Star Wars Smiles: Making Kids Happy
One Reason for Dressing Up
By Shawn Ryan
Star Entertainment Editor
Reprinted here in its entirety.
|Members of Alabama garrison of the 501st Legion
often attend for charity and non-profit events. Photo: Special to The Star.
In the heat of summer, Shane Hatmaker dressed for snow.
Wearing the costume of a snowtrooper from The Empire Strikes Back, the second
Star Wars film, Hatmaker joined a group of similarly minded (and dressed) folks
to attend the Birmingham Barons baseball game Monday night. It was the first
time that Hatmaker had ventured into public as a member of the Alabama garrison
of the 501st Legion, an international band of Star Wars fans who, among other
things, design and wear costumes from the movies.
When the Alabama Legion members — whose costumes included a snowtrooper,
Darth Vader, a Jawa and Bossk the bounty hunter — arrived at the Barons game,
the response was universal and immediate, Hatmaker says.
“There were probably kids that weren't four years old coming up to me,” says
Hatmaker, 38, who lives in Attalla and works for Honda. “They were giving me
high fives; some wanted to shake your hand. I had a couple hug me.”
Hatmaker and several other members of the Legion will be attending Saturday's
Music at McClellan performance. The concert is titled “The Orchestra Strikes
Back” and is a celebration of the music of Star Wars. The first film, 1977's
Star Wars, celebrated its 30th anniversary last week.
“Put 10 stormtroopers out in a parking lot or on a street corner and you draw
a crowd,” says Jamey Ethridge, 34, a Legion member from Huntsville and public
relations officer for the Alabama group.
In the Star Wars universe, the 501st Legion, also known as Vader's Fist, is
an elite group of stormtroopers. Here in the real world, the Legion was created
in 1997 and now has more than 3,500 members in 40 countries, according to its
Web site. The Alabama Legion has 35 members, and most weekends between March and
August and from Thanksgiving through the end of the year are filled with
conventions, parades and charity events, says Ethridge, a senior engineering
consultant and assistant project manager at a Huntsville company that designs
test equipment for the government and automotive equipment suppliers.
“Most every charity that we help is somehow involved with children,” he says,
listing Toys for Tots, Make-A-Wish and Juvenile Diabetes as three organizations
that the Legion helps. “What I get out of it is, in some small way, I'm helping
a charity or a nonprofit or children.”
“You put one of those helmets on and look through the lenses and see the look
on a kid's face when you just show up, that's what it's all about,” says Shannon
Oliver, 39, a Legion member from Oxford who'll be dressed as a sandtrooper for
Music at McClellan. His 38-year-old wife Cindy will be dressed as Princess Leia
Boushh (the bounty hunter character that Leia played at the beginning of Return
of the Jedi) and their 10-year-old son Cheyenne will be a Jawa.
His friends have seen the good works and charities that Legion members
support, Oliver says, so explaining the “why” of being a Legion member is no
longer necessary for them. “But with Tom, Dick and Harry, if you try to explain
what you're doing, it comes off as a circus,” he says.
“You either understand it or you don't,” Hatmaker says.
Hatmaker was 9 when he saw the first Star Wars movie and the stormtroopers
hooked him immediately.
“They were just cool,” he says. “They're just 'Errrrr!' Awesome.”
“It was shock and awe, the stuff you've never seen in your whole life,”
recalls Oliver, who saw the first Star Wars when he was about 4.
Ethridge was 4 when he saw Star Wars in 1977. He figures he's seen the
original movie “more than 100 times, easy,” and it speaks to both his inner
child and his outer adult.
“When you're a child, it's something fun to watch,” he says. “As an adult, it
has a lot of parallels to everyday life … Things don't always come easy, but if
you stick to it, sometimes you have to struggle with things and fight through
things to the end to have them come about.”
And, though it has been 30 years since Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and R2-D2
first appeared, Star Wars still elicits instantaneous recognition, Legion
“Star Wars is still a universal thing,” says Ethridge, who dresses as bounty
hunter Boba Fett and as a Tusken raider (also known as Sand People). “You'd
think that 30 years out it would be a mystery, but there's the recent crop of
new movies and there are toys on the shelves, so it's not a foreign thing.”
To be a Legion member you must be 18 and have created a Star Wars costume on
your own, no store-bought. The costumes must be “screen accurate” and also
approved by other Legion members.
And yeah, they're hot in the summer.
“It depends on the costume, but most of the time about I can last about 45
minutes or an hour,” Hatmaker says.
“We've had some people have heat stroke,” Ethridge says.
Music at McClellanWhat: The Orchestra Strikes Back — A
celebration of the 30th anniversary of Star Wars.
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Longleaf Park, McClellan.
How much: $20
advance, $25 at gate, $5 children ages four-12, free children 3 and
About Shawn Ryan
Shawn Ryan is the travel editor and entertainment
editor for The Star.
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