Author Archive



Remembering Katie, Inspiring Hope with R2-KT Art, Part 1

Albin Johnson | April 11, 2014

Star Wars has spawned a universe of incredible artwork, both licensed and fan-created. Since 2006 when R2-KT became a reality thanks to the hard work of the R2 Builders organization, the pink droid has become something of her own celebrity. The fan community has embraced a cute pink droid that carries on in the memory of her namesake — my daughter, Katie — and crusades for awareness of pediatric illnesses and fund-raising for worthy charities.

I thought it would be cool to showcase the art of R2-KT’s fans. Some incredible stuff has been done in the pink palette, and ties in nicely with other “think pink” campaigns that all have one thing in common: hope. What better notion than hope from a saga that started with A New Hope?

Star Wars artist Tsuneo Sanda and R2-KT

Star Wars artist Tsuneo Sanda and R2-KT.

Star Wars artist Tsuneo Sanda has been a big supporter of my family since Katie was diagnosed with cancer. Her story touched his heart and he has created a number of works in her memory. He wrote on his own web site the following thoughts: “It’s been almost a year since lovely Katie-chan passed away. I do not have actual feeling that she died because, we can see photographs of her shining face on the net in the world…Please see the paintings of Katie-chan I imagined. I expressed her loveliness in three paintings in my own way. May her soul rest in peace.” Sanda-san sent us three custom pieces featuring Katie with her droid and one rare copy of his enormous tableau of Star Wars characters where he repainted R2-D2 pink! Truly magical, just like everything Mr. Sanda does. You can see the incredible work of Sanda on his site, www.sandaworld.com.

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The Galactic Academy Costumers: Judge Them By Their Size, Do Not!

Albin Johnson | March 27, 2014

Ask yourself a question. Why do kids like Star Wars so much? One theory is that it’s filled with so many characters that are larger than life: cool bounty hunters, powerful Sith Lords, noble Jedi warriors. Kids are built to imagine growing up to be something bigger than they are. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, a lot of us were kids and you better believe we got it. And dressing up in Star Wars costumes? We did it old school — moms made our outfits and we wore them proudly!

Star Wars Halloween costumes

Left to right: Jeff Parks and sis as Vaders ‘78, Anthony Day and family in ‘83, Sean Carmichael, Lorri King in ‘78, and Brian and Laura Robertson in ‘80.

It occurred to me after 15 years of building a Star Wars costuming fan club that something was missing. We didn’t allow kids as members. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the 501st Legion, Rebel Legion, Mando Mercs, and the other clubs love kids. We all do this for the kids. Nothing thrills us more than to visit a hospital and to see the smiles on children’s faces when we troop. But having kids as part of our group? It wasn’t practical. But it wasn’t impossible.

So by 2008 the 501st was a well-oiled machine and I started posing the question: was it time to finally have a separate costuming group for kids? Their very own cool group to join? I mean why not? The costuming community had evolved to the point where logistics of events and organizing were well in hand. So why not a costuming group with kids as actual card-carrying members?

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The 501st Legion’s Star Wars Toy Story

Albin Johnson | March 18, 2014

 

Star Wars has a rich legacy of firsts. When it first came out in 1977, A New Hope was wholly different from any science-fiction story ever told and it broke the mold. Not only that, but it recast how the business of movies could be run by revealing the power of merchandising. Nowadays every big kids’ movie has an obligatory toy line, but Star Wars was the first to see its potential. As a corollary to that, the 501st Legion was the first Star Wars fan club (or fan club of any franchise, really) to see itself plugged right into the product line of the very universe it sought to celebrate.

It’s both exciting and humbling to witness. Here is a fictional universe that one man imagined and countless millions have enjoyed. Thousands of artists, authors, and editors have contributed to populate it to George Lucas’ standards. But to imagine the fans themselves being welcomed into the canon is just inspiring.

The story of how the 501st became Star Wars canon is a story for another blog. Since 2004, Lucasfilm has owned the rights to the 501st Legion name and I couldn’t be happier. Every so often I browse a toy store or a convention floor and out of nowhere there’s 501st merchandise for the offering. Wow. So here’s a quick and incomplete list of the cool items I’ve seen come out. If you’ve seen more feel free to contact me and we’ll add it to the list.

Japanese Star Wars clone trooper action figure called Vader's Legion

At some point in late 2005 / early 2006 a blue clone trooper figure appeared in Japan stores featuring the title “Vader’s Legion.” This may seem a coincidence, but the bottom of the package left no room for doubt: amid the Japanese lettering, it read “501″ in the description. I can only guess they had not secured permission from us yet to use our name and found this description a good compromise.

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The History of the 501st Legion: Founding of the UK Garrison

Albin Johnson | February 19, 2014

The 501st Legion of Stormtroopers in 1998

 It was December 1998 and the 501st Squad was growing. Fast.

Following the blunders at DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia, I was puzzling over the destiny of the group that gathered on the website Detention Block 2551. It made quite a show, all those pictures of Stormtroopers on the web. But where was all this headed? Would a grassroots fan club catch on with fans worldwide?

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R2-KT and the Power of the Pink Side

Albin Johnson | January 30, 2014
R2-D2 and R2-KT in the Clone Wars feature film

R2-D2 and R2-KT in the Clone Wars feature film.

Much has been said about the plucky astromech that faithfully served Anakin, then Obi-Wan Kenobi, and finally Luke Skywalker. R2-D2 was my hero growing up. So much better than a dog: he could fly a space ship, swim underwater, hack into computer systems, and even zap creepy Muppets. Who wouldn’t want an astromech droid as a friend?

Today there’s a droid living in my house. People who visit are blown away at the mere sight of her. And when she goes on trips, people are amazed to see her rolling on her own steam, dome a-twirling, lights flashing, and that familiar chirp-beep-whistle coming from her speakers. But every time I get the same thing: why is your droid pink?

Okay, so if you’re a hardcore Star Wars fan maybe you’ve heard of her. R2-KT is the pink astromech droid that was built in honor of my daughter, Katie, and that’s why she bears the name “KT.” But some may not know the full story.

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History of the 501st Legion: DragonCon, Part 2

Albin Johnson | January 9, 2014

The 501st Legion at DragonCon

The first-ever meeting of the 501st was not the epic moment one would think from such a large and tightly-knit organization it is today. Like a lot of success stories, the first tenuous steps were lurching, staggering, anxious ones. DragonCon seemed the perfect place to bring together the first pioneers of organized Star Wars costuming. But lumped in with the wildly diverse energy of the con was… well, wildly diverse energy!

The Florida group that showed up was large and in charge. It was happy to troop with the rest of us, but it was more for the sake of a themed costume group than anything else. And for anyone who’s been to DragonCon enough times, costume themes are short-lived bursts of excitement. They wandered the halls, taking in the sights and having fun with it. And no one could blame them. After years of being at Dragoncon, I now know it’s one big party. But at the time I was new to all of that. I was serious about making a real go of a club. I was on a mission. But the excitement I heard on the internet was a far cry from what folks wanted to do when together, it seemed. Rather than lead the pack, I ended up following the group carrying my little sign and wondering if I’d been fooling myself.

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Star Wars Ambassadors to the Gridiron

Albin Johnson | December 10, 2013

Patriots Trooper versus Panthers Trooper

Star Wars, by its very title, is a tale of epic battles. It’s a pageant of good versus evil, a struggle between conquest and salvation. It’s not called Star Romance or Star Force-Magic or any other title tied to one of its underlying themes. Those things happen against the back-drop of a good-old-fashioned war story.

People love a good throw-down. It’s in our blood to compete. Those of you reading this blog may not engage in tribal warfare like our ancestors, but we still find ways to identify with modern-day “tribes” of a sort. Sports are a clear example of that as an outlet. Sports fans identify with their teams like they are our tribes. We wear their colors, we cheer like maniacs, and we take a lot of joy (and regret) over watching them battle it out.

Two years ago I found a fun way to mash up my love of Star Wars with my love of watching football. I repainted an old set of Stormtrooper armor in Carolina Panthers colors just for fun. I reported in this blog last year the growing number of “Sports Troopers” who decorate their Star Wars costumes to match their favorite sports teams. The responses surprised me.

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History of the 501st Legion: Dragon Con, Part 1

Albin Johnson | September 19, 2013

It was Labor Day weekend in 1998 and I was off to my very first convention as a Stormtrooper. The Detention Block 2551 site had been up for a year. Over a hundred other Stormtroopers had joined the newly-anointed 501st Squad. We had an insignia and a backstory. All that was left now was to form up as a club in person. I e-mailed everyone from the website and boldly announced the Fighting 501st was going to take the con by storm!

That was all tough talk. I was terrified. I’d never been to Dragon Con in my life and from what I heard it was huge. I was barely able to get around an air conditioned movie theater in my armor, so how would I get around downtown Atlanta in armor that barely fit me? (We didn’t cut our armor down back then; we didn’t know we could!) On top of that, I was still getting used to being an amputee. And who were these people coming to meet up with me? I barely knew them. Would they rally to a banner I’d raised on the Internet? Or would they just bail on everything and go party?

First on the ground and ready to troop (or party?)

First on the ground and ready to troop (or party?)

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Playing Stormtrooper Games

Albin Johnson | August 26, 2013

A week ago I realized one of my childhood dreams. It happened at GenCon in Indianapolis, where ZOE (Zombie Orpheus Entertainment) premiered the third installment in their Gamers movie series: Hands of Fate. Not only was it a much-awaited sequel to one of my favorite movie franchises, but I got to play a Stormtrooper in it along with some of my 501st buddies! Not nice troopers, either. These guys chase people, cuff them up, and haul them off to the brig. No charity work here, sorry.

I never thought two of my passions would meet up like that. See, one of my alter egos is I’m a gamer. Specifically, RPG’s like the famous Dungeons and Dragons. The fandom world has lots of different sub-groups and genres and they don’t always understand one other. It strikes me as funny sometimes how passionately members of one fan base yearn to be recognized as a legitimate hobby, but then they smirk at another fan base for what THEY do. But more and more it’s becoming an eclectic affair, with people loving so many different hobbies.

Early last year I heard the news that the popular Gamers series was putting out another movie. For my Star Wars friends, that’s like hearing Episode VII would be coming out next year. That’s honestly how excited I was to hear about it! I can’t stress how much I love these movies. Funny, clever, rich in character development while keeping up the action (everything you love about Star Wars). And it’s obvious the creators have a love for the subject matter and for creating memorable characters.

My kind of heroes!

My kind of heroes!

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The Birth of the 501st Legion, Part Six: Raising the Banner

Albin Johnson | June 21, 2013

In the middle of 1997 the 501st Squad was born. It was to no great fanfare. And it happened in no more glamorous a place than a flimsy little website hosted by Geocities called “Detention Block 2551.” Tom and I had made a good run of trooping in our Stormtrooper armor all over our hometown, from movie theaters to comic shops to daycare centers to state fairs. But while those events were fun, it was quickly becoming obvious that the concept of the 501st could only take root on the new frontier emerging in the nineties: the Internet.

Imperial Comm Net: Our Secret Weapon

Imperial Comm Net: Our Secret Weapon

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