By P.J. Standlee
By day Tristan Moriuchi plugs in numbers and counts beans as an ordinary accountant in Phoenix. At night he has a different job. It doesn’t pay much—in fact it doesn’t pay at all—but it’s all worth it knowing that he’s helping others while protecting the Republic as a Clone Trooper for the 501st Legion’s local Dune Sea Garrison.
Likewise, Joel Cranson, a mild-mannered upholsterer in Tempe, switches personas to a Jedi warrior by the name of Macen Hyde (self-created) for the 501st sister organization, the Rebel Legion. And Scott Chana, normally a flight instructor in northern Phoenix, moonlights as the raspy voiced, gun-wielding bounty hunter better known as Boba Fett.
Each of these people has one thing in common: they love Star Wars so much that they are willing to pay large amounts of money to create highly detailed costumes in order to wear them in the sweltering heat to raise money for charity.
This weekend, members of the Dune Sea Garrison and the Rebel Legion came together at the Tempe Harkins Cinema Capri to help raise money for the Phoenix Children’s Hospital while promoting the new Star Wars animated movie Clone Wars.
Children, their parents, and movie attendants alike were shocked and amazed to see characters such as Darth Vader eat popcorn and force choke fans, Yoda gave high fives, and others such as Boba Fett, Jedis, Clone and Storm Troopers, Tie and X-wing Pilots, Tusken Raiders posed for pictures with fans for a $5 donation.
The 501st Legion, which is an international fan-based costuming organization consisting of mostly bad-guy characters from the Star Wars movies, often appears in parades, fund raisers and special events to raise money for charities; which means this evil alliance is actually doing some good. Shhh! Don't tell them.
Moriuchi, who joined the 501st Legion last year, said that without the charity aspect to the organization, it would just be playing dress up.
Harkins employees pose with the Imperials.
“I met a member of the 501st at the San Diego Comic Con last year. I originally thought it was a really geeky thing, but then I found out about the charity aspect of it and I was sold,” Moriuchi said.
This year, the Phoenix chapter called the Dune Sea Garrison, has appeared in 30 charity events, such as the Race for the Cure and smaller events such as Susam G. Koman Breast Cancer Walk Fundraiser held on July 26 in Phoenix.
In order to join the 501st, each member has to create or scrap together their own armor. Store bought armor is not allowed. Moriuchi said he relied on the help of other members to piece together his clone trooper armor and even had a local Star Wars armor smith help vacuum form sheets of plastic to make his armor.
“It’s expensive,” Moriuchi said, “but it all boils down to knowing how to put things together. Sometimes the way it’s shown in the movies isn’t possible, so we have to learn other ways.”
Chana, who wears the more fan-favored armor of Boba Fett, said his costume is one of the more difficult ones to make because it must look exactly right or fans will notice.
“All the details have to be right: the weathering, the paint, even the thickness,” Chana said.
Complete with the digital screen on the breast plate and scorch marks on the helmet, Chana said his costume creates quite a stir, especially when visiting children at hospitals.
“If you want to talk about a priceless moment, walking into a hospital and seeing the excitement on the children’s face and knowing that I made their day. Now that’s priceless.”
The Rebel Legion, which focuses on the Jedi and Rebel Alliance characters, also appears along side the larger 501st Legion at some of same charity events and helps by filling the ranks of other popular Star Wars characters such as Luke and Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobe, and Republic troops.
Cranson said the goals of the Rebel Legion are much the same as the 501st, but the acting requirements are sometimes a bit higher since most Rebel characters aren’t behind helmets.
“When you’re out there, it does take a bit of acting, but fortunately George Lucas supplies most of the characters.”
Making sure a Jedi costume is authentic requires some hefty spending as well. A replica light saber could cost $100 or more.
“You have to do as much research as possible,” Cranson said. “Being authentic is important, but it’s great having the Internet; people all over the world can help you.”
The costumes also attract people who have their own stories about Star Wars.
“Sometimes you see older people come up and tell about how they took their children to see the Star Wars movie in 1977. You can equate it to going to Disney Land as a kid and seeing all of your favorite characters. It’s amazing to see them in the flesh. And it also helps to recruitment,” Cranson said.
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Participating in the charity events, Moriuchi said, makes all worth while in the end.
“I remember going into a children’s hospital and feeling really good because we had made their day better. And there was a soldier there who had come back from Iraq. He was in the hospital because he had a children’s disease, and said ‘Thank you. You made everyone’s day better.’ And I said, ‘I’m the one who should be thanking you; I’m just a guy in a costume.’”
You can catch up with the Dune Sea Garrison and the Rebel Legion next week at the Tempe Harkins Cinema Capri for the opening of the new Star Wars movie, Clone Wars, on Aug. 14 from 8:15 p.m. and Aug. 15 from 7 p.m.
The Rebel Legion will be at Bookman’s in Mesa on Aug. 30 from 2-4 p.m. to raise donations to cure multiple sclerosis. They will also be participating in the Multiple Sclerosis Walk on the Wild Side Nov. 8 from 8-10 a.m. Donate by visiting: http://www.walkms.info/ and search for the Rebel Legion by clicking on the “Sponsor a Walker” link.