Around twenty years ago Albin Johnson and his friend Tom Crews were getting ready to troop the re-release of the original Star Wars trilogy in its new official "Special Edition" format to celebrate the then 20th anniversary of Star Wars. Little did they know that their passion for playing "plastic white spacemen" would turn into a global organization that helps raise millions of dollars for charity.
The internet played a large role in forming the 501st Legion. Still considered to be in its infancy, the internet helped connect Star Wars fans around the world with chat rooms, internet pages, websites, and email. To post an image online you still had to take the photo on a camera, have it developed, then scan it in if you were indeed lucky enough to own a scanner. Albin had started a website to help connect fans and before he knew it he was getting email from all over. It was soon after that Albin and Tom started the 501st Legion.
I've seen the 501st in action at various events across the United States over the years and am always impressed with their level of dedication down to the finest detail both in their costume design and when they are in character. I am friends with many of them, including Albin and just wanted to say "Thank You!" Everyone involved in the 501st Legion bring the Star Wars galaxy to us, and along the way give hope to those who need it by raising awareness through charity. Congrats on 20! Here's to 20 more of the Mighty Fighting 501st - Vader's Fist!
In 1997, Albin Johnson set up a Geocities website called "Detention Block 2551" as a place to post photos of himself and his friend Tom Crews in their homemade Stormtrooper costumes. Arnie DeHerrera started "Stormtrooperland" at the same time in 1997 and started email conversation with Albin and Tom. Shortly after that, Scott McArthur of Canada got involved and developed the original logo with the words, "The Fighting 501st!" as its catch phrase with a stormtrooper helmet with red eyes in front of a purple Imperial logo. This evolved quickly into the current red, black, and white logo with the phrase, "Vader's Fist" to express the force with which the 501st led. Within weeks of launching the sites, Albin was fielding email requests from people across the country and around the world looking to be featured on his website in their own homemade Stormtrooper armor. What he started soon blossomed into a global phenomenon – a fan-based costuming club unlike any other. The Legion ranks swelled, and regional subdivisions called Garrisons, Squads, and Outposts were created to facilitate the organization of events and appearances on a local level.
While the Legion was initially based only on the white-armored stormtroopers stationed aboard the Death Star, as the group expanded, it grew to encompass every other canon trooper variation, and other villains from the Star Wars saga, such as Sith Lords, bounty hunters. Custom creations are generally not eligible for membership, and all applicants are reviewed by their local units and Legion Membership Officers prior to approval into the member database.
Early events attended (or "trooped") by the Legion were mostly science-fiction and comic book conventions or related to the release of the Star Wars movies in theaters and on video. But members were looking for more frequent reasons to meet up with their new-found Legion friends and show off their costumes together. The Legion then became a force for doing good, expanding into a charitable organization that has been likened to a Shriners or Lions Club for a modern generation.
A decade after Albin and Tom founded the Legion, on January 1, 2007, two hundred members of the Legion marched in the annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, with George Lucas himself as the Grand Marshal. At this watershed moment for the club, Lucas and Johnson discussed the future of the rapidly growing Legion, and an unofficial partnership was born. Lucasfilm would grant the Legion a limited use of their copyrighted characters, as long as members of the 501st promised never to use their costumes for personal profit and that they represent the franchise in a positive and respectful manner.
The Legion does not charge for its services or appearances; however, event hosts are encouraged to make donations to a charity in the Legion's name in lieu of compensation.
Since its inception, the membership numbers have grown by thousands, and the 501st has gained renown as one of the most respected and professional costuming organizations in the world.
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