Why I Troop

This question has come up a couple of times, and I've been thinking over the reasons for why I've been trooping for the past couple of years. To fully comprehend it, I've been trying to think about my entry to the 501st in context, which pulls into a larger arena, why I'm a geek in the first place, and how it's largely affected me over the years.Thinking quickly, it's easy to remember when I first saw the Star Wars movies, back in 1997. I think that I was aware of Star Wars, although I didn't know anything about it, but I do remember hearing the Imperial March on the radio when the announcer was talking about the release of the Special Editions. Shortly thereafter, my father took me out to see the first film. He's recounted the story so many times that I remember how it goes:

Dad: Do you think Andy will want to see Star Wars? Mom: Maybe. If he gets scared, you can always take him out.

I was excited to be going, I remember that much, and I remember walking into the theater and wanting to go see The Empire Strikes Back, but fortunately, we saw A New Hope. Scared, I was not. Dad later said that he didn't think that I blinked once during the entire movie; that I was completely drawn in by what was happening on screen. Every now and then, I remember the feeling of seeing the movie for the first time. After the film was over, we returned home, and I'm pretty sure I babbled the rest of the way home about the movie. I do, also, remember the guys in white armor, and thought that they were really cool. As the other movies came out, Dad took me, and now my brother to see both the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I was hooked.

This was probably the most memorable event, but thinking back, I know that there were some precursors to this. I remember being read the Merlin stories as a child, and when Mom drove us to school, we had an audio book of one of those stories called Merlin and the Dragons, that we listened to every day. I had a game boy with Zelda on it, and a couple of the computer games that I played early on were fantasy ones, King's Quest, and one that I cannot remember for the life of me (despite my best efforts to try and find out what it is). Because of these things, I think that I had a good foundation for which to become a geek. I read obsessively throughout most of Elementary School, mostly the Hardy Boys, but some other things, including Tom Swift.

The introduction of Star Wars gave me something of a purpose towards geekdom. They opened my imagination and helped steer me to Science Fiction and full geekdom. The Star Wars books that Del Rey and Bantam published helped - they provided an outlet for my allowance, but more importantly, steered me towards more mainstream science fiction, with such authors as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert and numerous others. I began posting on internet message forums relating to Star Wars, such as theforce.net and starwarz.com. One of the highlights was going with my friend Eric to Barnes and Noble to meet Michael A. Stackpole for a book signing. I brought along 9 books, and I don't think that we stopped pestering Mike the entire time, which I'm somewhat ashamed of doing...

I'm a self proclaimed geek, and it's funny when some people, generally those who don't know me, say something like "No you're not...". I don't see the negative connotations that seem to be typical of geeks. My high school wasn't an oppressive one that seems to be commonplace. I was never beaten up, although some people did make fun of me for what I was reading. I was never good at confrontation or was really that social, so that caused problems on its own, but for all intents and purposes, I was never ashamed of being a geek.

Working at Camp Abnaki helped as well. Throughout high school and middle school, I was very shy and withdrawn, quick to take offense and not a very social person. Camp helped teach me to be me, and introduced me to several people whom I consider friends to this day. One of them, Sam, was like me, and very into Dungeons and Dragons, and introduced me to the game, which became a dominant feature of camp life for all of us. Over that summer, I also saw Titan AE, which helped keep conversations going about all sorts of geeky things. This would continue over the 7 years that I worked there.

The 501st comes in when I reached my senior year and we played Star Wars in band. This was most likely the culmination of about 5 years of pestering Mr. Rivers to play the music, and it played off very well, and I was excited, but I wanted to make it memorable. I knew about the 501st, although I didn't know too much about them. Once we knew when the concert was happening, I contacted them through their website, and for the concert, we had a trooper come up.

I was over the moon about this. It was the first time that I had seen one of the legendary 501st members up close and in person, and I knew right then, that I wanted to get a set of the armor. The trooper, Scott Allen, TK-0413, was very helpful. For the concert, he marched down the aisle to Imperial March, bringing the crowd to an uproar. Scott told me that he would be able to get me armor, and was highly encouraging. The price was too steep at the time, but over the summer, when I got a raise of about $800 due to a clerical error (my initial contract was about $800 too low), I knew exactly where that money was going. Check was mailed off, and several weeks later, a couple days after camp was over, I received my armor.

This was also around the same time that I started working for a website, The Unofficial Clone Wars Site, which helped me get in touch with numerous authors and artists, as well as giving me an outlet to write about Star Wars and the Clone Wars. To some extent, it was a prominent place in the Star Wars fan community, which was interesting, and my interviews (without trying to sound arrogant about this) helped put the site on the map. I 'met' Karen Traviss, Aaron Allston, Troy Denning, Jan Duursema, John Ostrander, Matthew Stover, and numerous other authors and artists during this time.

For me, this was a kid in the candy store. Building the armor was a little daunting, but I don't think that I slept at all that night, and by the morning, it was fully assembled. Looking back, I should have spend more time on this, actually gone out and bought new Velcro, sanded the seams, etc. But at that point, it didn't matter, because I was a storm trooper - it was a dream that I'd had for years, and it had come to life. Right away, I signed up for the 501st, and was accepted in late 2003 or early 2004. I can't remember exactly, but it was after Halloween.

Because of my location, I had a hard time getting to events, and my first troop was in may of 2005, where I attended Celebration 3. I was in armor each day for the long weekend, and met a lot of 501st members while I was there, as well as some other people whom I still keep in touch with. It made me excited about Star Wars, and the upcoming movie, and shortly thereafter, I trooped the Revenge of the Sith opening in armor, which was exciting, even though I was the only trooper there. I even made the front page.

After that, I took a break. College took up much of my time, and looking back, there were some tensions in my garrison, and it wasn't anything I could do anything about, so I essentially went on inactive status, checking in every now and again. During college, I wore my armor a couple of times, at camp and on campus, but I'm sad to say that I almost lost interest in the 501st. I had some other things to occupy my time, and being in Vermont, it was hard to stay involved, especially without money and without a car. I read and breathed Science Fiction though, through books and movies.

I got back into the fold at the end of 2007 with the Woburn Parade, and that's when everything really clicked. Up until that point, I didn't really comprehend the 501st - to me, I was part of it, but isolated. Now, however, I could become involved. At C3, I picked up on some of this. Here, outside of a geeky environment, I could see how kids lit up when they saw a bunch of Storm Troopers and a Vader. And at Woburn, I rejoined the garrison, and was welcomed back, which was a really great thing, because I'd been away for so long.

Since then, I've remained involved and really gotten into trooping. This brings me full circle to why I troop, and why I am a geek. I do it because of the community of like minded people around me, and because it's the perfect outlet to make a different. When I put my helmet on, I become a storm trooper, and to children, who need this sort of inspiration and entertainment, love being able to see something that they've seen on the screen in real life. I can't begin to imagine the number of times I've seen a child's face light up with wonder and excitement when I've come out and given them a high five or shook their hand. It's those small things that really can lift my day and remind me why I keep doing this.

Beyond that, I like the group of people that I've found with the 501st. Generally, we're an accepting, friendly bunch of people who share a number of common interests, and who I can rely on when I have problems or something along those lines. Among my travels to Utah, New York City and Connecticut, where I met up with other troopers from other garrisons, I've met some of the most incredible people. I'm regretting that I never looked up anyone while I was in London, because it would have been really helped at times. Next time, I guess.

The moment that I really remember was on the last day of Celebration 3. I was walking along a hallway, when I came across a young mother with a 3 or 4 year old daughter. The girl was sleeping, but the woman came up to me and asked: "Can my daughter shoot you?" Odd request, but I stopped, and the mother gave her daughter a hasboro E-11 that was almost as big as she was. He aimed it at me and had a huge smile on her face. I could tell that for a second, she was princess Leia in the movie, and I just know I made her day.

The Original 6

Earlier this year, I picked up a wonderful book on the making of the first Star Wars movie - The Making Of Star Wars, by JW Rinzler. I was paging through and started looking for where they started doing things with the Storm Troopers in the film. The first reference I came across was on page 138:

"One item that stood out, however, was the cost associated with the stormtroopers, who ran up a tab of £ 40,000 ($93,000) - and whose final outfits were still not ready a week before location shooting was to begin. 'Stormtroopers were the nightmare costume' Mollo explains. 'We got a model in of suitable size, did a plaster body cast, and Liz Moore modeled the armor onto this figure. Then everybody used to go in and say, "Arm off here, arm off there," and George changed all the kneecaps. This went on for several weeks. Finally that was all taken away and produced in vacuum-form plastic - but the next question was: how foes it all go together? And I think we had something like four days before shooting, but we just played around until we managed to string it all togetgher in such a way that you could get it on or off the block in about five minutes.' 'On top of all this, George announced that he was going to take some Stormtroopers on location, and he wanted them in Combat Order. I said "Oh yes George, what's combat order for Stormtroopers?" and he said "Lots of stuff on the back". So I went into this Boy Scout shop in London and bought on of these metal backpack racks; then we took plastic seed boxes, stuck two of those together, and put four of those on the rack. Then we put a plastic drainpipe on the top, with a laboratory pipe on the side and everything was sprayed black. [laughs] This was the most amazing kind of film! George asked, "Can we get something that shows their rank?" So we took a motorcycle chest protector and put one of them on their shoulders. George said "That's great!" We painted one orange and one black and that was it!' Mollo concludes, happily." (Rinzler, 138)

Reading over that, it seems that the storm trooper armor creation was very typical of the creation of the movie - very quickly done, with a lot of improvisation, all on a fairly tight budget. The price really surprised me - $93,000 for six suits is a lot of money, especially for a film that is on such a low budget.

It appears that the troopers were created by much the same way as we make them today - vacuum-formed plastic, although there also seems to have been a lot of working out how exactly the suits would be put together, and after the fact, the sand trooper variant was created almost as an afterthought, with fairly commonly found items.

The Original Six

Further on in the book, on page 147, there's a picture of seven people - the six original storm/sandtroopers, and an unidentified person. None of the men are named. One points his gun at the camera, while the rest hold their helmets at their sides, looking at the camera. One of them is sitting on the Dewback used for the shot, looking over his shoulder at the camera. A side panel explains a little of the costuming here:

"'We had a black all-in-one leotard for the stormtrooper costumes' Mollo says, 'over which the front and back of the body went together; the shoulders fit onto the body, the arms were slid on-the top arm and the bottom arm were attached with black elastic - a belt around the waist had suspender things that the legs were attached to. They wore ordinary domestic rubber gloves, with a bit of latex shoved on the front; the boots were ordinary spring-sided black boots painted white with shoe-dye. Strange to say, it worked'" (Rinzler, 147)

Indeed it did. All components that are still used today, although in some cases with the 501st, we probably use higher quality stuff - boots that are specially made, gloves, etc.

The stormtroopers aren't really mentioned any more in the book after that point, although there are several behind the scenes images of the actors in costume, and a mention of Mark Hamil's experiences in armor (wasn't pleasant).

By and large, the original storm troopers were very expensive prop pieces, played by local Tunisians. It's a pity that their names aren't listed - it would be absolutely amazing to try and track the six men down and have them inducted into the 501st as honorary members – after all, we have them to thank for our group.

Another person who should probably be inducted into the legion would be John Mollo, the costuming designer, who took the concept images and created our suits. Mollo entered production on the movie as the department head in January of 1976 - he had been recommended to Lucas, who was looking for someone who was familiar with armor and military costuming. According to Lucas: "I wanted designs that wouldn't stand out, which would blend in and look like they belonged there." (111). Very true, and it worked - looking at the storm troopers in the film, and how people interact with them, it's very clear that these are commonplace soldiers in the Empire, and that they are wearing a very functional protective suit (although naysayers will often cite how often troopers will go down with one shot. Argument for another time...) While Ralph MqQuarrie was the original designer of the look and appearance of the storm troopers, Mollo seems to be the one who brought them to life.

(Rinzler, JW. The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film. Ballentine Books, New York, 2007. 138)

The Night Before

So the final Star Wars movie is about to come out. Tomorrow night. I can't wait, and for the first time ever, I'm going to a showing opening night showing. I absolutely cannot wait. I was called by one of the larger Vermont newspapers, The Burlington Free Press, about the movie, and about fandom in general. I talked to a reporter for about ten, fifteen minutes, and they said that they'll be sending out a photographer out tomorrow to take some photographs of me in armor. Should be interesting.
Work's also going well. I went to New Hampshire today to do some work, measuring the water levels and analysing the water in two seperate sites. Very cool stuff. I'm really liking this job, except for the getting up at 5:30 part, but I guess that I'll get used to that.
And finally, Arrested Developement is one of the best shows on TV now.

Stormtrooper Activities

The things that you never see Storm Troopers do: Cleaning their uniforms. That's what I got to doing today. With Celebration 3 coming up fast, I've been meaning to getting my armor in shape for the Convention. in the year or so that I've had it, it's gone through a bit of use, and it's in need of repairs. The joints are held together by velcro, which makes it easy to assemble, but after a while, the adhesive degrades and falls off, which is a pain when it's being worn, and it'd be annoying to deal with during the Convention. So, I spent several hours scrapping off the goo left behind by the velcro, sanded down the areas, now I'd like to rip all of it off and superglue it down to the armor. That'd be the optimal solution, I just need to find some... 25 more days until the convention.
Really need to get working on my Stratigraphy project, maybe I'll completely finish my map and start working on the cores. I also need to pick up an article from the library, which I ordered through Interlibrary loan earlier this week for a project that I'll be working on next semester.
I'll pick it up when I go over to Upper Harmon to watch SciFi's movie of the week, which is starring Bruce Campbell. While I'm not expecting anything for quality (Although surprises do happen) I think this will be a funny one to watch. The Chin himself killing green aliens. Hopefully he'll have a shotgun with him.
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