While at the Long Island Toy Show I was fortunate enough to meet Chris Feehan Who told me about the 501st Legion and what they do. Oh, did I happen to mention that he was in full Storm Trooper gear, and looked like he just leaped off the screen and slapped you in the face with a whole bunch of awesome? No? Oh well that's kind of Important,. First let me introduce you to the501st Legion.
The501st was formed in 1997 and spreads the magic of Star Wars worldwide. With the use of authentic looking costumes, the legion's volunteers donate their time to fun based charity events.They are a band of bad guys that are doing the world some good. This is an international organization and has more than 3,300 volunteers in 35 countries, 50 states and Puerto Rico. Although they are recognized by Lucas Media they do not sponsor, pay or procure costumes for the legion, this is 100 percent volunteer, and 100percent awesome.
Now let's get back to Mr. Feehan and his local chapter of the501st Legion.
MG: Thank You for taking the time to tell The Mommy's Guide about what it is you do. Let me just say that we think what you and your fellow members do is an amazing gift. How long have you been participating in the 501st Legion?
CF: I first started around 5 years ago, I constructed my Storm trooper costume and got it approved. I had seen 501st Legion members at conventions for years before that and wanted to join, but I have twin girls and never had time to construct a costume and join. Once they were around 6 years old, I managed to find some time and get involved with the group. Since then I have attended over 100 events in costume, and my family has been very supportive.
MG: When did you start your own chapter?
The international group the 501st Legion was started 15 years ago by a man named Albin Johnson. Individual Garrisons started popping up all around the world soon after, and the New York chapter, The Empire City Garrison was one of the first. The 501st Legion now has over5000 members worldwide, and we have over 50 members in the New York Garrison. After I joined I got very involved helping spread the word about what we do on Long Island, and I now act as the Charity Representative for NY, and the Event Coordinator for Long Island.Below is a brief description of the organization...
The501st Legion is an all-volunteer worldwide organization formed for the express purpose of bringing together costume enthusiasts under a collective identity within which to operate. The Legion seeks to promote interest in Star Wars through the building and wearing of quality costumes, and to facilitate the use of these costumes for Star Wars-related events as well as contributions to the local community through costumed charity and volunteer work. We are known for representing bad guy characters like Stormtroopers, Clone Troopers, Bounty Hunters, and Sith Lords, in the most accurate way possible. We are officially recognized by Lucas Film as their preferred costuming group. The Empire City Garrison is the local New York chapter of the 501st Legion.
MG:What is your favorite Star Wars Movie or scene?
CF: The first movie, "A New Hope", always holds a special place in my heart. I saw it when I was 7 years old and as you can imagine it left a real impression on me. But my favorite Star Wars movie is "Empire Strikes Back", it was the most emotional,and had some of the best scenes, including the showdown between Vader and Luke. Part of the attraction of the 501st Legion, is getting to dress up in a movie accurate costume from the film, and actually having a good reason to do so.
MG: Favorite Character?
CF; I would have to say Luke, he is the hero of the story and the one you root for throughout the movie. My Storm trooper costume is actually a specific Storm trooper known as TK-421. He was the one Luke clobbered in "A New Hope" and stole his armor. He was the only Storm trooper who conveniently had a Commlink and Grappling Hook on his belt, both of which Luke needed later on in the film.
MG: The 501 Legion must take up a lot of your free time, what other than wearing an awesome costume, makes you volunteer so much of yourself to the 501st Legion?
CF: The501st Legion does some great work with various charities around the world. I just love the idea that so many individuals can come together and enjoy their passion for building and wearing movie accurate costumes, and use that to help the community. Doing Hospital visits and Charity events are always incredibly rewarding, and those are the ones I enjoy the most. Words cannot express the joy you feel when you bring a smile to the face of a child going through a rough time. We try to do Hospital visits 3 to 4 times a year, and every time we do, I am incredibly thankful to have two healthy girls at home. I am just glad that we are given the opportunity to give these kids some attention. They make all the time and money we spend on our costumes worth it.
MG: Listed on your card is the Puppetry Arts Theater and other local charities, do tell us more...
CF:We partner with various charities in the New York area, the Puppetry Arts Theater is a group that does community outreach in Brooklyn, and helps by coming to inner city schools and doing art and drama programs centered around puppetry. We have been working with them for the past 5 years and attend 3-4 events for them every year. We also support events for wide variety of charities on the Island including Autism Speaks, Special Olympics, Alexander's Angels, Giant Kids, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Most of these involve attending their walks, and helping bring attention to the research they support.
We work with the child programs at various hospitals in the area including Stony Brook, Maria Fareri, and Woodhul Hospital. We coordinate visits to the hospitals, and visit the children going through a rough time.
We also have a close relationship with a charity called the Pinwheel Project, a local charity in NY that brings games, activities, toys,and treats to children at local area hospitals. As a rule we do not accept donations directly for charity, we are not a 501(c) charity ourselves, we just help support their events. However we do sometimes hold Shoot-A-Trooper events in conjunction with a charity, where they accept donations for folks to shoot at Stormtroopers with Nerf guns.These donations go directly to the charity we are supporting at the event.
MG:I also saw the Cradle of Aviation listed what do you do there?
CF: We also help support non-profits in the community as well, and museums such as the Cradle Of Aviation and the Intrepid Air and Space Museum had reached out to us to participate in various events. We have done events at the Cradle of Aviation for the past two years,helping to bring people in to see what a great facility we have on the Island. We just did an event July with the Intrepid to support the First Robotics organization, and the local Long Island girls robotics team "The Ice Breakers". It was an incredible experience, not only helping supporting the team, but getting to seethe Space Shuttle Enterprise for the first time.
MG: What is the name of the good guy group you were with at the Long Island Toy Show?
CF: The group we were with was the Rebel Legion, and their NY chapter Echo Base. The Rebel Legion is a Star Wars costuming group that was started around 12 years ago, mostly by members of the 501st Legion.There were folks who wanted to do "Good Guy" costumes, so a separate group was created to manage the standards for those costumes. Their mission, structure, and mindset is very similar to the 501st Legion, and we partner with them at many of the events we participate in. Many of our members in the 501st Legion also belong to the Rebel Legion, and switch between their "Good Guy"and "Bad Guy" costumes when needed. I actually belong to both as well, I have a Storm trooper and Emperor costume for the 501stLegion, and two Luke Skywalker costumes (Return of the Jedi Black Costume and X-Wing Pilot Costume) I use with the Rebel Legion.
MG: How do you volunteer for the 501st Legion? Do you need a costume to participate or are their other things for people to do?
CF: You do need a costume to participate in events, and we all build ourown within the group. There are a wealth of resources availablewithin the group to help get you started, and find what you need. Wehave "Detachments" for specific costumes, where you canfind specific information about whatever costume you decide to build.The one for Stormtroopers is the First Imperial StormtrooperDetachment at whitearmor.net.A Stormtrooper outfit can cost between $1500 and $2000 to complete,and other costumes such as Darth Vader or Boba Fett can costthousands more. It can be expensive and take time to build andacquire the right movie accurate parts, but it's worth it. You end upwith a movie accurate costume you can use to help bring attention tosome great causes, and the satisfaction you get from that is simplyincredible.
MG: What do your friends and family think about your hobby?
CF: They are very supportive, at first some of them didn’t understandwhy I was dressing up and doing events as a volunteer. Once they sawall the great work I do with the 501st Legion (and Rebel Legion), andall the charities, children’s groups, hospitals, and non-profits wehelp, they were very proud of me and what I was doing. For mostpeople it’s hard to understand all that motivates us to do this.For me it’s a way to use my costumes, while having the satisfactionof helping the community. I have also made some greatfriends within the group as well. This group brings together StarWars enthusiast from all walks of life, who share a similar passion.Making friends within the group comes naturally, and all the folks Ihave dealt with within the Legion have been incredibly helpful andsupportive. The only thing my wife was not very supportive about, wasmaking my white Dodge Stratus look like a giant Stormtrooper helmet.Last year I bought some vinyl decal material and cut out shapes tomake it look like Stormtrooper helmet. She is not thrilled when shehas to drive it around town, but it is a hit at some of the events Ibring it to.
MG:Doyou have someone that dresses up as Boba Fett? And if so do they makehouse calls?
CF:Wehave many "Bad Guy" main characters within the groupincluding, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and the Emperor. Having themappear at an event mainly depends on the availability of thevolunteers with those costumes. Unfortunately as a rule, we do notmake house calls, do birthday parties, or weddings. We all have livesoutside of the group, and if we volunteer we want to make it count atlarger events, in direct support of a particular organization. Wehave made a few exceptions for children going through a rough time,and for something like that we would consider it.
MG:Doyou ever do events for Lucas, or just for fun?
CF: We have been called upon by Lucasflim for various promotional eventsover the years. Whenever a new movie, cartoon, toy, book, or videogame is released we are usually asked to participate in its promotionin some way. In return a donation to charity is done in our name, wemaintain a constant relationship with LucasFilm and their associatedpartners. This is the main reason LucasFilm allows us to use the StarWars brand, they see what a mutually beneficial relationship it hasbecome. We have also been asked to do other promotional eventsincluding Star Wars Night at Citi Field for the Mets. We did it onbehalf of the Stand Up 2 Cancer organization with LucasFilm'sblessing.
Wealso attend Toy Shows and Sci-Fi Conventions in the area, both forfun and to help spread the word about what we do. We find most of ourrecruits at those types of functions, and we have more relaxed rulesfor taking our helmets off at those types of events, so we canactually communicate with perspective members. As a rule we do nottake our helmets off in public, it can shatter the illusion that wecame straight out of the movie for young children. At a con howeverwe sometimes do, so we can talk to folks who want to know about thegroup and find out more information about it.
MG:Anythingyou would like to add?
CF:Onbehalf of the Empire City Garrison and the 501st Legion, I would liketo thank you for taking the time to find out more about us and whatwe do. We get asked often how much we charge, and where do you buyyour outfit. We love the opportunity to let people know we are allvolunteers and we build our own costumes. Our goal is to act as anadded attraction at charity events so people are more likely toattend, and spread the word about the charity we are supporting. Webelieve that our presence at these events has a positive impact, andour visits to sick children are worth the time, effort, and expensewe all put into the organization. If there are any charities ornon-profits out there that may be able to use us at an event, pleasehave them contact us. If the event is a good fit for us, and we havemembers available, we would be happy to volunteer our services.
Sothere it is guys, a Stormtrooper with a heart of gold. Thank goodnessfor guys like this, entertaining and doing good all the while. So ifyou ever see these guys around, make sure to tell them thank you foreverything they do to keep spirits up for those that may need alittle push. I have personally been honored to get to post thisinformation and spread the knowledge of such an amazing legion ofgood doers, even if they are on the dark side.
|My Son Meeting Darth VEVE as he calls him. Look at me I am such a dork! Photo CreditVicky Lares|
Listed hereare the links for the 501st, Chris's page, and thecharities he supports and works with.
501stLegion (Main Site):
EmpireCity Garrison (NY Chapter):
SpecialOlympics Polar Plunge:
StandUp 2 Cancer: