less) and a Boba Fett in full costume and they looked incredible. There’s that 5 year old again remembering how much I love Star Wars and can now be part of this in real life as an adult. Here I am standing there as a stormtrooper. We took thousands of pictures that day in over 90 degree weather with all these people that loved Star Wars. The faces on not only the kids but their parents and adults alike. You could see the kid and what Star Wars meant to each one of them in their smile. A year and several troops later, I go to a comic con. I was with some others guys from my Garrison. We were there just as spectators and were just gonna dress in costume as walk around the comic con for an hour or so. We were not as invited 501st members, we just went as fans. We had just been there walking around the show floor and the guys I was with said wait until we come down in costume, wait until you see everyone go crazy. I didn’t believe them. I saw a lot of great costumes that day and nobody was asking them for pictures.
So we go and suit up, get into the elevator and hit the lobby well that’s were it started. 40 minutes and hundreds of pictures later and we are still not even at the convention hall from the lobby. 2 hours of just taking pictures inside of the convention entrance. The love of Star Wars in these people was incredible. So these were just a couple of the troops I’ve done.
Why do I do this?
Some people in the past have said it’s for the kids. I would be lying to you if I said that is the only reason why I do it. The answer has so many reasons to it but there are 2 side of this answer for me. The first, It’s not just the kids (they are a huge part) but it’s for the whole Star Wars universe. Its for the kids, it’s for the parents that see us and remember their childhood, it’s for the geeks that never grow up, it’s for bringing joy to someone’s life when it’s a little down all because they got to meet a stormtrooper and well a little for me to be that kid again who loves Star Wars and be able to put that bucket on and get transported to a time long long ago in a galaxy far far away and think I’m a real life and well life size stormtrooper. The second part this answer is for a huge part and main purpose of the 501st legion to me. It’s for helping hundreds of charity organizations and to get people to notice them. This is the unbelievable part of the work we do in the 501st Legion. This organization is a volunteer organization where we as individuals buy all of our own stuff. With that being said the countless hours that these guys dedicate to the local and national charities is unbelievable. We don’t ask anyone for anything other then for you to help out with the charity that we are there supporting. We help support these charities because they need all of the help they can get. Even if the only thing we can do is go there and take pictures with there supporters, where most of the time you would have to go to a major theme park and pay to see these caliber of costume characters is amazing. Then to also go to a children’s hospital and meet some of the kids and bring joy to there life after being through the things that they have to live with everyday is just amazing. To be able to give that moment of joy to someone that small dealing with so much, is well indescribable to say the least. Then to bring another smile to our faces, just the other day we were at an charity event for the kids, we walked out to the crowd to where the DJ was standing that introduced us and he said if this doesn’t bring a smile to your face then you had a sucky childhood. I looked at him this was a grown man with his kids there and the smile on his face, well he looked just as happy if not more then anyone else there.
While being in the Legion, I’ve met some of the greatest people that love doing what we do and have a passion to bring the Star Wars universe to all. Lets be honest you can’t go anywhere, watch TV, listen to the radio without something or someone making a reference to Star Wars, it’s everywhere. They say the 501st Legion is “bad guys doing good”, I say that’s not completely true either. We don’t only try to do good things, we have far passed that and we do great things with wearing these bad guy costumes and let be honest we do have the best looking costumes. During this time that I’ve been part of the 501st, I just keep getting sucked in deeper. Now with a year and a half in, dozens of events completed, tens of thousand of fans met, more smiles then I can count, and for myself I’ve completed 3 official costumes a Stormtrooper , a Heavy Weapons Trooper and Darth Vader this is part of my life now. What we do can’t really be explained it is like the force, it’s is an energy force that “surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together”.
So if you are any type of Star Wars Fan please do yourself and anyone around you a favor and find where your local 501st Legion is going to be and go see them, I bet they are there for a really good cause and could always use your support and let be honest, how often can you meet a real life stormtroopers, Darth Vader or even Boba Fett. Together we are the bad guys doing good, forever part of the 501st Legion.