“Vader’s Fist” in the Yukon

Heather Leduc as Princess Leah for May the 4th (be with you)

The 501st Legion (a.k.a. Vader’s Fist) is now in the territory. I’ve come to Porter Creek to chat with Kerri and Paul Scholz about the Legion, a Star Wars costuming group of which they are Yukon’s inaugural members. But before I even see their costumes, I realize that not only are they huge Star Wars fans, but that they share a love for all things sci-fi.

“I’m not a one-trick pony,” said Paul. “I’m a sci-fi nerd.”

This is made pretty obvious by an entire wall display of Star Trek collectors plates that greet visitors almost immediately. Paul received the plates from his parents as an incentive to get good grades in school. The basement is a collector’s dream, with a mind-boggling array of action comics, miniature Lego figures, from Abe Lincoln to Lisa Simpson, and countless model space vessels, including a grey monstrosity which Paul tells me is Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon. Sure enough, there are tiny Lego figures of Solo and Chewbacca seated in the cockpit.

Paul’s lifelong penchant for sci-fi and action comics led to an interest in costuming. His first alter ego was Captain America, from The Avengers. When he and Kerri met members from the 501st Legion, it was only natural that he joined them. For Kerri, costuming was something new.

Star wars costumes Jawa & Stormtrooper
Kerri, as a Jawa, and Paul as a stormtrooper in their neighbourhood

The 501st Legion is an international costuming group made up of many garrisons, based on geographical areas. The legion website states that its members have “spread the magic of the Star Wars genre, worldwide, through its authentic-looking costumes, and has become the leading force in fan-based charity events. The 501st, also known as ‘Vader’s Fist,’ is truly dedicated to brightening the lives of those less fortunate.”

The legion members wear movie-ready costumes that meet strict standards. Once in costume, members make public appearances to raise money for charities. There are five Yukon members, all of whom belong to the Badlands Garrison, which includes Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Kerri and Paul first became familiar with the 501st Legion when they attended Ptarmicon, a gaming and popular culture convention in Yellowknife, in July 2019. Members of the Badlands Garrison who attended that event were also participating in YukomiCon (Yukon’s comic convention) that August. With accommodations being hard to find, the garrison members stayed with the Scholzes.

“We had a blast,” Kerri said.

Their garrison guests loaned costumes to their hosts—Kerri was a Jawa, and Paul was a Tusken Raider. The costume helped Kerri come out of her shell.

“I’m a very shy person,” she said, “so I was very happy to be behind a mask.”

It wasn’t long before Kerri made her own Jawa costume from monk cloth supplied by their garrison friends from Alberta. Paul bought a stormtrooper costume, second-hand, for $1500. He wanted to be a stormtrooper partly because the Yukon already had three Jawas, who “by themselves look like monks, with glowing eyes—kind of scary looking.” Having a stormtrooper next to the Jawas helps put them into context, he said.

The stormtrooper also appeals to Paul’s youthful side.

“Every time I put this on, I’m eight years old again. I’m a kid who plays Star Wars.”

By the time Paul had his stormtrooper costume in June, the pandemic had hit. This curtailed the garrison members’ ability to attend indoor events and to raise money for charity. However, they’ve made several informal outdoor public appearances to entertain unsuspecting Yukoners. They occupied the sidewalk on 12th Avenue, for example, and waved at the Porter Creek grad class as students toured by in buses. One driver was so surprised, he literally slammed on his brakes and took pictures.

“It put smiles on peoples’ faces, which is the goal here,” said Paul.

It’s not all fun and games, though. The masks are hot and have little built-in fans to cool the costumers’ heads. It’s difficult to navigate in the costumes, and the Jawas and the stormtrooper require a handler so they don’t fall off a curb.

Still, it’s clearly worth it to the Scholzes, who look forward to a pandemic-free Yukon where they can perhaps visit kids at the hospital. They’d also like to participate in the Pride and Canada Day parades, for which they both have themed bandoliers for their costumes.

As members of the Badlands Garrison of the 501st League, they are part of a global community who bring smiles to faces wherever they go. It’s a pretty good gig for these sci-fi fans who embrace their Star Wars “bad guy” alter egos with gusto.

“Sometimes we’re a bit introverted, but with these costumes—we’re a different character,” Paul said. “I’m not that quiet guy.”

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