RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
John Williams, left, and Tory Laitila are members of the Pacific Outpost of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion, a group devoted to the "Star Wars" films. The pair will represent Hawaii as storm troopers in the New Year's Day Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. Below, the Pacific Outpost logo will be worn on their shoulders. CLICK FOR LARGE
A pair of Hawaii storm troopers will take their "Star Wars" act to the Rose Parade on Monday
When Tory Laitila and John Williams don their storm trooper regalia, they draw a wide array of reactions.
Williams was once pegged in the face with a dodge ball. "One time a kid jumped on my back," added Laitila.
The storm troopers from the "Star Wars" films, after all, were the foot soldiers of the evil Empire. Williams laughed as he recalled a quote from a parent: "Just because they wear white doesn't mean they are the good guys."
Still, he said, their characters generate a lot of excitement. "Parades are great. The crowd goes nuts when they see us. I sometimes feel like a rock star."
On New Year's Day, that positive Force will be with them as they march in the 118th Rose Parade among the 200 members of the 501st Legion -- a global organization of "Star Wars" fans.
Laitila and Williams will be part of the "Star Wars Spectacular," a LucasFilm production to include storm troopers and other costumed characters, floats representing the "Star Wars" planets and creator George Lucas as grand marshal.
"'Star Wars' is everywhere ... from Taiwan to Saudi Arabia to the Netherlands and Philippines," said Laitila. Storm troopers marching in the parade will come from 36 states and 22 countries.
Steve Sansweet, head of fan relations at LucasFilm Ltd., requested audition tapes from more than 3,300 members worldwide. Of the 700 who submitted tapes for consideration, 200 were picked.
"It was no easy feat to be chosen," said Sansweet. "We had very high standards for the costumes, the physical fitness of the members and the dedication that would be involved."
The chosen few will arrive in Southern California five days before the parade for a full series of rehearsals and drills with the band and a drill master, a colonel in the Army Infantry Reserves.
"They (LucasFilm Ltd.) are picking up the tab for everything," Williams said. "But we don't get paid -- we just do it for the heck of it."
To set themselves apart during the 5.5-mile parade, Laitila and Williams will be wearing shoulder patches from the Pacific Outpost of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion, marked with a blue surfboard. "And I may be carrying the Hawaiian flag," added Williams.
The 501st Legion has no ties to LucasFilms or its affiliates, but rather consists of die-hard fans who celebrate their obsession by building and wearing elaborate costumes representing Imperial forces, Sand People and "other scum of the galaxy," said Williams.
The legion's mission statement, in part: "Some fans are content to collect action figures ... other fans want to be action figures. Nothing professes your fandom quite like building your own detailed costume replica of a classic 'Star Wars' villain."
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tory Laitila, left, and John Williams don their storm trooper costumes before participating in a recent Toys for Tots drive at Honolulu Hale. CLICK FOR LARGE
Members of the local Pacific Outpost make appearances at the Collector's Show, Toys for Tots drives, game stores and DVD-release events. "We normally have at least five or six events a year," Laitila said, and members meet a couple of times a month.
They've made up a brief history for their storm troopers; find it on the Pacific Outpost Web site: "These brave Stormtroopers work under deep cover, blending in with the diverse local and tourist population, performing special reconnaissance operations in support of the Empire. We are especially honored with the laborious task of maintaining security at one of Lord Vader's favorite vacation getaways in Waikiki."
Laitila and Williams also wear other costumes, including Darth Vader, Darth Maul and the Emperor. Many new members look to Laitila for help putting together costumes.
"The smart ones do, anyway" laughed Williams. "It is a chore to put it together by yourself. You need a team to put it together so it fits properly. I've had my costume for over six years, and I'm still making changes so it fits better."
Laitila creates historic costumes, "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" replicas and anything "from corsets to hats," he said.
"Creating the costumes is like putting together a model. It takes some dedication. My helmet alone has about 13 pieces. It took two years of work to tweak it until it fit just right."
Some of the suits have built-in amplifiers to create voice distortion. Others use two-way radios for easier communication.
At first it took them about an hour to get their costumes on. Now they can manage in 15 to 20 minutes. The longest period Williams has worn his costume was about eight hours; Laitila has worn his for as long as 16.
Vision and restricted lower mobility are a couple of the downfalls. "You always remember stepping on your first kid," Laitila said. "They come up to hug you, and it just happens."
Lucas invited the 501st members to participate in the parade as a thank-you to the clubs, said John Singh, director of communications of LucasFilm.
"During last year's premiere of 'Episode III'" -- the final film in the "Star Wars" saga, "Revenge of the Sith," released last year -- "George went to openings around the world from Berlin to London and Tokyo," Singh said. "It was amazing the kind of dedication and enthusiasm the fans had toward 'Star Wars.' Some of the costumes weigh 10 to 15 pounds.
"When the 501st group started, it was a service-oriented group; they were not trying to develop a business. We were totally impressed. They were not doing this because we hired them; they were doing it solely because they love 'Star Wars.'"
Williams' interest in the 501st Legion was piqued when the "Star Wars" prequels came out ("The Phantom Menace" hit theaters in 1999; the original "Star Wars" came out in 1977). "I was a 'Star Wars' fan since I was little," he said.
Laitila's love for costuming and sci-fi conventions and a chance meeting with Williams one Halloween in Waikiki led him to the local club.
Apparently, others can relate to their passion. Parents bring kids dressed in costume to their public appearances, Laitila said. During a recent Toys for Tots event at Honolulu Hale, a couple hundred people waited for the storm troopers.
Williams' most memorable moment in costume was a toy-store visit with a child from the Make a Wish Foundation. "We were walking around the store and found a dad and son playing with light sabers in the aisle," said Williams. "When he saw us, his face contorted into a look of horror, and he was holding his light saber defensively."
Even though Williams removed his helmet, the boy was still shook up. "His parents were cracking up."