With The Force Awakens out in theaters, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my relationship to the series, and how my child has been introduced to the franchise. I’m a member of a group of costumers called the 501st Legion.
My own son has seen me in costume several times at events or at home: his first encounter was when he was just six months old, when we took him to Rhode Island Comic Con. As he got older, a fully helmeted trooper scared him, until one day that he asked to play Star Wars. Dressed up as the Jedi costume we made him for Halloween last year, he chased me around the yard fully armored, hitting me with a lightsaber. Since then, any stormtrooper he sees is ‘Daddy’.
The 501st Legion represents an interesting facet of Star Wars fandom: we’re builders who assemble incredibly detailed costumes from the universe. The group was originally founded in 1997 by fans who dressed up for the Special Editions, and who had set up a website to attract like-minded fans. The founding came at the right time: the children who had seen the original trilogy in theaters had grown up, and began to put their passions to work.
As the Legion group expanded, it’s pulled in entire families who have taken to the hobby as a family. Participation introduces Star Wars in a whole new way: rather than being a visual experience, it becomes a tactile one.
Jodi Anderson recalls seeing the original trilogy as a child: “I saw at [A New Hope] at the Drive-In, but I don’t really remember much of it. I do remember [Empire Strikes Back], and I was old enough to know how cool it was to be seeing [Return of the Jedi] in the theaters when that came out.”
Michael Brunco came to the series later in life: “I’d have to say my first memorable moment seeing Star Wars was as a young adult. It was shortly after news hit that a new trilogy was being made when I struck up a conversation with a co-worker,” He recalled “He mentioned that he had a copy of the [Original Trilogy] on VHS and would let me borrow his tapes, one by one of course. I remember watching and was instantly hooked with A New Hope. I felt a connection with that movie like nothing I had ever experienced with any other form of entertainment before.”
Both later became members of the 501st Legion years later: Anderson alternatively dressed up as Princess Leia, a Tusken Raider or a pilot for the massive AT-AT walkers. Brunco assembled an officer’s uniform and later, a TIE fighter pilot’s garb. Both were parents: Mike and his wife had a son (and years later, a second one), while Jodi and her husband recently had a daughter.
“By the time Attack of the Clones came out I was hooked on Star Wars, and I really wanted to share that with Mikey,” Brunco recalled. “He has Asperger’s Syndrome, which falls under the Autism Spectrum, and I felt it would help give him something to connect to.” Anderson had her daughter years after she had joined the 501st Legion: “Our daughter has been exposed to elements of Star Wars through her whole life…She ‘gets’ Star Wars more from the merchandise and characters she’s seen in real life. The Golden Books have gone a long way in filling in the Star Wars myths for her, more recently.”
“We had friends with kids in the legion, and so when we were planning on having a kid we thought a lot about how they would fit into our life, and since the 501st and Rebel Legions are such a large part of our lives, we considered this too,” Anderson recounted. “She is growing up as a costumer and doesn’t have a fear of characters. She knows that they are just folks in costumes (just like us). Part of me feels a little bad for this, because it seems to remove some of the magic. Sometimes, despite this, she still thinks our friends are the REAL character they are portraying.”
Brunco also brought along his son and even included him in troops: “I have been a member of the 501st since 2009 and for most of that time have included Mikey in my plans when trooping events.” He recalled. “As he got older I would bring him to events that I was trooping and on special occasions, after he grew and fit into my costume, would suit him up so that I could jump back into that wrangler or photographer role when needed.”
Both children have taken to costumes as well. Mike noted that both of his children have worn costumes of their own – his eldest is a member of the Rebel Legion (the light-side sister site of the 501st Legion), while his youngest is more comfortable around Star Wars characters than he is Santa. Anderson remembered that her daughter was only four months old when they brought her to her first comic con as a tiny Princess Leia. Now that she’s older, she’s asked for a Princess Leia and Sabine costume. “She also has the perspective that anything broken can be fixed, and anything you dream up can be made, and plays sewing (“Mama, I want to thread a new dress”).”
Most of all, Anderson and Brunco have enjoyed being able to share in their interests with their children: “Pairing that with dress up and social activity has just been awesome as an adult. Now, it is just amazing to be able to provide that for my daughter. It is like being a kid again! I’ve always enjoyed being a character for random kids at events. Right now, I think as a parent I have a better appreciation of the power and impact that can have. ”
Brunco concurs: “The only change is that it’s not my relationship with Star Wars anymore. It’s our relationship with Star Wars. We sit and watch Rebels on the DVR, we have random lightsaber duels in the dining room, run around the house with various ships and chase each other around, check out the Star Wars toy aisle at the store, and wear our Star Wars clothing with pride. It took a while for it to happen, but I’m not the only Star Wars fan in the house anymore.”