Friday, January 8, 2016

TGIF - The 501st Legion

Star Wars fans are a special breed, and we take our love of that dirty, dangerous galaxy very seriously. A little too seriously, sometimes, it’s true, but you have to take the good with the bad. It’s an amazing community, for the most part, and includes organizations like the 501st Legion, which tops off Star Wars costuming fun with some truly stellar charity work. They have done so much of that charity work, in fact, that it has become what they are known for, despite originally being just a fun dress-up club.

The original purpose, and still the primary function of the Legion, was to “promote interest in Star Wars through the building and wearing of quality costumes, and to facilitate the use of these costumes for Star Wars-related events,” (quoted directly from their Mission Statement). It began in 1997 as a Geocities website that was set up to share photos of people in Stormtrooper costumes. In 2007, members of the 501st Legion marched as part of the official Star Wars entry in the internationally-televised Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. I’d say they have grown just a bit.

Part of that growth has been through their reputation for charity events. The 501st Legion is a 100% volunteer organization whose members donate thousands of hours to hospital visits, food and blood drives, and community events. The list of organizations they have worked with and helped is too long for me to go into here (seriously, go look for yourself), and they are always looking to do more. They also do not charge for their appearances (though donations are always appreciated). If you want to add some memorable spice to your charity event, you could certainly do worse than looking up a local Garrison for the Legion.

The Legion has now appeared in numerous TV commercials, music videos, and, of course, fan films of Star Wars varieties. They were officially recognized by (though not affiliated with) LucasFilm, including being included in the Star Wars novel Survivor’s Quest (Timothy Zahn), being added to the official database of characters on starwars.com, and being included in video games like Star Wars: Battlefront II. In July 2007, Lucasfilm and Hasbro produced an action figure of R2-KT, a pink Imperial droid honoring the memory of Katie Johnson, daughter of Legion Founder Albin Johnson. Subsequently, $100,000 was donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to make dreams come true for sick children. They have fun, and they do serious work. I don’t think you could ask for a better combination.

Most recently, the Legion has added an initiative called “Heart of the Force,” which is an anti-bullying workshop appropriate for all ages, but geared for 5-10. Members of the Wisconsin Garrison presented the concept workshop for a Cub Scout pack, and Carrie Goldman (author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear) was brought on as a consultant. The initial presentation was reported as a great success, and the workshop has since been rolled out to larger audiences. Materials are currently available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French, and translations into other languages are forthcoming. Stormtroopers presenting an interactive, hands on anti-bullying workshop. There’s an experience children are guaranteed to remember.

I’ve been considering getting into costuming. I don’t know if I’d be any good at it, but it looks fun. I’ve collected some How To guides I’ve found online, and I know a few people who do it. It’s a possibility. If I do go past considering, you can bet one of the first costumes I try to make will be Star Wars related and, if that happens, I’ll certainly be looking into signing up to join the Legion. Take a look for yourself on the Web and on Facebook, and may the Force be with you.

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