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  • This Group of Star Wars Fans Does Charity Work Dressed as Villains!

    They pride themselves in being “bad guys who do good.”
    by Kate Borbon .
This Group of Star Wars Fans Does Charity Work Dressed as Villains!
PHOTO BY Courtesy of 501st Legion Philippine Garrison/Facebook
  • Many will undoubtedly agree that Star Wars is one of the most iconic and well-loved franchises in modern history. It has amassed thousands, if not millions, of fans all over the world, many of whom are part of different groups and organizations dedicated to spreading a love for the franchise everywhere.

    One such organization is the 501st Legion that has now grown to include over 12,000 members from different parts of the world including the Philippines. But it is not all about pretend play — members are sharing their love for Star Wars by helping people in need, such as sick children and elderly people. 

    Meet the Star Wars mega fans

    The 501st Legion was founded by Albin Johnson in 1997 around the time when the original films in the Star Wars trilogy were remastered and re-released in theaters. In an interview with Spot.ph, Johnson shared that everything started when he and a friend decided it would be fun to wear Star Wars costumes to screenings of the films.

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    The two friends then put on their DIY Stormtrooper costumes and shared photos of themselves in attire on the Internet. The pictures were accompanied by a fictional story of two Stormtroopers goofing around on the Deathstar, a space station in the Star Wars universe. It was at this point when things took off, said Johnson. “People saw the website and asked to join, and I had to hurry up and make a bunch of rules and figure out how to organize it.”

    To an outsider, the Legion might seem like nothing more than a group of passionate Star Wars fans putting on creative costumes and having fun with each other. But beyond the members’ love for the world-famous franchise lies a deep passion that serves as their foundation: to support charities and help champion causes locally and globally.

    “We also want to serve our local communities so that can be through charities, that can be through conventions and parties and hospital visits for children — anything that builds up the community,” Johnson told Spot.ph. “That’s our goal: to spread the magic of Star Wars to the public.”

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    The 501st Legion is well-represented here in the Philippines by the 501st Legion Philippine Garrison. After receiving approval of his Return of the Jedi biker scout costume in 2004, founder Manny Mendoza applied to form a local 501st Legion unit. In 2014, the unit was upgraded to garrison level after reaching a total member count of 25 people. This year, the garrison has 90 active members and is celebrating its 15th anniversary.

    Just like its mother organization, the 501st Legion Philippine Garrison works directly with several local charities and organizations. “For the Philippine Garrison of the 501st Legion, we organize hospital visits to children’s wards,” Lawrence Aliwalas, the garrison’s commanding officer, tells SmartParenting.com.ph. “We also make time out to celebrate Star Wars-themed events with friends and partner groups in exchange for a donation to a charity of their choice. All this we do in character as members of the Empire.”

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    Aside from visiting children in hospitals, the Legion also raises funds for various children’s charities, such as Make-A-Wish, and participates in major conventions and fan events in the country. Disney Philippines regularly invites the group to represent Star Wars during official events. The Legion has also been organizing the Star Wars Reads Day since 2014 to promote reading among children.

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    A mission cooler than a Star Wars costume

    If you are familiar with the Star Wars universe, you will notice that the members of the Legion wear costumes of notable villains from the franchise. There are the Stormtroopers, Clone Troopers, and, of course, Sith Lords. These characters are well-known for their ruthless evil, but the work done by the organization has helped depict these characters in a different kind of light. In the Legion’s own words, they are “The Bad Guys Who Do Good.”

    “As a member of the 501st Legion, we take pride not only in having accurate costumes, but more importantly in being ‘bad guys who do good,’” Michelle Noblejas-Mangubat, garrison charity representative, tells Smart Parenting. “On a personal note, I believe that each person, no matter how bad he or she may seem, will always have good inside of him or her.”

    Members take pride in their costumes, which can be thrilling for any fan who gets to see it up close.

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    These costumes are accurately and meticulously designed. “We take pride of our accuracy in terms of building our costumes and uniforms,” says Lawrence. “We tend to do lots of research for every detail that comes with our builds.”

    But more than anything, it is the shared passion for helping others that lies at the heart of the 501st Legion.

    Michelle says, “More than our love for Star Wars is our desire to help others in any way we can. Our passion for Star Wars becomes even more meaningful as we translate this into giving a part of ourselves and reaching out to those who need us the most.

    “We would like to be remembered not only for the costumes that we wear but more importantly, for the smiles that we were able to bring to the faces of sick children, wounded soldiers, the elderly, and more. 

    “The combination of the passion for anything Star Wars, tangible enough to be worn, and an even bigger desire and heart to raise funds for charity is what makes our group truly one of a kind…and one with the Force.”

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    How to get involved with the 501st Legion Philippine Garrison

    You need to meet certain conditions to become a member. Oneal Rosero, garrison membership liaison officer, explains, “The Legion accepts members who are 18 years old and above, who personally own a Star Wars costume of the bad guy characters.

    “Their costume has to meet the requirements set by the internal 501st to conform with the standards, [and] this is so a Stormtrooper in the Philippines looks exactly like one based in South America or Africa. You become a member the moment your costume is approved.”

    Jeffrey Estaris, garrison web liaison officer, elaborates, “For those interested to join the garrison as members, they can start by letting us know of their intention and how serious they are in joining. We can give them some tips and advice on the where/what and how to purchase their preferred costume. Costumes can be purchased as kits or semi-assembled. They should be screen accurate, and that of a Star Wars villain. Once completed, they will be submitted to the garrison and legion for review and approval.”

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    Meanwhile, if you are interested in becoming a volunteer to extend help through donations or assistance during events, you may get in touch with the group on their Facebook page. If you have an event and would like to have members of the Legion make an appearance, you may also visit their website, where there is a “Request for Appearance” page for you to submit details on the event.

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