‘Star Wars’ costuming enthusiasts wear fandom on their sleeves

Garrison Tyranus troopers made an appearance Dec. 9 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Members of such “Star Wars” costuming groups place an emphasis on charity work and community outreach. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Garrison Tyranus troopers made an appearance Dec. 9 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Members of such “Star Wars” costuming groups place an emphasis on charity work and community outreach. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
Like any sports fan base, costuming enthusiasts are a community, with members from all walks of life.  (Courtesy Bria LaVorgna)
An unofficial part of Garrison Tyranus are the Kilted Troopers, who make their own occasional appearances. Did Vader ever like haggis? (Courtesy Jason Stanley)
The 501st Legion is one of a few “Star Wars” costuming groups whose membership extends around the world. (Courtesy Bria LaVorgna)
The Rebel Legion costuming group focuses on the “Star Wars” saga’s good guys. (Courtesy Kellie Hendley)
When Halloween comes around, there’s no need to find the perfect costume. (Courtesy Kellie Hendley)
An Ewok, a Jawa and a Wampa walk into a bar … (Courtesy Kellie Hendley)

WASHINGTON — The film’s called “The Last Jedi,” but don’t be mistaken.

Regardless of what happens in the latest “Star Wars” film, there will always be a few Jedi around — along with some Imperial Stormtroopers, Jawas, Rebel Alliance pilots and the like.

And some might even be living next door. Kind of.

As Yoda would say: The real thing they are not, but look like it they sure as heck do.

They’re the “costuming” superfans, the ones who wear their “Star Wars” love on their sleeve.

Before you dismiss them as nerds, let’s get something straight: Fandom is fandom, whether it’s their robelike Jedi outfits or your robelike Alex Ovechkin jersey. And for these fans, dressing the part isn’t as easy as dropping by the stadium fan shop. Even those who start with pre-made parts still have a lot of work to do.

“Any costume is going to take at least two of your blood, sweat and tears,” said Bria LaVorgna, the PR officer for Garrison Tyranus, a Virginia group that costumes as the film saga’s bad guys. (She costumes as an Imperial Officer.)

To give you an idea of what LaVorgna means by this, let’s use an example: old-school (i.e., Episodes IV-VI) Imperial Stormtrooper armor. You can buy the pre-made parts for it, but it’s not exactly prêt-à-porter.

“When you get a Stormtrooper kit, it will be a box of white plastic, untrimmed,” she said, “ … but you need to cut it to your body size. You need to form it to you. You need to rig it up and make sure that it fits your body specifically.

“Otherwise, you are going to be very uncomfortable and unhappy when you’re trooping.”

The good, the bad and the mercs

Garrison Tyranus is a branch of the 501st Legion, one of a few “Star Wars” costuming groups whose membership extends around the world. Other groups include Rebel Legion (who costume as the good guys) and the Mandalorian Mercs (who costume as the bounty hunters, mercenaries etc.). All place an emphasis on charity work and community outreach.

“There’s nothing cooler than having Princess Leia read a story to you at your library reading night,” said Kellie Hendley, executive officer of Rebel Legion’s D.C./Maryland branch, Terrapin Base. (She costumes as a Jawa, and will even be doing the Polar Bear Plunge in full costume to benefit Special Olympics Maryland. Donate here.)

Tyranus has about 260 members; Terrapin Base has around 40. The groups are open to everybody 18 and over. They are, however, selective. That costume has to meet their standards before membership is granted. Throwing on a bathrobe, grabbing a flashlight and calling yourself Padawan won’t cut it.

Think of it as a very specific type of fashion design, requiring a fair amount of work before powering up the sewing machine.

“You have to research everything — the types of fabrics used,” Hendley said. “We hand-dye our fabrics so that they end up the same color. My bandoleers are the original army surplus ones that are about 50 years old. You literally have to handcraft every aspect of your outfit.”

Newbies aren’t alone in their quest to put together a membership-worthy costume. The groups’ members are more than willing to help them out.

“The 501st has been very good about breaking [it] down: ‘You want to be a stormtrooper? Here’s exactly what you need for at a minimum to get in,’” LaVorgna said, “and guys can work off of that, as well as work within their garrisons and all the other [reference materials] that we have out there.”

United by The Force 

Like any sports fan base, it’s a community of sorts. Who populates it?

“We have guys who are gravediggers, dentists, law enforcement, government workers, military, entrepreneurs, independent contractors, all with various political beliefs covering the entire spectrum — from extreme left to extreme right — who normally wouldn’t give each other the time of day,” said Jason Stanley, Inferno Squad leader for Garrison Tyranus. (He costumes as an Imperial Scout Trooper.)

”’Star Wars’ brings us all together,” he said.

Speaking of that binding force, there is that movie coming out on Friday. What are these superfans hoping to see? LaVorgna is eager to see new characters like Rose Tico. And Stanley, who grew up with the original trilogy, is curious to see how “Force Awakens” protagonist Rey fits into the “greater Skywalker mythology.”

Then there is Hendley, who doesn’t have to speculate: She was among the select few to actually see the movie at its L.A. premiere over the weekend. Lucasfilm invited the group out as a reward for its charity work.

“It was amazingly fun,” said Hendley. “It has to be the most fun out of all the ‘Star Wars’ movies. …”

OK, just stop right there. Spoilers we don’t want to hear.

Jack Pointer

Jack contributes to WTOP.com when he's not working as the afternoon/evening radio writer.

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