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Our Star Wars Stories

Our Star Wars Stories: Five Questions with Albin Johnson!

Posted by Steve on October 17, 2018 at 09:00 AM CST

Our Star Wars Stories

In this series, we ask each of the five subjects from Our Star Wars Stories, five questions about what it means to be a Star Wars super fan!

Up first we spoke with Albin Johnson, life-long Star Wars fan, humanitarian and creator of the 501st Legion which now has 13,000 members worldwide!


“I like to see human beings winning against the odds…”

~Albin Johnson, aka TK-210

When you first saw Star Wars in 1978, what was it about Stormtroopers that you found so appealing, because at the time, we didn't know really anything about them?

I guess the idea of the Stormtrooper appealed to me because they were these mysterious space soldiers all dressed in armor. I was a HUGE fan of astronauts growing up (I met Michael Irvin from the Apollo program) and quickly jumped to the fantasy of astronaut explorers / soldiers fighting aliens. My dad was in WWII and I romanticized soldiers from movies and really admired the "Right Stuff" generation of soldiers-turned-astronauts. So, the idea of these stark, scary, armored fighting space soldiers probably tripped a subconscious archetype in my head. Are these guys robots? Are they human? How cool would it be to jet around space and fight aliens! I don't know, I think the 'tabula rasa' aspect of the Stormtrooper is they could be anyone or anything outside of the narrative we're watching. So, I wanted to strap on a helmet and ray gun and be one!

Was meeting George Lucas ever something you thought would be possible?

No. Not even remotely. A farm boy from Missouri meet a California film-maker and visionary? It's laughable. I grabbed every photo or sketch I saw in the magazines in the 70's and 80's and tried to draw all the ships and characters. I thought George Lucas was like a kindred spirit, dreaming up planets far away. But never did I think I would cross paths with him. And in the five minutes I had with him, I was starkly aware of just how precious the moment was. I really wanted to connect with him and not sound dumb. I probably did sound dumb. But he was enormously gracious in his words about the 501st Legion. He seemed a very generous visionary in acknowledging what we've done.

Of all that you have accomplished, what’s been your proudest moment so far?

In Star Wars world? I'd have to say the moment in Pasadena in 2007 when all our members gathered together for an officer's meeting. When the troopers answered the role call with their names and where they were from, that sent shivers down my spine. This had become a worldwide fellowship and I was making physical contact with brothers and sisters from around the planet! We were united in something pure and fun and exciting.

I really felt at that moment we demonstrated that the human race has the potential to really work together, if given the right motivation. It felt like the Avengers had come together, or something stellar like that! It's funny, but true - I was like a little kid.

What or when was the moment when you realized this thing, the 501st Legion, was getting truly massive?

It was 2002 and the morning of the first day of Celebration II in Indianapolis, IN. I sent out an email before the show that everyone from the 501st should meet in armor that morning. My jaw dropped when I saw over two hundred Imperial characters gathered in the lobby. I couldn't find Tim Knapp, my XO, to help marshal the troops (he is former military and knows how to do that). So, I improvised and organized them in ranks of two, organizing them by armor / costume type. My mind was reeling at just how many troopers there were to sort. There were flashbacks to my childhood when I liked to line all my Stormtrooper figures up in formation. We never had much money, so I only had like three Stormtroopers and a couple other Imperials. Here I had HUNDREDS!!!

I hastily formed them up and marched them across the road to the front of the RCA Dome steps where we could get a group photo. Someone asked me to lead the formation. I felt a little self conscious being out there by myself, a Stormtrooper leading the group - it should be Vader or somebody. But I looked around and saw this line of Star Wars characters stretching back behind me as far as the eye could see! It was like seeing Earth from orbit, or some other perspective-altering experience. Just phenomenal. I knew right then and there - jeeeeeez, what have I done?! This thing is crazy big!

You’ve been so open about your experiences and loss, has your openness and honesty specifically inspired others to deal with losses they’ve experienced?

It really has. I originally intended to go into the ministry, so I have a natural inclination to talk about misfortune and look for answers. I feel it helps us all process the pain in a healthy way if you do it right. I try not to harp on my misfortunes, but if asked about it I feel it's my opportunity to share.

As a result, I've met so many, many people who have battled cancer, lost loved ones, or dealt with disabilities. There stories are powerful. There are a lot of hugs and tears and in the end a sense of solidarity. People flock to R2-KT because they see her as a symbol of hope. Cancer survivors come up and touch her and it feels like it's a spiritual experience. They want to pay respects to our late daughter, Katie, and to all the kids for whom R2-KT is an ambassador. They want to draw on that strength that comes from hope. It's a beautiful exchange only those who've suffered can understand.

And selfishly, seeing others face down their fears and loss, became a huge boost to me. It's therapy. I like to see human beings winning against the odds.

Bonus Question: Favorite Star Wars film and character?

My favorite film has always been the Empire Strikes Back. And while I love the Stormtrooper, Luke Skywalker was my hero. When I was an awkward teenager facing spiritual conflict and crazy emotions, I took inspiration from his battles against the Dark Side. But don't tell anyone :)

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