By Christine Leonard
CALGARY – Originally assembled in 2004, southern Alberta’s contingent of the 501st Legion of Vader’s Fist, a battalion of Star Wars Stormtroopers who perform charitable acts, started out as a Troop, grew to a Squad (10+ members) within the greater Canadian Garrison, and eventually became their own Badlands Garrison (25+ members) in 2005. Since that time, the union of hobbyists and humanitarians has expanded to include groups throughout western Canada. According to Badlands Garrison Alberta Public Relations Officer, Teresa Nuthall (a.k.a. TK-41307 SoulArt), the Badlands Garrison continues its mission to mentor those members in their aspirations of achieving Squad and Garrison status.
From granting special visits to hospitals to providing back-up dancers for Weird Al Yankovic concerts, Alberta is fortunate to have such a devoted division of Star Wars fans standing by to save the day. Or, at least make it a lot more visually interesting!
BeatRoute: How many people do you estimate are involved with the 501st on an ongoing basis?
501st Badlands Garrison: The Legion has a presence in 61 countries and currently claims almost 20,000 members, of which 12,428 are actively out Trooping worldwide, while here in Alberta our own Garrison has 126 members.
BR: What makes the 501st a great organization to be a part of?
501st BG: The ability to make people smile and help people forget their pain, if even just for a second. There’s something magical, unique and recognizable about being able to see and interact with characters from Star Wars. It touches the inner-child of adults, because it’s been around for decades. It’s volunteerism done in an extremely cool way, as it combines hobbies, creativity, superb costuming and giving of oneself.
BR: How are you coordinated and governed as an organization?
501st BG: We have a Legion Charter and Operations Protocol that governs our activity. Commanding and Executive Officers from Outposts and Garrisons all over the world make up the governing Legion Council. We hold annual elections where members vote for our Commanding Officers at the Legion level, Detachment level, as well as leaders within our own Garrisons, Outposts and Squads.
BR: How did you arrive at your Legion identity?
501st BG: As a new member, you select a series of numbers that mean something to you and this becomes your Legion ID for eternity. You also choose a forum name/call sign, which is a name that others know you by. I’m TK 41307/ SoulArt (TK is prefix for a Stormtrooper). I’m an original Stormtrooper, Captain Phasma, from The Force Awakens and Director of Intelligence, Ysanne Isard.
BR: How do people decide what kind of costume they are going to wear?
501st BG: It’s a personal choice, really. Try searching the official Costume Reference Library (CRL) and seeing which costume resonates with you. Often, an interested member has an idea of what they’d like though, sometimes, they have several. There really is very minimal customization involved, as each costume is created to be as seen in each of the Star Wars universe. We try to honour the original costumes by following its set guidelines and replicating them as closely as we can. Generally speaking, each costume has different levels of approval: 1 through 3. A member can join at the basic approval, then decide if they wish to carry it further to the higher echelons of costume accuracy.
BR: What are the basic building blocks required to begin constructing a costume?
501st BG: That depends on how hands-on you want to be. There’s more accessible product available these days, one can purchase a pretty much ready-made costume. Of course, there are steps people can take to find a builder, or costumer, to create a custom outfit for them. Or, they can buy kits and construct on their own. Although, a lot of the scratch stuff is hard to get approved. Again, it’s entirely dependent on the costume you choose to create.
BR: How do you come together to work on costumes and share your knowledge?
501st BG: Each costume has a designated Detachment that is responsible for overseeing those specific costumes. They have all of the ‘How To’ information, and CRL specifications, anyone would need for that particular costume. Our forums are another wonderful resource, as they support and encourage members to log ‘build threads’ of their costumes online for all members, or their respective Detachments, to read. These threads allow members to share their expertise, ask questions and conduct research. Wherever you may be in the world, there’s someone to help you. We also host ‘Armour Parties,’ where members in each Garrison get together and physically build their projects and exchange tips and advice.
BR: What are some of the charitable activities the 501st Badlands Garrison has been involved in over the years?
501st BG: We enjoy, and are extremely proud of, any and all contact with the Make a Wish Foundation. As well as, helping Jedi Addison within his own fundraising success. Other highlights include, Alberta Children’s and Stollery Hospital visits, Kids with Cancer visits, inducting our younglings Declan and Lucas into the Garrison as honourary members, Ronald McDonald House in-house visits and block parties. And, don’t forget the Canada Day 150 parade. Looking at dollars donated, this past year alone, we have directly raised $23,341 and indirectly raised $258,983. I’m very proud of our Garrison and all the good these ‘bad guys’ do.
BR: Speaking of parades. How does the 501st Badlands Garrison prepare for their tour de Force at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo’s annual Parade of Wonders?
501st BG: We’ve been a part of the POW right from the very start. It’s SO exciting getting ready! Emotions are already high, and we’re full of energy, when we begin meeting up. All of us change into costumes at once, usually at the Expo, and then make our way together to the parade site. I’ve gotta say, walking to and riding the C-Train as a Garrison, with our sister groups (Rebels, Mercs), is a sight to behold. Once lined-up in our groups by order, the excitement builds as we wait for the POW to start. You’d better believe that we are grinning from ear-to-ear inside our helmets as we strut our stuff for the spectators. Then we make our way back to Expo to prepare for the rest of our weekend and shifts at our booth.
BR: That does sound amazing. But can anyone do it? What about that old height restriction?
501st BG: Bahahaha! You mean, “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?” It’s a great joke that surfaces always. Along with remarks on our ability to miss everything we shoot at… Anyone over the age of 18 can be a member, regardless of gender, race, religion, shape, size… the Legion has no room for discrimination. Upon joining, you very soon discover that you have a huge, loving, accepting, new family.
See the 501st Badlands Garrison on the march at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo’s annual Parade of Wonders at 10:30am on April 27 (downtown Calgary). Calgary Expo runs April 26-29 at Stampede Park (Calgary)501st Badlands Garrison, 501st Legion of Vader’s Fist Badlands Garrison, Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, Game of Clones, Parade of Wonders, Stampede Park