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'!