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Indiana Library ready for 'Star Wars' invasion

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Friday, Oct. 7, 2011
 

The Indiana Free Library may more closely resemble an Imperial Death Star than a book repository this Saturday.

Costumed members of the Imperial military -- more commonly known as the villains from the Star Wars franchise -- will be milling around the library Saturday as part of its Sci-Fi Day, planned for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

One of those dressed-up Star Wars devotees will be Dave Johnston, 33, of Indiana, who is part of the 501st Legion, a large Star Wars fan organization whose members dress in costume to portray the bad guys of the six-film series, many times for public relations appearances.

Otherwise known as "Evil Dave," Johnston will be at the library 12-2 p.m. Saturday in his biker scout attire, inspired by some of the Imperial forces shown in the concluding film of the original Star Wars trilogy. Along with fellow Legion members, he'll be offering photo opportunities, helping with a trivia activity, giving a short presentation about the costuming group and fielding questions.

Outreach librarian Helen Taylor will also speak about the library's science fiction collection, which includes speculative fiction, graphic novels, audio books and movies.

From 11 a.m. to noon, stories and crafts in the children's department will feature aliens and UFOs, followed by the meet-and-greet with costumed characters and trivia game. A basket raffle will also take place, with two baskets filled with toys, action figures and Blu-Ray DVDs, including the original Star Wars trilogy and the newest Transformers film. Chances will be sold for $1 a piece, or 10 for $5, and winners will be drawn Monday.

At 2 p.m., a viewing of the movie "Contact" starring Jodie Foster will be shown free to the public.

What a great idea!

Taylor said she first heard of the 501st Legion through a friend in the United Kingdom, who is also a member. Looking online, she found that the Legion has a regional chapter, Garrison Carida, and that members will attend non-profit events at no charge.

"I thought this would be a great opportunity for us to promote our library and our science fiction collection, and to just have fun," Taylor said.

Taylor was the lead planner for the Sci-Fi Day and said the library is planning to host other such activities in order to draw people into the library.

She said many people consider the library solely as a place where children can go for story hour, or for senior citizens to use the computer.

"I want to dispel that image," she said. "We're so much more than that."

She said the library is mulling over ideas for other activities, and is planning a Mystery Night in the spring, where people will have to visit each department of the library and solve clues as a way to explore what the library has to offer.

Johnston, meanwhile, sees Saturday's Sci-Fi Day as a great way to "encourage kids to be creative and use their imagination, and at the same time promote the library as a place to do that."

How his interest grew

Johnston noted, as he was growing up, the toy box he shared with is brother, Chris, was dominated by G.I. Joe and Star Wars toys, so the latter franchise has been part of his life for as long as he can remember. When the movies first came out on VHS, he spent his Christmas break immersing himself in the world George Lucas created.

"I can't remember a time when I wasn't a Stars Wars fan," he said. "The first movie came out 51 weeks before I was even born."

Johnston graduated from Indiana Area High School in 1996 and earned a degree in mathematics from Clarion University in 2001. He now works as an accountant at First Commonwealth Bank.

"Before I joined the Legion, I was a little timid to tell people that I was a Star Wars fan," Johnston acknowledged. "But after being involved, seeing what the Legion does, what it means, I wear it on my sleeve now. It's like my fraternity."

Being a Star Wars fan, he had heard of the 501st Legion, which got its start in 1997. He didn't seriously consider becoming a member himself, though, until January 2008, when he was reading the bios of nominees for a monthly community service award given through his workplace. One of the winners, Joe Bell, was listed as a commanding officer in Garrison Carida, and he happened to be visiting Johnston's department that day.

"It was completely random," he said, and after a two-hour lunch with Bell at a nearby restaurant, "I was hooked."

Johnston didn't apply to join until July of the next year, in order to save up for and build the costume he would need as an active member of the 501st and Garrison Carida.

"I wanted to be able to get everything and go," he said.

In November, he received word of his acceptance into the garrison, and was assigned an adviser to help him build his costume.

Members who are starting out, called cadets, are encouraged to squire at a few Legion events in order to get an idea about what trooping -- attending Legion events -- is all about. Squires don't wear costumes, but act as aids to those who do, helping them don their getups.

Decided on his look

Johnston had decided that his Star Wars persona would be that of a biker scout, which he thought would be a simpler costume that didn't require a lot of expensive and time-consuming armor. The biker scouts, he noted, appeared in "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi."

The majority of his costume is made of parts he ordered from an armor maker, which he accessorized with a cummerbund made by one of his garrison members and work boots covered in white vinyl. A blaster he bought online completes the ensemble.

Johnston is currently working on finishing a Stormtrooper suit from "Star Wars: A New Hope."?

"I'm getting there," he said of his newest project. "I have everything for it, I just need to put it all together."

He explained that every member must specify from which movie their costume is designed, as each film's raiments have subtle differences.

On its website, the 501st Legion declares itself as "the world's definitive Imperial costuming organization." The Legion is divided geographically into different chapters, or garrisons, which are spread worldwide. Johnston is a member of Garrison Carida, which is comprised of 115 members from three states -- Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.

Johnston was voted "Trooper of the Year" for 2011, an honor voted on by the members of his garrison.

"I was very surprised to even be nominated," he said.

Premier group

Johnston was quick to emphasize that the 501st Legion and its garrisons are in no way affiliated with Lucasfilm, Ltd., but because they are considered the premier Star Wars costume organization, "We always have to be on our best behavior."

He said that the command staff of the garrisons are often in contact with personnel at Lucasfilm, Ltd. when they need costumed characters at events.

The 501st as a whole, according to Johnston, boasts over 5,000 members, having grown considerably from the 2,900 total when he joined two years ago.

The 501st Legion focuses solely on Star Wars' villains, because, said Johnston, "The bad guys have the best costumes. They look cooler."

One of the organization's mottos, he noted, is "Bad guys doing good."

Playing the side of light to the 501st Legion's dark is the Rebel Legion, a similar organization devoted to the "good guys." Some people hold dual membership in both organizations, Johnston said.

The majority of the Legion members carry trading cards with them -- bearing their photo in costume, their name and garrison logo. On the back is information about the 501st and that member's garrison. The cards are given out to people at events, and many Legion members trade cards among themselves as a way to keep track of those they have met.

"The kids love them," Johnston said of the cards, with many youth attending events asking them to sign their cards. "It's insane."

Johnston attended 16 Legion events last year, and Saturday's outing at the library will count as his 16th this year.

His garrison accepts toy donations throughout the year -- a good number of them Star Wars-related -- which they distribute to children at the hospitals as they visit in costume.

Johnston noted that Garrison Carida does not charge a fee for any of their appearances, but when asked, they will take "payment" in the form of toy donations.

He also attends various charity walks with his garrison, including the Walk for Autism, Make-a-Wish and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, where they don their costumes and mingle beforehand with the participants.

They are also often invited to comic book store openings, and they try to draw people into such stores the first Saturday of every May, which is celebrated as "Free Comic Book Day."

Johnston said about 90 percent of their time at events is spent taking photographs with fans.

For more about Sci-Fi Day and other events at the Indiana Free Library, visit www.indianafreelibrary.org or call 724-465-8841.

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