I once heard somewhere that if you have the talent or ability to make people smile, it is your duty to develop that and to share it with others. That’s been one of the principles I always go back to and try to pass down to my sons. My boys are not old enough yet to “get it” completely, But I’ve been able to make them interested in it by combining charitable work with one of our main obsessions: Star Wars.
I grew up with Star Wars. Some of my fondest memories growing up involve things I did with my parents that were centered around this franchise. Once I became a parent, I knew it was my duty to pass on the gift to my kids. I started early: We had Star Wars toys, posters, and pajamas. I watched the movies with them and answered every question they had without spoiling anything. Eventually, they started quoting lines from the movies to each other. They made their own costumes. It wasn’t until I was watching Raiders of the Lost Ark with my oldest son when he told me, very matter-of-factly, “Indiana Jones is a Space Cowboy” that I knew they had arrived.
And I was able to transfer our love of a galaxy far, far away through the 501st. Named after the elite military division known as “Vader’s Fist”, the 501st is a charitable organization solely dedicated to crafting screen-accurate Star Wars costumes of everything from Storm Troopers to Sith Lords and wearing them to surprise fans in need. We visit hospitals and participate in fundraising walks for causes such as autism awareness and cystic fibrosis. It’s also a great way to give back and show off your costume-creating chops to other similarly Star Wars obsessed Storm Troopers.
The first 501st event I took my kids to was for a terminal cancer patient named Dave. He wasn’t doing well and wanted to see The Last Jedi with his family. After the local theatre reserved an entire auditorium for his family and friends, his wife reached out to the 501st. The group moderators posted about the event on the forums and I signed us up immediately.
When I told my boys about it, they were thrilled. We packed up my Stormtrooper armor as well as Jawa robes for one of my sons and a mini Biker Scout for the other. Dave had no idea the 501st would be there. It was a total surprise. So when, after the film, his wife wheeled him into the lobby, attached to monitors and an oxygen tank, he was greeted by 35 or so authentic Star Wars characters. The smile on his face was tremendous. I don’t think he stopped smiling the entire time he was there.
We posted for hundreds of photos with Dave, his friends, and family. Many of the 501st are helmeted characters and that’s a good thing, because although we may look menacing, there was a shortage of dry eyes that day. During one of my breaks, my oldest son asked me what was going to happen to Dave. I told him the truth, that he was really sick and was probably not going to be around much longer. Fully clad in armor with the exception of his helmet, my son didn’t respond for a second or two. Then he said: “Then I’m glad we came to meet him before that happened. And I’m glad he got to see The Last Jedi with us. He looks happy right now.” Then he casually put on his helmet and ran back out to take some more pictures.
It took me a minute or two to compose myself before I went back to pose for some more pictures. I saw a group of fans banding together to fulfill a man’s final request; I saw my youngest playing hide and seek, dressed like a Jawa, in the lobby with some of the smaller kids that came to the event.
To share such moments with my kids feels good on so many levels and I’m so grateful they’re willing to share it with me. We’ll continue working with the 501st as long as we can. I think it makes us better people. I hope it does, at least.
Now that Disney has supplied us with a new movie every year, my boys and I will have more Star Wars stories to look forward to and discuss. It’s a bond I hope will remain as they grow older and become men. In any case, I know that, thanks to the 501st, the force will always be strong with them.