'Star Wars' villains set to storm Penn Hills' Linton Middle School
By Patrick Varine
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
When parents, students and residents come to Linton Middle School on Feb. 9 to help raise money for multiple sclerosis research, they will meet with stiff resistance from the stormtroopers and Imperial guards of the 501st Legion.
The 501st is a fictional regiment of the Galactic Empire in the “Star Wars” movie franchise. It comprises more than 100 “garrisons,” “detachments” and “outposts” throughout the world, made up of all manner of Star Wars villain impersonators who each create their own authentic costumes.
Linton students may also be surprised to know that the evil Sith lord himself, Darth Vader, is one of the people keeping them safe everyday. Loujaue McPherson, security/site supervisor at Linton, is one of four Darth Vaders in the 118-member Garrison Carida, a sub-unit of the 501st Legion, which attends events in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia.
McPherson, 49, of Swissvale said he joined the 501st about five years ago on a whim.
“I've gone to sci-fi conventions for a long time and seen the guys dressed up. I don't know why I got the bug to give it my own try,” he said.
When an event is scheduled, a call goes out to Garrison Carida members to see who from the group can attend. McPherson said he has traveled as far as Florida to attend a 501st event, although garrison members generally stay in their regional coverage area.
Occasionally, McPherson said he has to deal with a situation where multiple Darth Vaders are present — he is one of the more-popular costumes among Legion members — but luckily, no one starts using The Force to choke out their competition.
“If there's more than one Vader (at an event), we work out a schedule for each of us to go out in costume,” he said. “It's not a competition; we just work out a way for all of us to get out there.”
Garrison Carida members worked the recent Steel City Con in Monroeville, and McPherson said there were four Vaders, “and we each took our own shift. The costume is actually different from movie to movie. Some of them are subtle changes in the suit design, differences in the chest plate, and there are actually differences in the masks.”
Regardless of which Vader version is on the floor, though, one thing is constant.
“You roast,” McPherson said. “My body suit is made of leather. Then add on the fact that you're completely enclosed. I have fans in my helmet that help; without them, it would be really, really bad.”
At the Feb. 9 fundraiser, McPherson said, there will be plenty of interaction between the attendees and legion members, who will be taking photographs and mingling.
“I love the interaction with the kids,” he said. “That's always one of the perks. There are times that some kids will be scared, and other times they'll run up and give you a huge hug.”
The event will feature trivia contests, a “Yu-Gi-Oh!” contest for kids, and the big event, “Star Wars Jeopardy,” featuring a mock Jeopardy board the school district purchased from Jeopardy Productions Inc., which can be customized and reused for future games.
For more information on the fundraiser, call 412-795-3000.
Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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