Yesterday was the Woburn Halloween Parade in Woburn MA, which is turning into a major 501st NEG and Rebel Legion Alderaan Base event, typically drawing in troopers from a couple other garrisons from the surrounding area. It's a big parade, and last year, we started the tradition of a big, major, eye opening prop to parade around with. Last year, it was Jabba the Hutt. This year, it was a life-sized Dewback.
A year ago, I rejoined the 501st after a long break. While I had joined in 2004, having received my armor in 2003, I only was able to troop once, in 2005, for Celebration 3, and then I essentially dropped off the radar, until last year's parade. Since doing so, I've trooped with three different garrisons on their home territory (New England, Connecticut and Canadian), while meeting an additional two in their own territories (Empire City Garrison and the Alpine Garrison), not to mention the numerous people from Carida, Ohio, German, Carolina and other garrisons who've been at these events. I've trooped 31 different events in a year, essentially just over one troop every other week, ranging from really big ones, such as the Woburn Parade and the Darth Vader Balloon, to the smaller cons and events in the region. The events have been fairly trivial, such as a couple of library visits, with just a handful of people, to incredibly relevant and meaningful events such as the Autism Walks that I just did.
I troop (as we call attending these events in armor) because ... I can't think of just one reason. I troop because it's fun, because the people that I've met have become some of the best friends in the world to me, but because it's important. Being a part of the 501st has become a major part of my identity and who I am. I've noticed over the year that at family gatherings or with friends, when turned to the subject, I talk about it at length, the virtues and the downsides, but why trooping matters to me.
The simplest answer is : I do it for the kids. Kids, everywhere, old and young, always have the same look of amazement and wonder on their faces when they see a storm trooper in front of them. At parades, I hear children screaming "Darth Vader! Darth Vader!". Ignoring for a moment that we portray villains, we step off the big screen and become reality. In doing so, we make something that kids only imagine, real, and that is something special.
But that's not the entire answer. Trooping, I've found, has provided me with a valuable community that I hold above all else. I've found that where I go, I can meet people who are just like me, with one major shared interest. Politics, skin color, language - none of this matters. True, within the group there is a variety of opinions and differences, and should the floodgates open to that particular argument, I suspect that it could get quite heated at times. But that is what groups are - they have their own dramas and issues, and I've made a share of mistakes along the way. But with mistakes, you get up and move on, and that's what I've done.
Looking back over pictures from last year's events, I've been thinking about how much has changed over the past year since I returned to the fold. I've had some incredibly difficult months in my personal life, experienced things that I didn't want to, but by the same token, have met some of the most wonderful people in the world, and have had some of the best times of my life with these people. I've started grad school and am almost halfway done. I've become a very different person, I think, because of these experiences, and much of that for the better, especially recently. Looking at my suit, I realize just how far I've come when it comes to costuming accuracy, and I shudder to think about just how badly I must have appeared on that first troop in Indianapolis, in tennis shoes and taped seams. My armor has undergone numerous modifications and alterations - it's had the velcro ripped out, replaced, ripped out again, glued, reglued, taped, modified and added on to, body suits have come and gone, as well as helmets and handplates. I've picked up two sets of armor, and I've recruited at least three people into the legion, one of whom is already an active member who's most likely catching up to me in troops. I don't like to dwell on my successes, or trumpet them, but dammit, I'm proud of what I've done thus far this year.
One thing has not changed in this past year, and that's the enthusiasm and excitement for the Star Wars universe. It sounds corny, but it fits. I like celebrating the films that have had such an impact on my life, but also bringing that to life for the people that we come across and help out, and I get to be a complete geek while I do it.
I wonder what the next 365 days will bring.