In the 90s two Circuit City co-workers Albin Johnson and Tom Crews bonded over their shared interest of Star Wars. The two would spend hours discussing everything from Darth Vader’s lightsaber to the opening scene of A New Hope, when the Stormtroopers would burst through the doorway of the Tantive IV. It was Johnson, who recently lost his left foot in an accident, who realized—when you’re a Stormtrooper, no one can tell you’re an amputee. An idea was formed.
Crews and Johnson soon invested in their own Stormtrooper costumes to wear to the special edition theatrical release of Return of the Jedi. Fans were awestruck and Johnson began to picture a legion of Stormtroopers. A website was built and Crews and Johnson attended any event they could; from comic book signings to preschool graduations. Eventually, they started to receive emails from Stormtroopers across the country, who had also invested in their own movie replica costumes. It was time for Johnson to officially create his legion.
He came up with a name—the 501st Legion: Vader’s Fist. The first members recruited at conventions and by 2002 the Legion’s first 150 members were recruited by Lucasfilm to help with crowd-control (in costume of course) at the second official Star Wars convention. From then on Lucasfilm hired the 501st Legion for all their events—a partnership that is still in place to this day. In 2004, the Legion was featured in an official Star Wars novel called Survivor’s Quest and in 2005, Vader’s Fist became cannon when George Lucas wrote them into Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Most recently, members were invited to appear in several episodes of the Disney+ streaming series, The Mandalorian.
Currently, the 501st Legion has over 13,000 members located all over the globe. There are only two requirements to join the legion—you must be over 18 years old and you must own a screen-accurate costume of one of the bad guys. These costumes are usually created entirely by members and are held to extremely high standards, all detailed in the Legion’s Costume Reference Library. It is here you can find the correct number of pouches on a Stormtrooper belt or the accurate hilt length of Darth Vader’s lightsaber.
The 501st Legion is dedicated to giving back to the community and frequency refers to themselves as “bad guys doing good. They regularly participate in charity events and partner with Make-A-Wish Foundation to raise money for their Endowment Fund. In 2017 alone, the Legion donated over 198,000 hours of community service and raised over $889,000 for various charities.
This growing organization with a huge heart remains as it began; a place forfans to join together and bond over their common love of Star Wars. As Johnson, who is still an active member of the 501st Legion, says “if we’re not having fun, this is just a drag…at the end of the day, we’re all plastic spacemen.”