Armoring Up for Halloween

Albin Johnson | October 25, 2012
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Cartoon by Bobby Henley, 501st member Star Garrison

Nothing makes Star Wars fans happier than a chance to suit up and show off their costumes. Whether it’s Stormtrooper armor or Jedi robes or even a big box decorated like a Gonk droid, Star Wars costumes have always been popular. Fans my age will remember a day long ago when the only real option at Halloween was building Vader armor out of cardboard. Or wearing the sad little Saran Wrap gowns that said “Star Wars” on it when what you wanted was a faithful recreation of C-3P0’s torso.

Power costumers like the 501st and Rebel Legions waste no time taking advantage of the season. Not only are there plenty of events for dressing up, but authentic characters are in high demand to boost the prestige level of events. They’ll say it’s for the kids, but they don’t tell you that THEY are the kids!

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I remember my first spook-mission in the 501st. It was the 2002 Halloween parade in Manhattan. The Empire City Garrison hosted troopers from the Carolinas, the Midwest, Philadelphia, and even Germany. I had no idea what to expect. It was crazy big. Thousands gathered in every costume imaginable. The night kicked off with a dinner (in armor, natch) at the Star Dust Diner to hear costumed divas singing. Then it was a wacky ride on the subway to the parade step-off point (Vader and a host of troopers attracts quite the crowd on a subway). Over the next four hours we marched with thousands of other costumers down the deep shadowy caverns that ran between the skyscrapers of night-time New York. Perfect mood-lighting for the season. At one point we temporarily took over a float. Later we had to fight off gorillas who thought smacking troopers in the head with bananas would be hilarious. At the end we crashed a Victoria’s Secret party. By the time the witching hour came, we’d seen it all!

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But not all Halloween events are quite so crazy. 501st and Rebel Legion members love to haunt local community events all over the U.S. There’s Boo-at-the-Zoo in cities like Cheyenne, haunted house attractions like Netherworld in Atlanta, ghost walks in Savannah and Charleston, and trunk-or-treat events at churches everywhere.

In Denver the Mountain Garrison troopers appear at “Hauntings at the Hangar” where airplanes festooned with creepy decorations sit alongside an open cockpit X-wing fighter for kids to play in. In Elgin, Illinois, the Midwest Garrison visits shelters for children of domestic violence. In Woburn, Massachusetts, the New England Garrison acts out a massive Order 66 at their local parade, effectively wiping out any Rebel sympathizers. And the UK Garrison hits the “Wishes and Witches” party in aid of the Lyla Nsouli Foundation for children’s brain cancer.

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Photograph by Ginny Tait

Costuming appearances aside, the connection between Star Wars and Halloween was made even stronger in 2009 when Joe Schreiber’s book Death Troopers was released. In it he postulated a storyline where Stormtroopers were infected by an alien force and turned into unstoppable, flesh-feasting zombies. The tie-in was so natural, so wonderfully creative, that fans ate it up (pun intended). Now there are Death Troopers lurking in the Legion. Dave Anderson of Florida Garrison recently unveiled that he was infected. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the Legion is undead!

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And if that wasn’t cool enough, one Legion member in the Georgia Garrison named Michael Koske actually plays a zombie on AMC’s Walking Dead!

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Yep, if there was ever a single holiday where Vader’s minions could march side-by-side with Jedi and astromech droids, it’s Halloween. And it’s not just because Star Wars costumes are super cool (which they are). It’s because Halloween embodies all the trippy fun and imagination of childhood that Star Wars does.

So this year if someone asks you for costuming tips involving hairy monsters, weird robots, exotic princesses, roguish pirates, little green aliens, or shiny space-men, just remember: Star Wars has all the bases covered…

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Pumpkins by 501st and R2 Builders member Cam McCrackin and son

Pumpkins by 501st and R2 Builders member Cam McCrackin and son

Albin Johnson was a lowly Stormtrooper on Detention Block 2551 before Lord Vader lost a bet and allowed him to found the 501st Legion, “Vader’s Fist.” He’s also man-servant to R2-KT, “the pink Imperial droid with the heart of gold.” You can learn more at 501st.com and r2kt.com or follow Albin’s off-duty antics at albinjohnson.com.

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