The 501st Legion: Costumers with heart

Hospital visits. Charity walks. Fundraising events.

These probably aren’t the things you would associate with a galaxy far, far away. You don’t think of stormtroopers in relation with cerebral palsy, or clone troopers fighting for cancer research. You don’t think of Vader and coloring books and sick kids.

For most people, Star Wars geeks are dorky guys who play with lightsabers because they can’t get a date on Saturday night. But really, that’s not us at all.

Party for the Street Kids at B-Side, The Collective
Party for the Street Kids at B-Side, The Collective, April 2012

The 501st  Legion is an international group of Star Wars fans. We have over 7,500 members all over the world. We wear the costumes of the bad guys—stormtroopers, Sith lords, bounty hunters, you name it. Our costumes are our pride and joy. We pay attention to detail and make sure every aspect of the costume looks just like what you saw in the movies.

Our costumes aren’t cheap, nor are they easy to make or wear. Most of us spend months painting, cutting, shaping, sewing, drilling, repainting, recutting, and so on. Many of us spend a lot of money making sure we get the costume exactly right. Some of us get cuts and bruises. Others lose sleep and forget to eat, because we’re working hard on making a costume that meets the Legion’s high standards.

Lining up with street children in Makati City.
Lining up with street children in Makati City.

When the costume is ready, that’s when you see us. We show up at conventions and birthday parties, and we usually help Lucasfilm with promotions and official events. The effort of wearing our costumes—whether they’re armor or fabric, with blasters or lightsabers—is nothing to be taken lightly either. Those helmets limit our vision, and they’re not very well-ventilated. Full body armor can be heavy, and is very limiting to our movement. Can you imagine climbing stairs when your legs are encased in fiberglass or plastic? Fabric costumes aren’t necessarily a walk in the park either. Jedi and Sith usually wear two to three layers of fabric, not to mention hoods, headdresses, masks, make-up and prosthetics. And there’s that pesky lightsaber! Most costumes are hot and cumbersome.

We put in all this time and effort, and we shed blood, sweat and tears, because this is how we show our love for Star Wars. Some people sing or dance about their favorite things. Other people draw or paint or sculpt. We build and wear screen accurate costumes. That’s just how we roll.

Stormtroopers practicing for the 2007 Tournament of Roses Parade
Stormtroopers practicing for the 2007 Tournament of Roses Parade.

We could stop at that, and just be the world’s biggest Star Wars costuming group (as of the 2008 Guinness World Records). But that’s not enough for us.

Every time the 501st makes an appearance, be it a birthday party, a corporate event, or a fun run, there’s some charity work involved. The hosts of the party are requested to make a donation to charity, preferably a children’s cause. We bring joy to kids and grown-ups alike when they see our costumes, but wouldn’t it be better to bring some real help to kids who need it?

All over the world, wherever there is a 501st unit, there are stormtroopers who visit hospitals, run marathons, collect donations, cheer up sick kids. All over the world, there are people who join the 501st not because of their love of Star Wars, but because of their love of charity work.

Locally, the 501st is represented by the Philippine Outpost. We currently have 21 members and have been trooping around the country since 2004. Together with the Rebel Legion and other Filipino Star Wars fans, we’ve raised funds and collected donations for Make-A-Wish Foundation Philippines, Kythe, the Philippine General Hospital, Autism Society Philippines, and HERO Foundation.

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