You walk into a local shopping mall one fine Sunday afternoon and notice a crowd gathering at the concourse area. You approach the crowd trying to find out what the fuss was about and then you see it: Darth Vader and his Imperial Stormtroopers have decided to drop on to our little third rock from the Sun to expand their Imperial might on us puny humans. But wait, they’re also on a drive to gather donations for charity?
Well, if that’s the case, then you may have just stumbled upon the 501st Legion. Specifically, the Malaysia-Brunei Outpost of the 501st Legion.
In Star Wars lore, the 501st is the personal detachment of troopers assigned to Darth Vader. You see them accompanying Vader as he walks up the steps to the Jedi Temple to initiate the Jedi purge in “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”.
In the real world context, the 501st Legion is an international fan-based organization dedicated to the construction and wearing of screen-accurate replicas of the villainous Imperial and nefarious characters from the Star Wars universe, such as the aforementioned Darth Vader and Imperial Stormtroopers, Imperial officers, Clone Troopers, bounty hunters etc. The organization was formed in 1997 by Albin Johnson from South Carolina. Today, it has more than 5,000 active members in 40 countries around the world, including Malaysia and Brunei. They are recognized and endorsed by Lucasfilm, the copyright holder to all things Star Wars.
The Malaysian local chapter of the 501st was founded in January 2006 and currently has 19 members from all walks of life, from university students to professionals like accountants and lawyers.
Anyone above 18 years of age can join the Legion, but if you think you can buy an off-the-rack Halloween costume or some cheap knockoff to join, you’d be in for a disappointment.
“The 501st Legion has been spreading the magic of Star Wars through our authentic-looking costumes. We are dedicated to the movie-quality costumes of the “villains” of the Star Wars universe,” said Zulkarnain PS Muhammad, the commanding officer of the 501st Legion’s Malaysia-Brunei Outpost. This dedication to “screen accuracy” makes the members of the 501st Legion appear like they have just walked off the movie set, he added.
Each of these 501st Legion members has spent months and sometimes years making, painting and assembling their costumes. According to Zulkarnain, their individual costumes are the result of careful research, fabrication and a lot of hard work. And they’re not cheap; a basic set of Stormtrooper armor will cost you at least RM2,000, while a screen accurate Darth Vader or Boba Fett costume will probably set you back at least triple that.
However, the 501st members aren’t just a bunch of guys (and gals) who love to dress up as their favorite movie characters just for the heck of it. They are also dedicated to put their resources to good use through fundraising, charity work, and volunteerism.
The Malaysia-Brunei Outpost members have made appearances for the SPCA World Animal Day in 2008, participated in the Thalassaemia charity luncheon in 2010, helped in gathering donations in aid of the Japanese Tsunami relief effort earlier this year and most recently, collaborated on a donation drive with the Make-A-Wish Foundation at the Malaysia International Toy Fair 2011. They will be making another appearance at the Family Carnival Charity Bazaar organized by Hope Worldwide on 7th November 2011 held at the Padang MPAJ, Pandan Indah, Kuala Lumpur.
Watch the What is the 501st Legion? video:
Photo credits: Kal Fett and Azizul Rahman