Field Notes: Have a “Star Wars” Costume? You Could Help the Dark Side Do Good
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: The Pacific Outpost of the 501st Legion.
photos: kyle wright
What it is
If you’ve ever been to a comic con, you’ve seen them. They look like they’re straight off the Death Star itself. They’re members of the 501st Legion, also known as Vader’s Fist. Formed in 1997, the legion is an international organization of Star Wars enthusiasts whose members dress up as Imperial Fleet characters, i.e., the bad guys: Darth Vader, stormtroopers, officers and more. There are more than 11,000 members in 60-plus countries.
Hawai‘i got its own chapter in 2000 with the formation of the Pacific Outpost. There are now 44 active members with the local chapter, which includes Hawai‘i and Guam, with most members on O‘ahu. There are four Darth Vaders in the Pacific Outpost of the 501st Legion; only one Vader can attend an event so they coordinate who gets to don the black helmet.
The mission of the 501st is to not only promote Star Wars but also to foster community goodwill, says Glenn Kemmerer, one of Pacific Outpost’s event coordinators. Each chapter is its own nonprofit and conducts regular charity work. Those who join are attracted by the opportunity to create and dress up in some stellar costumes— these aren’t your flimsy big-box store variety getups—as well as the chance to fundraise for organizations such as Make- a-Wish Foundation, Special Olympics, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and others. “It’s the special events that make this worthwhile, seeing the kids smile, taking photos with everyone,” says Kemmerer.
Where to find them
The Pacific Outpost attends about 80 events a year. Despite their characters’ bad reputations, these women and men are out doing good. Members of the Imperial Fleet roam the halls of O‘ahu hospitals to visit patients, cheer on runners during charity walks, walk in holiday parades, pose for photos with keiki and attend weddings and baby lū‘au. Your best chance to hang with Vader and his minions is at the annual Amazing Hawai‘i Comic Con in August at the Hawai‘i Convention Center and the Hawai‘iCon in September at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel on Hawai‘i Island.
SEE ALSO: 2017 Amazing Hawai‘i Comic Con
How to become involved
There are only two requirements to join a chapter of the 501st Legion: be at least 18 years old and own a professional quality Star Wars costume. To become a Pacific Outpost member, sign up for membership approval on its forum at pac501.net.
Shayla Kemmerer got involved thanks to her husband, Glenn, but she’d already been a lifelong Star Wars fan. She recommends choosing a costume based on the character who inspires you most. She’s a jawa.
“We tell people, start off with something easy and then build up from there,” adds Jeroen Joosten, who is the chapter’s public relations officer and charity representative. Joosten has a biker scout and a stormtrooper costume. Depending on who you want to be, cutting and sewing may be involved.
All costumes must be from an approved Lucasfilm source, such as a movie, TV show or video game, and remember, you have to be a bad guy. Once you’re on the member forum, existing members will guide you on the particulars of costuming. Many members assemble their costumes from Anovos, which produces officially licensed Star Wars costumes and props, says Glenn Kemmerer.
These costumes don’t come cheap. Want to be the next Darth Vader? Prepare to throw down $2,750. This includes a heavy wool cape, leather jacket, vest and pants, helmet and armor, all patterned off of what David Prowse wore in the movies. Stormtrooper costumes range in price from $675 all the way to $6,900 for a First Order edition. “Your costume is your passion,” says Glenn Kemmerer.
Glenn Kemmerer, age 48
Navy master chief petty officer
“I can’t turn my head with the Vader [helmet], and it gets hot. But come on, we’re adults that get to wear cool costumes!”
Francis Moreira, age 49
“Last year we attended at least 88 events, sometimes multiple ones in one day.”
Jeroen Joosten, age 41
“This [costume] took one weekend to put together. I dirtied it up to make it look more realistic.”
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is now in theaters.