[Spotlight Series] 501st Legion

Originally published at Omnibus Journal, Jan. 16, 2016. Co-written and interview by Joe Astroshki.


Jan. 16, 2016/Joe Astroshki

If you’ve ever experienced a comic con convention, odds are you’ve probably encountered an assortment of many colorful people in costumes. Some, you recognize from popular comics or TV shows. If one thing is for certain, you always have the pleasure of witnessing a fair share of fanatics dressed up as classic Star Wars characters.

Among devout fans are members of the 501st Legion. The organization spans worldwide and is committed to creating and sporting top notch costumes of various villains from the Star Wars Universe.

Spanning over 6 continents, the Legion now has over 8,000 active members and holds an impressive track record of constructed replica costumes totaling over 11,000. Among these members are local constituents called “Garrisons” and “Outposts”. Together, they make up a collaborative effort, collectively managing projects in over 50 countries. I had the great opportunity to score a phone interview with Lisa Goeppner, Public Relations Officer for Bloodfin Garrison located in Southern Indiana.

John: What exactly is the 501st Legion?

Lisa: It is basically a Star Wars costuming club. We use our interest in Star Wars and costuming together. We have almost 7,000 active members around the world and do A LOT of charity work. We have been recently doing a lot of movie premieres. We must have screen accurate costumes in order to join. Some have to buy a storm trooper kit. So if you;ve ever done a model car kit it is kind of like that on a much bigger scale. You purchase a kit, construct it, and fit it to your body type. Then you submit photographs and if it meets the entire standard requirement then you’re a member.

Members at the preiemire with JJ Abrams at the Force Awakens premiere. Photo credit: 501st Legion.com.
JJ Abrams poses with new stormtrooper costumes at the Force Awakens premiere in LA. Photo credit: 501st Legion.com.

John: Why do most people join? Is it that they’re just huge fans or do they enjoy being a part of the charity work you do?

Lisa: Everybody has different reasons for joining. Some people really enjoy costuming and going to conventions. Some people, like my husband and I, are fans and love the charity aspect. The majority of our appearances are for charity. We do children’s hospital visits and museums, walkathons, breast cancer awareness, and relays. Our events are probably about 50/50 between charity and community events. We average about 80-90 events a year the last couple of years.

Josh: What types of Charity events have you done?

Lisa: Probably my favorite one is a Make-A-Wish Foundation we did for a boy in Louisville. We had about 40 Star Wars characters showed up. He greeted each one of us and half of us were crying underneath our costumes. We do the Riley Walkathon every year for Riley Children’s hospital.

US members annually visit children's hospitals nationwide.
US members annually visit children’s hospitals nationwide.

John: Is it expensive to build the costumes?

Lisa: We build most of them ourselves and there are a couple of places you can buy completed costumes. But most of the time you have to do some adjustments. If you want to do Boba Fett or Darth Vader it can be expensive. We are talking thousands of dollars because Darth Vader’s body suit is almost all leather and Boba Fett costume is more detailed. But you could do characters with soft cloth, like a Tusken or a Jedi of the Rebel Legion for a couple of hundred dollars. So it depends on the costume.

John: Is it uncomfortable to wear them?

Lisa: It depends on how well you customize the costume. When the armor is too tight you might get a blister or as we call them “armor bits”. Another problem is the heat because with the storm troopers suit you are wearing a thick layer of plastic. Breathing inside the helmet you get lot of moisture. The thing we always ask for, if possible, is a case of bottled water.

John: Why did you decide to do your costume on a Tusken raider?

Lisa: My Husband took my teenage daughter to Gen Con and saw these cool star wars costumes in the hallway. He did some research, found out about the 501st and thought, “This is really cool.”. He did go to a few events in a Tusken Raider outfit and I decided to try it out. I looked in a book to find a picture of a female raider and thought this will be fun to do as a couple.

John: Does your group include 501st Legion and Rebel Legion members?

Lisa: In some states they work in separate entities. In Indiana, we share a website and have two commanding staff that work together.

John: How many members do you have in Indiana?

Lisa: We have 70 members in the 501st legion. And Rebel Legion is about 50 members.

Screenshot of the 501st logo in The Force Awakens (2015). Image by 501st.com
Screenshot of the 501st logo in The Force Awakens (2015). Image by 501st.com

For a full gallery view of member costumes, visit their website here.


Featured image credit courtesy of 501st.com

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