When you think of stormtroopers, Sith Lords, and bounty hunters— you immediately think of The Dark Side of Star Wars. When people think of the Dark Side of The Force, they think of evil, menacing villains.
The 501st Legion: Vader’s Fist, however, exemplifies “bad guys who do good”. The all-volunteer real-life organization is made to promote interest in Star Wars by building quality costumes. With these costumes, they use their Star Wars fandom to proudly contribute to the community with fundraising, charity work, and volunteerism.
I had the opportunity to attend the Southern California Garrison, Orange County Squad, 501st Legion armor party, where I got to see first hand how members create their incredible authentic-looking costumes. During the party, Orange County Squad Leader Rob Stelmar and Assistant Squad Leader Jason Cecil gathered all the members for a meeting to go over upcoming events and ask for volunteers. That week, they needed some squad members to visit CHOC Children’s Hospital, and many members were eager to lend a helping hand. I had to see what these guys were all about, so I asked Rob and Jason if I could go with them.
Let me tell you all, walking around with Darth Vader and stormtroopers through the halls of CHOC was the most marvelous experience. All of my questions from the armor party were answered and my curiosity was lifted. My feelings had changed to pure jealousy. I wanted to be in a costume that brightened the day and put a smile on a child’s face.
The squad went room to room to simply say hello to the patients staying at the hospital. A simple hello can go a long way for the children who are sick and have no choice but to stay in their rooms.
The squad also spent time with some individual children. Patient Fernando Vasquez was thrilled to invite the Legion into his room because he was a true fan of the film. Jason Cecil was happy to share with Fernando a Star Wars pop-up book featuring the characters and Dupree Jones, a.k.a. Darth Vader, asked Fernando to find them in the book. Since he easily did so, Fernando scored a 501st Legion trading card.
Another patient named Jezzabel Carlos De La Riva was not as thrilled to let the squad into the children’s play room. She was scared of the “bad guys” and immediately put her head down to hide. After seeing this, Darth Vader went directly to her coloring and grabbed a crayon next to her. Jezzabel laughed and felt more comfortable with Darth’s sense of humor.
Patient Justin Gonzales showed Darth how to use his iPad and let the stormtroopers check out his room. The Legion let him flip through some of the books they brought, which he loved.
After a full day of laughter and fun, the Legion was overjoyed with the sense of pride that their volunteering in their costumes had brought them.
“This is what it is all about. This is why we do what we do. We can give back to the community. We put smiles on children’s faces today and even if it was just for a few minutes, we took them somewhere else,” Rob Stelmar expressed after trooping through CHOC.
Their slogan “bad guys who do good” is really what The 501st Legion is representing. Yes, you get to look super cool at Comic Con, work at exclusive Lucasfilm’s events, and be a part of the largest Star Wars Imperial Costuming Organizations. However, the true reason to join is the troop’s real-world mission to bring good to the world.
Remember—a stormtrooper’s frown is just a smile upside down.