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Get to Know the Charitable Side of the 501st and Rebel Legions

At just about any convention you attend, you’ll probably spot at least one Stormtrooper. They seem to travel in packs, not bothering to hide their numbers in Tusken Raider fashion. If the troopers or other Star Wars characters you spot appear to be wearing costumes strongly resembling the ones you’ve seen on screen in the Star Wars films, then chances are high the wearers belong to the 501st Legion or the Rebel Legion. The groups are recognized by Lucasfilm and while they focus on high quality costuming based on the Star Wars universe and promoting interest in the franchise, they’re about so much more because they make it a priority to give back to the community.

The 501st Legion was founded in 1997, and the Rebel Legion followed soon thereafter, officially launching a website in 2001. Costumers belonging to the 501st Legion are the bad guys of the Star Wars universe. Named after a fictional unit of Stormtroopers (conceived by Albin Johnson), troopers, Imperial Officers, Sith Lords such as Darth Vader, Bounty Hunters such as Boba Fett, and more characters with questionable morals fill their ranks. As you may guess from the name, the Rebel Legion features the heroes of the saga. You’d join the Rebels if you wanted to dress like heroes such as Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, or Padmé Amidala.

Rebel Legion

Photo via the Rebel Legion

Any costume seen on screen in the movies or television series is fair game for either costuming organization. Costumes worn by characters who appear in the Expanded Universe are also accepted as long as there are visual references. The Rebel Legion, for example, requires that the outfit have appeared in at least three Lucasfilm licensed materials.

Once potential members have a screen accurate costume and have been accepted by their local garrison or outpost/base, that’s where the fun begins. Participants in the 501st and Rebel Legions attend a variety of functions from conventions where you can usually find tables and displays for each organization, free comic book day gatherings, Star Wars Day happenings, parades, and most importantly, charitable events. They get to play dress up and make a difference.

It’s not as simple as throwing on a costume though. Building a set of armor or sewing a Jedi robe takes hours of research, work, and not an insignificant amount of money. However, a love of Star Wars and a desire to make others smile can push people to do crazy things – I’ve seen Stormtroopers and TIE pilots wearing their armor and helmets outdoors on days when temperatures nudged 100 degrees. Who cares if they weren’t dressed like Jedi, the Force was clearly strong with them.

TK-6682 has been a member of the 501st Legion (they give out the TK designations) since June 6, 2006, and says, “It is amazing to be a part of such a fantastic organization which raises hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars for charity all via the love of Star Wars. It has taken two of the things I am extremely passionate about and combines them seamlessly.” I’ve heard that sentiment echoed by many members of the 501st and Rebel Legions in the past.

501st Legion funds raised

The types of charitable work the groups do varies. Sometimes they pull together auctions with proceeds going towards a non-profit, on other occasions they gather their members and visit a local hospital to brighten the day of ill children, and they also host fundraisers. Neither group charges for public or private appearances, but if you want to have Stormtroopers and Jedi at a private event, they may accept a donation to a suitable charity. They’ve worked with such organizations as Make-A-Wish, Relay for Life, Boys and Girls Club of America, Toys for Tots, and American Cross.

As an example, the 501st’s Carolina Garrison attended Captain’s Comics Expo in South Carolina in March. They trooped and offered photo ops with a suggested donation to Make-A-Wish; they raised $200 for the charity. Those type of events happen all over the world, and they add up. Any amount of money raised for charity is beneficial, but the organizations use Star Wars to spread joy and go above and beyond. The 501st maintains a website tracking funds raised, and for 2012, they estimate members pulled in the following statistics:

Legion members helped to collect over 198,000 Toys for needy and underprivileged families, raised $168,988 through our own fundraising efforts, attended events that helped to raise over 14 million dollars for charity. Our members donated over 4,747,325 ‘man hours’ wearing our Imperial Costumes all in the name of fundraising and charity!

That’s a lot of time spent in costume, and I don’t feel like enough people know about the charitable side of both organizations. Next time you’re at a convention, make it a point see if either group is in attendance – they’re typically with other fan tables – and see what you can do to help. If you want to find a local garrison or base in your area to apply for membership or to work with on a charitable project, visit the 501st Legion or Rebel Legion to see who is in your area.

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  1. Oreilly says:

    They always forget us R2 builders. 

  2. Jedibarriss says:

    Proud member of both, retired teacher. 

  3. Donna Keeley says:

    Knock me over with a feather, you actually NAMED the Rebel Legion as a separate organization. Thank you. The general public calls all of us “501st” and sometimes it’s hard to get across that there are two sides to the “costuming coin”. 🙂

  4. Strawbarry says:

    What about FanForce?

  5. merc life says:

    Great little piece but what about the Mando Mercs. We are the best of both worlds with creative freedom.

    Also Wretched Hive member represent !

  6. Lisa Curtis says:

    Both the 501st and Rebel Legions will be at San Diego Comic Con with our traditional neighboring tables in the Fan Mezzanine!  Be sure to come by and visit us!

  7. TD-9813 proud member since 2007

  8. Don’t forget the Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club.

  9. Wash says:

    Technically, aren’t the Rebels the bad guys since they were trying to overthrow the rightful government while being lead by a couple of religious zealots?  Besides, don’t the good guys wear white?  And aren’t stormtrooper (and their much more perfect predecessor the clones) always wearing white?  This article seems to be written by a Rebel-biased news source!

  10. Diego says:

    Yeah!!!! It’s awesome to be part of the 501st, i’ve been member for almost a year and I’m very proud of it, I’m Id-75671 from the Mexican Garrison

  11. Jason says:

    The Joliet Public Library for the past 5 years has teamed up with the 501st and Rebel Legion to hold an annual Star Wars Days to promote libraries and literacy.  This year over 110 costumed members showed up on a hot afternoon on June 7th and helped entertain over 7000 people in the span of a few hours.  Beyond the money they make for charity, the memories of the kids and families who show up for the event is immeasurable.

    • James Tampa says:

      I was there this year and it was absolutely amazing! The event was 6 hours and it was incredible to see all those costumed characters interacting with the families. If you’re ever in Joliet, IL around that time next year, check it out!!!

  12. Yeah!  I’m proud whenever I see stuff about all the great stuff that the 501st does! 

    I joined back in 2001, I’m TK-757 from Garrison Titan in Seattle, WA.  Though, I haven’t been active in a while.  =)