A man on a nearly 10,000-mile trek along Australia's coast escaped a poisonous snakebite this week when a lunging king brown snake's fangs were blocked by his full-body Star Wars Stormtrooper armor. In a video post made near Yalboroo, Queensland, on day 277 of his travels and uploaded to the Facebook page for his journey (dubbed "Storming Australia"), 47-year-old ex-soldier Scott Loxley describes his encounter with the vicious three-foot snake as follows:
I'm walking up the hill and I see a snake on the side of the road… He's kind of coiled up and I thought he was another dead snake and I just continued to walk past him.
Ha, turns out he wasn't dead. A big, old king brown … and he's, um, lunged at me and bit me. But the good news is the armor—he bit me in the shin and the armor actually protected me and stopped the bite. I could feel the teeth on the plastic scraping.
But the armor actually stopped something. So all those people who rag on the old Stormtroopers, you know, The armor doesn't do this, it doesn't do that, it stopped a snake bite and probably saved my life today.
Loxley was referring to a common criticism of Stormtroopers in Star Wars, who despite their heavy armor appear to be vulnerable to everything from blasters to fuzzy little Ewoks. (Some apologists for the film try to explain away these shortcomings in highly esoteric terms.)
Loxley is lucky his armor was more effective than its cinematic counterpart. King browns, or mulgas, are among Australia's most venomous snakes, known for their savage bites and the unparalleled volume of venom they can inject. The cause of the most snakebite deaths in Australia, their toxins can cause blood coagulation and poison the brain and kidneys unless treated swiftly.
And that's not the only poisonous Loxley might have encountered. The king brown is only the 13th deadliest animal living on Loxley's route, according to the Australian Museum's danger rankings.
But Aussies are tough. Though 3,000 snake bites are reported in the country a year, only a handful of people die from them. Loxley, who eats tons of bush meat, regularly consumes poisonous snakes. He even considered chasing his king brown antagonist down, but decided it was too aggressive. It wasn't the first snake to bite him, although it was the first he let get away without killing or devouring it in response.
It's worth pointing out that Loxley's armor servers a greater purpose than snake protection on the road. He's using it as a stunt to draw attention to his walk, which began in September 2013 as a charitable endeavor to raise money for the 2016 opening of Melbourne's pending Monash Children's Hospital. Loxley has burned through over 20 pairs of shoes and started using truck tires to retread his latest pairs. To date, he's raised over $33,000 from 599 donors and hopes to have $82,000 by the time he finishes the trip this summer.
The Stormtrooper gimmick isn't unique to Loxley. He's part of a larger organization known as the 501st Legion, which is comprised of people who dress up as Star Wars baddies to promote fandom of the series. Their members, active in dozens of countries from America to Australia (where they have four chapters), also regularly raise money and appear pro bono at charity events for organizations like the American Cancer Society, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Red Cross. Established in 1997, the society has become so popular that Lucas Films has tacitly given them a stamp of approval by including them in the Star Wars canon.
Still, Loxley's coastal trek is extreme compared to most of 501st charity events, which usually involve members coming out to perform scenes as a group. It's unusually long for a charity walk as well. Although fairly common as a fundraising gimmick, most are just a few hundred miles long.
The only direct parallel to Loxley's trip may be Jacob French's 3,000 "Trooper Trek" across the Australian Outback in 2012, which raised $100,000 for the Starlight Children's Foundation.
Loxley claims he's not really a big Star Wars nerd, but the 501st requires that its members have a high-quality outfit. There's a shocking variety of getups, but a decent suit runs about a grand. His membership meant he had greater fang protection than a casual fan who might have been wearing a cheap Halloween costume alternative.
Still, according to Brian Troyan, a.k.a. TK-8968, a 501st public relations officer, the costumes aren't meant to be protective and more often than not have the opposite effect on members.
"The low visibility and limited mobility afforded to a member in costume probably causes more accidents and injuries than it avoids," Troyan told me via email. "Even without any dramatic accidents, Stormtrooper armor often leaves the wearer bruised at the joints from pieces that pinch into the arms and legs. But members of the 501st take these 'armor bites' with pride. [Still] it's all very impractical."
TK-8968 and the 501st team are only aware of one other instance in which Stormtrooper armor has done more good than harm: An underwater explorer and filmmaker named Scott Cassell (not a member of the 501st) apparently uses a homemade fiberglass suit modeled after Stormtrooper armor to defend himself against squid attacks.
True to TK-8968's warnings, Loxley's suit has proven more of a burden than a protection for the bulk of his trip, especially in the heat of the Australian summer. The suit locks in heat so terribly that he lost about 45 pounds within the first half-year of the trek.
"The heat and humidity have made every day almost unbearable to the point where I wake up and go, 'I can't put it on today,'" Loxley told news.com.au. "But if I don't, I won't finish. So every day I put on the armor and off I go."
The heat is melting and cracking the suit, forcing him to hold it together with tape. As it continues to buckle under the stress of the journey, it will presumably be less useful in warding off future snake attacks.
How Loxley holds up as his armor disintegrates remains to be seen—the dude is probably a walking hunk of leather by now. On the bright side, turning yourself into jerky and talking about near-death in cosplay has an upside: Donations have spiked since Loxley's brush with death.
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