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Midwest Stormtrooper Garrison Marches Into Chicago Comic-Con

By Tony Peregrin in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 9, 2013 7:00PM

Photo courtesy: the Midwest Garrison

Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto better have his phaser set to stun when he beams into the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center this weekend as a headliner for 2013 Wizard World Chicago Con. The Midwest Garrison of the 501st Legion—also known as “Vader’s Fist”— will be on patrol and executing their master’s bidding no matter where you hail from in the pop-culture, intergalactic universe.

Launched in 1999, the Midwest Garrison is part of the world’s largest not-for-profit Star Wars reenactment group and represents troopers who have been assigned to maintain the Emperor’s rule on Earth in the state of Illinois. (They also raise piles of cash for local and nationally based charities, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Yes, underneath those iconic helmets with the black, triangle-shaped eyes are souls as large and bright as the forest moon of Endor.)

“There are only two requirements to join the 501st Legion,” says Brian Troyan, 37, 501st Legion Public Relations Officer and Midwest Garrison Commanding Officer. “You must be at least 18 years old, and you must own a screen-accurate costume of a Star Wars bad guy. The Legion covers all of the “bad guys” from the mighty Emperor to the lowliest Jawa and everyone in between. We don’t discriminate by gender or body type, either. If the costume meets all of our guidelines when you wear it, then you’re in.”

Troyan, a resident to Chicago’s Near West Side, owns several Star Wars costumes— Stormtrooper, Imperial Gunner, Greedo the bounty hunter, Han Solo (a costume of the 501st Legion’s sister club, the Rebel Legion), but he typically suits up as his favorite Imperial trooper—the Biker Scout.

Launching its own version of the Death Star’s tractor beam, Chicagoist pulled Troyan in for an interview to discuss the Garrison’s panel at this weekend’s Comic Con, why new recruits should avoid buying costume supplies off E-Bay, and the surprising sex appeal of Stormtrooper armor.

Chicagoist: Lucasfilm officially incorporated the 501st Legion into the Star Wars galaxy in 2004—an act that must have made the Emperor very pleased.

Brian Troyan: The 501st name actually originated with our costuming club—but as an acknowledgment of the good works that we had accomplished, our name was canonized in the Star Wars universe with its inclusion in several Star Wars books, most notably the novelization of Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the Star Wars: Battlefront II video game, and probably most well-known these days—the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. The clone Captain Rex and the 501st were assigned to Anakin Skywalker long before he became Darth Vader, and they obviously remained loyal to him after he turned to the dark side.

Chicagoist: What is the estimated cost of crafting a uniform that is “film-authentic” ?

Brian Troyan: Members of the Legion make all of our own costumes. That’s not to say that every person with a suit of stormtrooper armor is skilled at sculpting molds and pulling plastic, but one of the best things about the 501st is that it has built a world-wide network of Star Wars costuming experts. We all work together to help neophytes find their way and develop their talents.

The cost of assembling a uniform will vary depending on the costume. An Imperial Crewman might only cost about $150 or $200 (and get you a big head start on several other costumes, like a TIE Fighter Pilot), while a more complex costume like Boba Fett or Darth Vader easily runs into the $2,000 range and higher. Stormtroopers fall somewhere in between, coming in around $700 or $800, all told.

Officially licensed, off-the-shelf costumes can be great for a casual costumer. But even the ones that cost hundreds of dollars actually don’t meet the standards of accuracy that we espouse in the 501st Legion. Some of them can be heavily modified to meet screen-accurate levels, but in almost all cases, it’s simpler to get started on the right foot and avoid the licensed costumes if your ultimate goal is to join the 501st. Getting in touch with your local Garrison is going to be the best first step for an aspiring recruit.

Chicagoist: What advice do you give potential new recruits before joining the Midwest Garrison?

Brian Troyan: When you set out on your journey to join the 501st Legion and the Midwest Garrison, you cannot do too much research on your chosen costume—research, research, research before you buy anything. Join up on the message boards at, introduce yourself and let our members know what costume you want to build. And don’t be afraid to ask questions! We can point you in the right direction to get you started, and will help you along the way. Enabling other costumers to realize their Imperial dreams is one of the cornerstones that the 501st Legion was built on, and it remains one of the most important parts of our mission.

Oh, and stay away from eBay. There are a lot of scammers on there, claiming to have 501st-accurate costumes and props, but 95% of the time, the quality simply isn’t there.

Chicagoist: The Midwest Garrison is presenting a panel titled “Meet the 501st” at the 2013 Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con this weekend. Will the panel show attendees how to rule the costuming galaxy?

Brian Troyan: We’re really looking forward to it! We’ll be speaking briefly about the Legion and showing off our costumes in a more formal setting than the craziness of the show floor. But for the most part, our panelists will be opening the floor to questions and letting the audience steer the direction of the conversation. If you want to know everything that we’ll be covering, you’ll just have to show up at Room 34 at 1:00pm on Friday to find out!

Chicagoist: Stormtroopers are quite imposing and can be a little intimidating to approach at a Con. What advice do you have for engaging someone in uniform?

Brian Troyan: Under our helmets, we’re all big Star Wars fans just like most everyone else. Our members are all very passionate about the Legion and love to share our personal experiences, so don’t be shy! If that doesn’t put a person at ease then they can always find some “off duty” troopers who aren’t in armor at our convention table. At this year’s Chicago Comic Con, we’ll be at booth CC55, near the National Guard obstacle course and the Show Stage.

Brian Troyan TB-8968 2 resize.jpg
Brian Troyan is the 501st Legion Public Relations Officer and the Midwest Garrison Commanding Officer. (Photo by: Janine Jender).

Chicagoist: Talk a little about picture-taking etiquette.

Brian Troyan: Thanks for asking! The first rule of costumer photo etiquette is to ask for a photo before just assuming that it’s okay [to take a picture]. Ask when the trooper looks available for pictures. Try not to ask while the trooper is eating, has their helmet off (or is otherwise half out of their uniform), or is hurriedly moving across the show floor. A lot of us would still gladly pose for you even in those situations, but it’s not ideal for us, and you’re less likely to get as good a picture as when we’re all geared up and ready for the camera.

If a trooper does decline a photo, respect that and know that they have a good reason to do so. Maybe they have been in armor for hours and desperately need a drink of water or a bathroom break. Or maybe they are in a hurry to get somewhere to meet someone. If we are able, we will always stop for a picture.

[Be sure to] know how to work your camera. Open your smartphone’s camera app and be ready. If you need to get a third party to take your picture, get that impromptu photographer lined up before stopping us for a picture.

Finally, be respectful of our costumes and props. They all represent a sizable investment of time and money, and obtaining replacement parts can sometimes be difficult—so please don’t knock on our helmets or slap our armor.

Chicagoist: Last year your organization raised almost $185,000 worldwide in direct fundraising, and it participated in charitable events that raised $14,663,000—an amount that would impress even the greedy crime-lord Jabba the Hutt.

Brian Troyan: The events that we attend generally fall into three categories: Casual, Promotional, and Charitable. But the lines between those often blur.

Casual appearances are often conventions (like Chicago Comic Con and C2E2), community festivals, library days, and parades where we show up in force and have fun with the fans. Promotional events include store appearances to herald new Star Wars releases or high-profile commercial events. Our appearances at Legoland Discovery Center in Schaumburg, Free Comic Book Day, Star Wars Reads Day, theatrical and Blu Ray releases for Star Wars films, and even our appearances on stage with “Weird” Al Yankovic all fall into the promotional category.

While casual and promotional events are fun, the charitable events are perhaps the most meaningful to our members. These include fundraising walks, hospital visits, and Make-A-Wish appearances. It’s important to note that members of the 501st and Midwest Garrison are all volunteers, not paid professionals. Due to our agreement with Lucasfilm, we cannot make a personal profit from owning our costumes, so we have turned those energies toward raising money for charity. We will do private appearances from time to time, but we almost never do these without a donation being made to a worthy cause.

Chicagoist: Talk about the sex appeal of those stormtrooper uniforms! I know both my friends (both straight and gay) get a little weak in the knees when they see a storm trooper in full regalia at a CON or event.

Brian Troyan: I know what you mean. Who doesn’t love a man (or woman) in uniform? It doesn’t happen all of the time, but occasionally we do run into a weak-kneed fan who is clearly turned on by our uniforms. It’s all very flattering, as long as people don’t get too grabby.

A biker scout friend of mine was in the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade one year, and got too close to a group of clearly inebriated women who proclaimed “We’ve never had sex with a stormtrooper!” as they grabbed her tried to pull her over the barricades. She yelled “Wait! I’m a girl!” to which one of the drunk girls cheerfully replied, “We don’t care!” Luckily, some other troops came to her rescue!

Zachary Quinto, Stan Lee, Norman Reedus, John Barrowman, and WWE® Superstar CM Punk® are among the celebrity guests appearing at the 2013 Wizard World Chicago Comic Con at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, Rosemont, IL, August 8-11. For more information, visit the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con website.