Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Generations Star Wars fans will be thrilled during this year’s UFO Festival. Members of the 501st Dewback Ridge Garrison will attend the UFO Festival and will pose for photos and selfies.
Their motto is, “Bad guys doing good.”
Dewback Ridge Garrison Commanding Officer Sean East said in a phone interview, “Even though we are portrayed as the bad guys in the movies, in real life we want everybody to know that we are out there to do good things; to help raise money for charities; to do children’s hospital visits. We do take great joy in putting smiles on faces and it doesn’t matter if it’s kids or adults. We know how it’s like to get excited over Star Wars — even when we get older we are still huge fans. We still love to see the costumes and see the new movies and to experience this all together makes it even more worth it.
“I am the commanding officer for the New Mexico chapter,” East said. “We represent the 501st Legion. The 501st Legion is the worldwide organization for our Star Wars costuming club. We have about 13,000 members worldwide and we have 90 members here in the state of New Mexico.”
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Asked about the fascination of joining a costume group such as his, East said, “I grew up watching Star Wars. I was 4 years old when the first one came out back in 1977 and just growing up with the toys and the movies and of course, all my other friends loved the movies as well. We had a connection there and we just grew up and enjoyed the stories, good versus evil. Once I learned there was a costuming club that I could join, that expanded on my fandom in that regard. I made a lot of friends. They are like family to me due to the friendships we created.”
The 501st is known to have professional costumes, armor and characters from the Star Wars universe. While they are supposedly the evil ones, they often appear together with the good ones, their sister-costuming group called The Rebel Legion.
“They handle the Princess Leia costumes, the Jedis, Chewbacca — but we actually work hand-in-hand with them,” East said. “That way, when we show up to events we have a balance of the good guys and the bad guys and that always makes for fun pictures.”
East has five costumes and characters he can choose from. “I have a Shadow Trooper, I have an AT-AT Driver costume (All Terrain Armored Transports were walkers, originally introduced in the 1983 film “Return of the Jedi “), I have a TIE (twin ion engines) fighter pilot, I have a Jawa and I have a Snow Trooper uniform. Jawas are a whole lot of fun,” he said.
“We strive to have costumes that look like they just came off the movie set,” East said. “We do our best to match what you see in the movies or in a comic book, action figure or painting. We do our best to do it exactly the way you’ve seen it on TV or a movie screen. We take a lot of pride in our costumes, we put a lot of money and time into it. By sharing that passion, it allowed us to connect with fans all over the world. We also use the costumes to do a lot of charity events. We give back to the community with working with Toys for Tots. We also work with Make a Wish, with our food bank, March of Dimes, the list goes on and on what we are trying to do.
“A majority of the costumes that we wear, we either make them ourselves or we have friends who make them, or there are people in our club from around the world that also produce them,” East said. “Most of the time you see people making them in a garage or have a friend who has access to a vacuum form table or a mold.
“As the years have gone by — we have been around since 1997 — the research has gotten better as far as to make better molds. Some people had access to the actual costumes that were in the movies. That way we can ensure that they are as exact as possible,” East said.
The 21st century brought new technology. The international groups have access to 3D printers, which made a big difference in cost and availability.
“Even if you want to make a giant rifle that would cost you tons of money to ship from Europe, now you can have it 3D printed and you can mold it yourself.” East said. “It helped out the costume-building community in general. It makes it a lot easier to get a hold of certain pieces and parts.
“We use a lot of fabrics — what is called ABS plastic for most of the Storm Trooper costumes. Very rarely we use metal; sometimes fiberglass just for support. Most of the time it is plastic and cloth, which makes it a lot lighter, easier to repair and more affordable, too,” East said.
According to East, the Darth Vader costume is one of the most expensive costumes. Depending on the material, it can cost a few thousand dollars at the low end. “It ensures that you have all the right parts and pieces for him,” he said and laughed.
While the clubs worldwide are for group members who have to be 18 years or older, with the new generation becoming parents and grandparents, the 501st started a club for 17 years old or under.
“We want our kids to get involved,” East said. “It’s called the Galactic Academy. That way they can experience the world of costuming from their point of view and as they grow older, they start working on their own costume and continue what we do. It’s a fun way to get the entire family involved.”
According to East, his 501st Dewback Ridge Garrison out of Albuquerque participated in 120 events last year.
“We are busy,” he said and laughed. “Almost every weekend we’ve got multiple things going on. During the Albuquerque Balloon Festival they have the Darth Vader/Yoda hot air balloons that come up. We do a crowd control for these balloons and it is always a big draw. We may get up to 100,000 people at one time. That was definitely a good exposure for our club.”
Asked how to request the 501st attend an event, East said, “Contact 501st.com and send an event request to book them or to find information about how to join with an application, rules and regulations. The children’s website is galactic-academy.net and that’s worldwide.”
Christina Stock may be contacted at 622-7710, ext. 309, or at email@example.com.