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Friday, January 15, 2010

My Alter Ego, Darth Vader

PhoenixVader in costume

Ever since I was a kid and saw the original Star Wars movie (Episode IV, A New Hope) way back in 1979, I wanted to be Darth Vader. He was The Man, he had the power and he let no one get in his way. But back then there was just no way.

The years passed, I forgot about Darth for awhile, graduated high school, joined the Marines and left home. 13 years later, I returned from the Corps and found a job and settled down to a comfortable life. I worked my way up until I made good money and spent it on all the things that I wanted. Buying toys for myself became a habit and one day I decided that I should try to finally make that childhood dream a reality.

While starting my search I also was going through a phase in my life where I was wondering what it was all about. I had no wife, no children and at the time no girlfriend. I hung out with my friends, drank too much and played all the time. I started to look into Big Brothers.

Back to my search for Darth Vader. I was on the Galaxy Trader website and there was a banner at the top. They were looking for people with Star Wars costumes to do a charity event in North Phoenix. I thought, this would be a good thing to do, so I called the number listed and got in contact with the East Valley Arts for Children. They were doing a fund raiser and boy what a deal that was. A $1,000 a plate dinner. All the local mayors an other big wigs would be there.

I gathered up my costume parts and went to talk to them. When I arrived they asked me to wait in the lobby of the hotel. I sat there, my Vader helmet and Chest armor that I had brought to show them sitting on a table. Two young men walk up and the one starts freaking out....

"A Vader, we have a Vader in Phoenix!" He kept on and on about it, I thought he might be crazy (I later found that he was, but in a good way). I also found out that they were both members of a group called the 501st. A group of great guys and gals that all had one thing in common, they had good quality Star Wars costumes. Most of them were Stormtroopers. They actually had plastic armor molded from the armor used in the films. They looked awesome. But these two were the only ones in Phoenix. Now they had a Vader and they promptly had me join the 501st.

At the time I was only the 2nd or 3rd Vader to join. The costume was VERY expensive to get together, around $3,000, compared to the Stormtroopers which was about $1,000. So, I was a bit of a celebrity, flanked by my two Stormtroopers we marched around at several events. Mostly dealing with kids charity and such. We started to have a ton of fun. But I thought that something was still missing. I loved the way children reacted to my costume, awe and wonder in there eyes. I actively started to search out events we could do for charity with kids. Along the way we picked up new members and soon we were 10 strong.

Chicks dig the dome. Working the line at the premiere of Attack of the Clones

The DSSD was born (The Dune Sea Sniper Detachment). According to the bylaws of the 501st, we did not have enough members to start a full Garrison, so we were a detachment of the Denver Garrison. One of our members became obsessed with getting our own Garrison status and actively started to recruit members. We helped them get armor or a good Star Wars costume and before we new it we had 20 members and the Dune Sea Garrison was born!

We now had a Boba Fett, Imperial Officers, a platoon of Stormtroopers and Vader. We started to do events where we collected toys, these were donated to the Marines for their Toys for Tots program, and boy were we successful! We gather thousands of toys each year. Then, after going to Star Wars Celebration II, where we went to the Riley Children's Hospital and visited some really sick children I had the defining moment of my life.

The DSG at the 2005 MS Walk

We had just finished up and were leaving when a nurse came to me and said that there was a child that wanted to meet me. She had missed the event as she was getting her chemotherapy treatment. I followed the nurse and there in a Radio Flyer wagon sat a small girl, no more that 6 years old. She had several I.V.s in her arms and she was wrapped in a blanket. I knelt down and she took my hand. I looked down and she had a Vader figure in her other had. She looked up a me and said, "I just wanted to hold your hand." I wept silently, holding her hand, grateful that I had my helmet on so that she could not see her Vader cry. I stayed there until she let go of my hand and then she was gone.

I will never forget the look in that girl's eyes. We never met again, but she changed my life that day. I devoted myself to charity for kids. When we got back to Phoenix, the Dune Sea Garrison, well known in the 501st as a party garrison changed it's way. We still had fun, but twice a month we did some charity work. Visited the local hospitals, collected toys, went to homes for mentally challenged kids, The Works. We were a busy group of guys and gals and we swelled our ranks to over 50 members.

Sadly, my choice to move to Wyoming caused me to leave the Garrison that I had helped build, but I believe I left it in good hands and they continue to do great works of charity. I even got my 15 minuets of fame as they say and was a credited actor in a documentary on the 501st called "Heart of an Empire" where I spoke on film.

I have only donned my Vader three times since coming to Wyoming. Twice for Halloween and once for a charity event for Big Brother and Sisters. There is only one other member of the 501st in the state and he is a Vader too up in Cheyenne.

Even though I do not were my costume much any more, Vader will always be a part of me now, but not the villain from the movie, but a gentle giant, breathing noisily, kneeling down to hold the hand of some child that needs it.

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