Sunday, November 2, 2014

Being a Stormtrooper is ACE

Asheville Comic Expo (ACE) was a one-day con held on September 20, 2014, at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. In its third year, ACE was founded and organized by local comic shop Comic Envy. The show didn't have a heavy emphasis on costuming (other than attendees and a few groups like the 501st Carolina Garrison and Carolina Ghostbusters), but featured a number of artists and vendors. Once again, my daughter (who was dressed as Deidara from Naruto) gave me motivation to get out and troop some more, plus I got to see a few local 501st members who I hadn't met previously. 

We had plenty of table space due to a few no-show exhibitors and a very convenient curtained storage/changing area right behind our table. I wish every show had something like this! Most of the items on display belong to Anthony Conte, a local trooper who is always very involved with organizing events in the Western NC area (and a great all-around guy!). My "Imperial Barricade Tape" also added to the ambience.

As per tradition, we took our group photo with buckets on and buckets off. One very interesting thing that I noticed while talking to fans and taking photos was that a surprising number of people weren't sure of our gender underneath the costumes---that is to say, they didn't assume that we were all male costumers. This is a distinct shift from past events where the 501st was considered a male-dominated organization and people were surprised to find female members in our ranks.

And, as per tradition, I got to see my friend Cheralyn once again---though she really needs to represent the 501st once in a while with some of her awesome Star Wars costumes!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


You could lose an eye if you're not careful!
Billing itself as "the largest 3-day multi-fandom & pop culture convention in the upstate of South Carolina," MonsterCon was a 3-day July event in Greenville, SC, at the Furman University campus. Only in its second year, the offerings have expanded far beyond the horror genre despite the name. Thanks to the 501st Carolina Garrison, Talon Clan of the Mandalorian Mercs and Blue Ridge Base of the Rebel Legion, Star Wars had a respectable presence including a Mercs "jail & bail" detention cell, large display of helmets and props, and a Death Star trash compactor set by the industrious TK-5940.

Tragedy brings people together.

Catching up with friends is a big part of attending conventions, and it was a great surprise to see my Georgia Garrison buddy Michael Koske who now makes the rounds as a popular recurring zombie from AMC's The Walking Dead.

Don't worry, his bark is worse than his bite.

I just realized that I've already trooped more this year than the past two years combined. For a long time, my participation as a member of the 501st Legion had become relegated to "desk work." While I put in a ridiculous daily amount of Legion volunteer hours fielding inquiries, aggregating and posting social media content and working with the Public Relations team, the Legion's success as one of the world's most-recognized costuming communities is the result of one thing: the sheer number of physical appearances at charity events, Star Wars licensee promotions, and, of course, conventions. Getting back out to events in costume has really helped me reconnect with fans and fellow members---and it feels good to troop!

It's not the size of the gun...well, maybe it is.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Time to Geek Out in Asheville!

Credit: Unconventional by Brent Brown
GeekOut 2014, now in its third year, was held at the Sherrill Center on the UNC Asheville campus as a 3-day event featuring both tabletop and video gaming, live fighting demos, artists, celebrities, photographers, vendors and more. The Carolina Garrison made sure that the 501st Legion was well-represented with a prime table location right at the entrance near fellow costuming groups like the Carolina Ghostbusters and Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club. Although it was my first time attending this particular con, I was told that it was organized much better this year and had expanded from one to three days of programming to satiate every niche of fandom in the Asheville area which is a well-known hub of culture and arts.

Upon arrival, as is 501st tradition, we exchanged trading cards and greetings with fellow members (Anthony TI-28803, Sean TI-9014, Jordan TI-24138 & son, Lorne BH-4413) and took a quick tour of the grounds. It makes a huge difference to have access to free parking, free admission (for Legionnaires) and a private room for changing into costume and storing gear—this con offered all of the above! My 11-year-old and I suited up (myself as a Stormtrooper and my son as the Power Droid) and hit the con floor right away to welcome attendees.

Photo: AshevilleBlog

This officer called me over and I thought he was going to inspect my blaster because it looked too much like a real weapon. Instead, he wanted to stage this picture. Photo: Alt Media Pros
Also ran into longtime friend and 501st member Cher TK-976 (disguised as a Ghostbuster)!

All set for "Bring Your Blaster to School Day." Photo: Alt Media Pros

This was my son's second trooping event and he did a great job of putting up with the heat and discomfort that comes with being a giant walking battery. At previous events, we played an audio loop of ambient robotic sound effects, but this time the boy wanted to loop John Williams' classic Cantina Band theme and it worked out great—some people were even inclined to dance as we passed. One of the great things about Star Wars costuming is that it's ingrained in our culture and, with the prospect of all-new films starting next year, we really felt the love with non-stop comments, fist-bumps and photo requests.
Everyone loves Gonk Droids! Photo: Alt Media Pros

Photo: Lorne BH-4413

I also finally got to meet Mando Mercs Founder Tom Hutchens in person after 8 months of working with his team to optimize the Mercs Facebook presence (go give them a like!). Like 501st Founder Albin Johnson, Tom has a good sense of direction for the club and he's just a pleasant guy to be around.

Waiting impatiently for a live-action Boba Fett stand-alone movie. 

It was a great overall event and offered so much that I didn't touch upon in this post: robotics, movie vehicle replicas like the Ecto-1, Doc Brown's DeLorean and the Mystery Machine, charity raffles, Daleks, make-up panels and more. On a side note, while attempts to get my daughter indoctrinated into all things Star Wars has failed, she has taken an interest in Naruto and made her Deidara cosplay debut at GeekOut to the delight of other anime fans. Despite different genres, now we can look forward to spending more time together in costume!

Thanks to everyone involved with making this event happen. Might just have to come back next year!

TI-9014,  TI-28803, TI-24138 and TK-899 representing the Carolina Garrison.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Literally the day before the event, my daughter (an anime fan) asked if we could attend SpartanCon at the Spartanburg County Public Library in Spartanburg, SC. A quick check revealed that the 501st Carolina Garrison was planning to make an appearance at the May 10th event, so I decided to make a family trip out of it to catch up with my fellow troopers and give my son another chance to wear his Power Droid costume we built for last Halloween. (Click here for the RPF build thread for the Gonk droid costume.) My daughter, in the meantime, was anxious to distance herself from the geeky guys in her family.

We found the 3-story venue fairly well-attended for an event at a local library. SpartanCon's inaugural show was free and included an "Artist's Alley," several authors tables, hands-on writing/comic/make-up clinics, and even a cosplay competition hosted by Amberle Linnea. It was good to see some old friends and make a few new ones, and the library staff and volunteers were ecstatic to have us there. It's a great feeling when your reputation as part of the 501st Legion precedes you. They provided a spacious green room and we didn't even have to go through weapons check!

We suited up in our lower-level conference room and my son took pride in the process of becoming the character while my daughter spontaneously disappeared to find her friends. There's something intangibly magical about this sort bonding whether it's between friends or family, and I reinforced the notion that if a costume is easy, it's generally not worth doing!

With me in my TK and my son in his GNK, we flipped on our battery-operated fans, LEDs and sound systems and stepped out into the library atrium to the delight of fans of all ages. Then it was about 2 hours of photo ops as a Stormtrooper, Sandtrooper, TIE Pilot, Power Droid, Jawa and Mandalorian patrolled the con floor with a few handlers.

At the end of the troop, I realized that my aging Stormtrooper armor really needs some help. Not only are current suits more accurate, but failing glue and velcro have started to cause functionality issues. My Hyperfirm E-11 blaster also received some damage, but that was easily repaired with some sanding and CA glue. I see new armor of some sort in my future.

With more notice (or perhaps for next year), a 501st table would have been good to educate, inform and recruit, but we made an impact as noted by the seemingly non-stop requests for photos with giddy fans. We were also featured in the local paper. Star Wars is forever, baby!

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Peachoid

Although one could argue (and many do) that the 25th of May is the better-suited date, the geeky play-on-words "May the 4th Be With You" seems to have triumphed this year as pop culture's official "Star Wars Day." Despite somewhat unexpected roots, the saying's ubiquitous presence in Internet memes, t-shirts and media reports was additionally sanctified by a special day-long event at Disney's Hollywood Studios independent of Star Wars Weekends, as well as a meager, but nonetheless official, Lucasfilm PR campaign with which the 501st Legion was asked to participate.

With just a few weeks' notice, Lucasfilm Senior Events Lead Mary Franklin put out the call for photos celebrating this unique Star Wars holiday by posing near local landmarks. I presume that the message went out through multiple channels, but it was largely 501st members who responded based upon the photos that were featured on

I'm somewhat isolated from the big cities so there's not a lot of true landmarks, but just 43 minutes from my house is the world's largest peach-shaped water tower in the South Carolina town of Gaffney. The Peachoid was built in 1981 as a tribute to the region's status as a top peach-producer, and was even featured on the Netflix series House of Cards, so this was as close as I was going to get to a bonafide landmark.

Early on a Sunday morning, my wife helped me suit up in the parking lot of the Fatz restaurant within the shadow of the gargantuan steel fruit as curious passers-by stopped to ask questions and honked from I-26...fortunately I didn't cause any accidents.

On your way to Dragon*Con, think of me as you marvel at the grand (and somewhat awkwardly-shaped) peach.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Kanye Finally Lets Me Finish

A long time ago, on this very blog, I posted something nebulous about rapper Kanye West. Bear in mind that was prior to his notoriously career-killing racist rants and his "Imma Let You Finish" interruption of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards.

Some four years later, I can finally reveal what that was all about. Admittedly, this will be somewhat anti-climactic. Back in 2008, Kanye's stardom was something that the 501st Legion Star Wars costuming organization felt could be leveraged. Historically, any alignment with celebrities meant more publicity for the group, more legitimacy for the art of costuming and more interest in any charitable efforts. As such, when Kanye West's representatives approached the 501st with a request for a suit of Stormtrooper armor, we wanted to jump at the opportunity to associate our name with that of one of the best-selling and most-awarded musical artists of the time.

Once we had all of Kanye's measurements (5' 8" with size 12 shoes?!), Legion Commanding Officer Mark Fordham (SL-096) led the effort of acquiring all of the necessary components for a respectable Stormtooper suit, requesting donations of parts and funds from the volunteer membership on a very tight timeline. (Note: My personal contribution paid for the gloves.) Mark succeeded in delivering the armor on time and worked out an agreement by which the 501st would get the used armor back so that it could be auctioned on Ebay with proceeds going to a charity of Kanye's choice (the ill-fated and somewhat suspicious Kanye West Foundation). To recap: the 501st pays for and supplies the armor, Kanye wears said armor and autographs it and the 501st auctions it for charity. Aside from the fact that it was a complete Stormtrooper costume valued at around $1000 US, we figured it would fetch considerably more after it was worn by hip-hop superstar Kanye West, right? Fate, however, had a different plan.

Kanye toured and we did get the armor back with an autograph and some stickers indicating it was part of the production. Still, an auction like this would perform much better with some photographic evidence of Kanye in the suit. Despite numerous requests, no pictures were sent. Over time, our contacts with the West camp slowly dissolved until months of waiting turned into years of silence. Kanye's charitable foundation flopped with a bad rap (no pun intended). The man made a fool of himself in the media. The fans turned against him. At this point, we'd be lucky to give away the armor.

After letting the dust settle for a few years, the 501st decided there was no real reason to hold back the auction any further---the value of the armor had clearly already peaked and we needed to monetize it for charity as was the original intent and we chose our good friends at Make-A-Wish as the beneficiaries. Mark once again picked up the reins and posted the listing on Ebay in August of 2012, with hopes that Kanye would stay out of the public eye until the auction ended:

To promote the auction, we posted about it on Facebook. Public opinion was swift and to the point with comments like "Honestly I think him wearing it devalued the armor," "I have never wanted to destroy a piece of stormtrooper armor more than I do right now" and "Does it still smell of douchebag?" Fortunately, a single bid just prior to the auction's conclusion met the reserve of $1000 and this infamous piece of history went quietly into someone's personal collection, with proceeds going to Make-A-Wish.

Up until recently, we really had no idea just how the armor was used, except that he wore it on stage a few times while touring with N.E.R.D. back in 2008. However, an October 2012 tweet by Kim Kardashian led me to find that the armor was also (partially) used in the pilot episode of a failed "hip hop Muppet Show" titled Alligator Boots. Weird.

Hey, I bought those gloves for Kanye! Here's a link to the some behind-the-scenes video. Enjoy! Or not....

Monday, September 10, 2012

Celebration VI: Orlando, Again!

Only two years after 2010's Star Wars Celebration V, Orlando played host once again to the year's largest Star Wars convention as 30,000+ fans from around the world converged on Central Florida's Orange County Convention Center to revel in four geeky days in honor of that galaxy far, far away.

I've always enjoyed being involved with the planning of the 501st Legion's presence at any event (the Legion's reputation precedes us and one does not want to disappoint), but the tremendous amount of work that went into this Celebration was simply astounding. I was privy to and deeply engaged with more than a year's worth of volunteer preparation that escalated over time from an occasional e-mail to a daily regimen of communiques concerning everything from hotel contracts and celebrity appearances to writing dialog for General Grievous and George Lucas. Oh, and I even managed to squeeze in some time in armor.

Knowing how much was going to happen behind-the-scenes, I arrived in Orlando a day early and, after securing my Exhibitor badge, made my way to the 501st Experience room to help set up 5,355 square feet of amazing fan-made costumes, props, backdrops, displays and signage. Although we had the same room at the last Celebration, this year's charity exhibit was located in the main exhibit hall giving us room to include new features such as an awesome Death Star Superlaser control station, Trash Compactor set, Detention Block AA-23, Clone Trooper Locker Room and the Midsouth Garrison's new 1:1 scale Dewback prop---a mobile two-man puppet which won "Best in Show" at the CVI costume contest.

I also helped as a handler for an amazing project that debuted at this show---Roxy the Rancor. The life-size 700-pound sculpture was created by Rick Bohler of Pizzazz Scenic Contractors with assistance from the 501st's Matt Paisley and was undoubtedly one of the most iconic interactive backdrops for Celebration VI. In fact, Roxy even got a private visit from George Lucas and Mark Hamill during their very secretive visits to the con floor. One of the contributions I made was helping produce an mp3 loop of roars, screams and Stormtrooper intercom chatter that provided an audioscape for Roxy's appearance.

Always a hit (and always a major headache to coordinate) was the 501st group photo. How to arrange our members in a fair and logical manner has always been a challenge. Do one-of-a-kind costumes get preferential treatment up front, or the ones that are most recognizable...or most logical as "leaders" of the Empire? What colors look good together? Do AT-AT Drivers go next to the Snowtroopers or the Stormtroopers? Where do we put Honorary Members? All things considered (and realizing that it's virtually impossible to make everyone happy), I was happy with how the Florida Garrison tried something new by having members in the center of the group form a large "CVI" to commemorate the picture.

Far Away Creations also contributed their fantastic Han in Carbonite display as seen in Jabba's Palace, however this particular set piece was first used for the 501st Bash on Friday night. This sold-out event was one of the highlights of the con as the Legion played host to members, fans and celebrities at Rosen Centre following a private members only 501st Banquet that had its own surprises including an epic Darth Vader cake by Oakleaf Cakes and personal visits from Ian McDiarmid, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Bonnie Piesse and other celebrities. I was also honored to receive a coin and patch for my service as a long-time Legion Command Staff member.

Our friends at Doctrine Creative helped document the entire event in a well-produced DVD which is available here. Check out the trailer for a taste of the exciting blur that was Star Wars Celebration VI.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Asheville Tattoo Fest

Time for a confession.

Today was the first time I've trooped in more than a year. If it weren't for the good graces of my Carolina Garrison CO, I'd be on the inactive list.

While my family and work are still the number one priorities in my life, trooping at the First Annual Asheville Tattoo Fest reminded me that I still immensely enjoy suiting up in the white armor to bring smiles to kids of all ages---even the ones with kids (or grandkids) of their own. You might wonder what a tattoo convention has to do with Star Wars, but you should know that Star Wars-themed skin art is a genre unto itself as demonstrated by books like Shane Turgeon's The Force in the Flesh. Either way, the organizers were thrilled to have Boba Fett (BH-4413), a Tusken Raider (DZ-6975) and a Stormtrooper (me) walking the floor and taking photos with the guests. They even offered us moonshine---but troopers don't drink on the job.

As I mentioned before, it had been a while since I attended a 501st appearance, but the reactions were the same as always. Awe from those who remember you from their childhood...

Excitement from those who can't wait to tweet about who they saw at the show...

Fear from those who aren't quite sure if you intend them harm...

And then there's the silent acknowledgement in passing from those who think they're a little too old to still love Star Wars. Quite a few of those. But as limited as my vision might be inside that Stormtrooper helmet, I saw you taking a picture of me from across the room. It's okay, bro, Star Wars is for everyone.

As far as highlights from this event, two moments stick out in my mind. One was when Mamie White of The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia stepped off the stage to take a photo with us. The other was when Boba Fett stumbled across a guy getting a tattoo of Boba Fett. Meta, dude.

A big thank you to my wife (DZ-4009) for acting as our handler and photographer for this event.

Some sage advice: Whether you run into troublesome kids who want to jump on your back or just a fan who needs you to take a photo with their camera, a handler is invaluable to any 501st appearance. Thanks to TK-7404 for getting us into the show! Keep on troopin'!

Monday, August 1, 2011

More Lucas v Ainsworth

Here's the Reuters article from July 27, 2011, that gives us an update on the lawsuit between Lucasfilm and Andrew Ainsworth's Shepperton Design Studios surrounding the rights to replicate Stormtrooper armor and helmets. Lucasfilm won in California courts, but was recently ruled against in the UK. This essentially means that SDS can't ship to the States, but will continue producing armor.

The thing that bothers me the most is the fact that the High Court doesn't consider movie props and costumes to be works of art. That's just a slap in the face to everyone in the film industry including Andrew Ainsworth.

It also bothers me (to a lesser degree) that the media likes to use stock images/video of the 501st Legion to illustrate these articles, although SDS armor makes up a very small percentage of the suits worn by Legion members, mainly due to the price point of SDS's unlicensed product.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Uptown Charlotte "Flash Mob"

Okay, so the term "flash mob" is a bit of an exaggeration. This early-morning 501st event in uptown Charlotte, NC, was a planned promotion for Star Wars Celebration V on behalf of Lucasfilm and Reed Expositions (the folks running the big summer 2010 Star Wars fan gathering). We were asked to help drum up some media coverage in regions outside of the Florida market to ensure that fans in the Southeast USA were aware of the August event. I created some picket signs with relevant phrases like "TO ORLANDO...HAVE BLASTER WILL TRAVEL," "THIS IS THE VACATION YOU'RE LOOKING FOR" and "STAR WARS CELEBRATION OR BUST!" David, TI-1626, even went shirtless as a vacationing TIE Pilot complete with swim shorts.

Jon Wilson of the local FOX Charlotte television early morning show, who has helped the 501st promote various events over the years, met us in front of the Omni Hotel at 6 in the morning with his faithful cameraman and we amused and confused passers-by and commuters on their way to work. The end result was about 10-15 minutes of teasers promoting Celebration V and the 501st Legion. Lucasfilm was pleased and I squeezed in another event for 2010. Not a bad result for a last-minute Friday morning troop. Thanks to David, Andy, Cher, Hope, Ken and Ryan for showing up!

Click here for video (not sure how long they keep the link active).