Photo of Troy by the author.
It’s a little known fact but the Australian branch of the Star Wars costume fan organisation is a steadily growing force. They call themselves the 501st Legion or, more affectionately, ‘Vader’s Fist’.
Not limiting themselves to a self-indulgent fanzine, the group operates as a not for profit organisation that works primarily with seriously and terminally ill children. The group’s aims are to contribute to the local community through charity and volunteer work while celebrating everything that is the Dark Side. Their mission slogan is ‘Bad Guys Doing Good’ and they have attracted thousands of members worldwide since Star Wars fanatic Al Johnson started the whole thing over a decade ago in the US.
Although not officially sponsored by or affiliated with Star Wars creator George Lucas, they have been granted authorisation to replicate the Imperial costumes under the agreement that a) no profit is made through their use and that b) the troopers adhere to a strict code of professional conduct during trooping events. George Lucas is now an honorary member and this ongoing ‘unofficial’ relationship has seen the 501st Legion name incorporated into official Star Wars material including books, toys and video games. Can you even imagine how excited that makes these dudes?
We decided to go and meet some of the everyday men behind the masks and find out what it takes to become a member of ‘Vader’s Fist’ and to find out what the neighbours think of the grown men dressed up in five thousand dollar space suits living next door.
**Vice: Name, age and occupation? **
Troy: Troy ‘Destroyer’ Henderson. I’m 32 and work as an electrician.
How long have you been part of the 501st Legion?
Just over 12 months now.
So what’s with your Star Wars fascination?
I’ve had a few of the movie posters for a number of years, but I only really started my collection of statues and prop replicas in the last two years. I really like the helmets and I’m working on getting one of each Imperial helmet from the original trilogy. So far I have one of each main Trooper type: a Stormtrooper, Snowtrooper and a Scout Trooper.
SHANE PRIEST / Darth Vader: 36 years old, Facilities Manager at Mercedes Benz
So you have a whole workshop for building your suits and guns. What projects are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I am assembling a set of Snowtrooper armour. It’s almost done, just a few minor details to finish. I’m also building a second E11 Stormtrooper blaster. Future plans include a Stormtrooper to stand in my hallway and something special that I’m keeping quiet for now.
Where does George Lucas stand on all this?
Technically he could pull the plug on us at any time. Luckily the relationship is a good one—he even flew one hundred 501st Legion members from around the globe to the US on an all expenses paid trip on New Years Eve to commemorate the 30th birthday of Star Wars.
What happens on a tour of duty?
Essentially we provide entertainment and activities for sick kids. We do things like take them ten pin bowling, to the cinema and even do hospital visits. That’s what sets us apart from other fan groups I guess. We all obviously love Star Wars and collecting and modifying our costumes but our primary interest is making kids in unfortunate situations happy with our unique passion.
How much would a scout trooper suit like yours set you back?
I paid over $1,000 for mine but the more expensive costumes are the Darth Vader and the even rarer Bobba Fett. They can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 depending on which version you are after and their accuracy to the movie.
Does it get toasty in there?
It’s pretty warm but most of us have fans built into the helmets and when we’re on trooping events we take time out every now and then to rehydrate. Last thing we want is a legion of stormtroopers passing out during an event.
You had a bit of trouble with customs recently right? What was that about?
Well, all of the Star Wars’ guns are based on real life weapons. For example the Stormtrooper gun uses a Sterling submachine gun as a base, with a few bits added to it. I had to order some resin pieces in from overseas to reproduce the gun grips and magazines. Apparently it all looked too real to the blokes in customs and they destroyed the whole lot.
So what do the neighbours think?
Well it’s not like I mow the lawns every weekend dressed as a Stormtrooper but they’re aware of what I do and find it entertaining. I have a harder time convincing the blokes at work but they’re ok with it.
MICHAEL BLOWFIELD / ATAT Driver
28 years old, Self Employed BRUCE HARRISON / Stormtrooper
30 years old, Professional DJ
CAMERON KING / Bobba Fett
24 years old, Qantas Plane Engineer DOUG McSWAIN / Sand Trooper
36 years old, Gas Station Attendent