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Bad Guys Doing Good

In the 21st century, in a galaxy not too far away, on a planet called Earth, the 501st Legion of Imperial troopers led by Darth Vader has joined forces with the earthlings to become honorable citizens in their community.

It’s the unscripted, real-life episode consisting of diehard Star Wars fans from around the world sharing their passion for the legendary film while performing various types of volunteer work, including here in Hawaii.


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Photo by Anthony Consillio

Recently, Boba Fett and a TIE Pilot were spotted at Kapiolani Park for the Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes. This Saturday, more of them will be at Hawaii Walk Now for Autism at Magic Island.

“In order to join the Legion, there are two big requirements,” explains Chris Rice, commanding officer for the Pacific Outpost of the 501st

Legion. “You have to be 18, and you have to have a movie-accurate costume of a Star Wars bad guy. In the Legion, all our costumes are of villains, and then we go out and do charity events.

“We charge absolutely no money for our appearances. In the cases where people insist on trying to pay us, we suggest they make a donation to a charity in our name.”

The 501st Legion is an all-volunteer worldwide costuming organization with more than 6,500 active members who share an interest in Star Wars. Within the Legion are Garrisons, Squads, Outposts and Detachments, depending on membership size. The Hawaii group, known as the Pacific Outpost, was founded in 2000 and has 22 members. Last year, they made more than 40 appearances at community and charity events throughout Oahu.

Rice, 45, describes himself as a diehard Star Wars fan. The crematory operator even has numerous Star Wars-related tattoos on his arms, legs and chest, including a Mythosaur skull, eight Boba Fett related tattoos, six miscellaneous tattoos and his 501st Legion ID number. His wife, Lexy, also is a huge Star Wars fan, and is working on an Aurra Sing costume from the Clone Wars TV series to join the 501st Legion, in addition to serving as captain of the Hawaii Sith Cheerleaders.

For his costume, Rice chose to be Boba Fett, and he’s spent about $8,000 over the past seven years in putting it together. “I’m constantly updating it,” he explains. “Boba Fett has always been my favorite. I really enjoy dressing up and playing the part and doing the charity work. The kids love it, and the adults, too.”

For every event the Pacific Outpost attends, a handler is there to assist with getting their armor on and guiding them through crowds. For Rice, it takes 20 minutes just to get into Boba Fett, and that’s with the help of a good handler.

Jeroen Joosten, who joined the Pacific Outpost in November 2012, recalls seeing the 501st Legion for the first time on TV in the Rose Parade. He was living in the Netherlands at the time, and became interested in the group. So, when he moved to Hawaii in 2008, he looked up the Hawaii chapter but didn’t make contact until after a few years.

“I was shy and overwhelmed by everything, but my wife noticed that I really wanted to be part of it, so she started pushing me to do it,” he explains.

So, he contacted the Pacific Outpost and built a Stormtrooper suit that cost him almost $2,000. His wife, Michelle, also has Bridge Crew and Imperial Gunner costumes, and their daughter, 4-year-old Isabella, is a Stormtrooper Commander with the Galactic Academy.

“It kind of makes you feel like a kid again,” says Joosten, a 37-year-old freelance Web developer. “Last year, we went to Kapiolani Medical Center, and just to see the children happy and smile, even when they are sick, makes you warm inside.”

Nicholas Hadap, a 2009 graduate of Mid-Pacific Institute, is one of the younger members of the Pacific Outpost. He joined two years ago as a Sandtrooper, a costume he spent about $1,500 to make.

“I enjoy Star Wars, but I wouldn’t consider myself a hardcore fan,” says Hadap, a cook at Ichiriki and Heijouen. “It was more of the charity aspect and the networking that made me want to join. That’s my favorite part of being a part of this group – the people I’ve met and being able to do good things for our community.”

Among the newest members of the Pacific Outpost is 35-year-old Jim Powell, who joined last November as a TIE Pilot.

“I’ve known about the 501st for a number of years, but just never had the resources to quite pull a quality costume off to join them,” says Powell, an office manager. “I’ve been a Star Wars fan for longer than I can remember. I loved all the cool characters, the space scenes and special effects.”

Powell also has the Imperial Cog tattooed on his shoulder, and owns an endless collection of Star Wars Legos, action figures and memorabilia. He’s also working on putting together a Darth Vader costume, and he acquired a Jawa costume for his wife, who luckily also is a Star Wars fan. “Joining the Pacific Outpost has been an absolute blast for the last couple of months,” he says. “It’s pretty much been a dream to join.”