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While he loves to “geek out on ‘Star Wars’ fandom,” he says the real reward is bringing joy to sick kids.
“The most fun is where we go off to the hospitals,” he says. “The kids really think you’re the character most of the time. It’s fun to go in there and cheer them up a little bit. The following Monday I’m there as a staff officer and nobody knows I was there over the weekend.”
Though the helmets can get hot, they also help hide emotions and keep these costumed fans firmly in character, says Ladnier, who lives in Highland, Calif. “Sometimes you’re glad you have a bucket on your head because you just start welling up.”
The costume itself also can be uncomfortable. Beneath the armor, which breaks down into some 60 pieces, members wear long-sleeved shirts and leggings, plus a swath of fabric around their necks. It takes around 20 minutes to get in costume. Wearers can be a bit clumsy, too, since the helmets obscure peripheral vision.
But owning and wearing the storm trooper suit is the ultimate fan experience, says Los Angeles attorney Lawrence Green, who says he’s “over 30.”
“Some people collect action figures,” he says. “We get to BE action figures.”
Doing charity work began as an afterthought, says Legion founder Albin Johnson, but is now at the core of the group’s activities.
“We had to find things for people to do in armor,” says the 41-year-old from Columbia, S.C. “And charity would validate us in a way that says, ‘Hey, world, you can make fun of us as kind of goofy but we’re justifying what we’re doing by charity alone.’”
A decade later, the Legion’s charitable outreach extends both inside and outside the group. Members have donated kidneys to each other _ twice. When Johnson’s daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Legion members cooked dinners for the family, cleaned their house and mowed their lawn.
“These guys are literally giving parts of themselves to keep other ‘Star Wars’ fans alive and well,” Sansweet says. “They’re giving back to all fans by doing what they do and providing this sense of wonder and excitement.”
So what makes grown adults spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to dress up like fictional characters from their favorite film? Ultimately, its camaraderie, says Johnson, and esprit de corps.
“Every human being is a social animal, but a lot of sci-fi geeks aren’t seen that way,” he says. “It’s successful because you’ve got a lot of people that say they had no way of celebrating ‘Star Wars’ fandom in a way that felt good until they had people to do it with, charities to do it for and events to do it at.”
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