Most Impressive Fans: Meet Grandma Jawa – When 90 Years Old You Reach, Cosplay as Good You Will Not

StarWars.com talks with a Star Wars cosplaying family, including Mercedes Rentas Gelabert -- the oldest member of the 501st Legion.

Most Impressive Fans is a feature highlighting the amazing creativity of Star Wars devotees, from cosplay to props. If there’s a fearless and inventive fan out there, we’ll highlight them here.

At 90 years old, Mercedes Rentas Gelabert has the distinction of being the oldest member of the 501st Legion, proudly donning her Jawa costume walker and all.

But her recent acceptance into the group as a petite scavenger scrapping to survive comes as no surprise to her family.

Grandson Carlos Ramossanchez says his maternal abuela has always been a kid at heart, helping to raise Carlos and his twin sister, Yadira Ramos, when the family moved to San Antonio, Texas, from Puerto Rico.

At just 11, the twins knew very little English, so it was Mercedes who helped them with their homework and shepherded them to Little League practices, he says. She would also join in during their playtime antics, getting on the floor to color with them or dancing around to their favorite records.

Decades later, not much has changed. The tight-knit family still does almost everything together, Carlos says, and the twins and their parents have all become active in the 501st Legion since Carlos joined in 2016 and promptly started drafting others to participate.

He and his twin, now 43, were already working on a Jawa costume for Yadira, when they joked to their grandmother, “I could see you dressing up,” Carlos recalls. “She was like. ‘I’ll do it.’ So me and my sister started sewing.”

Disabled, not down

Playtime figured in to Carlos’ earliest memory of Star Wars, when he and his siblings were gifted the entire spread of galactic toys from the Spiegel catalog one Christmas — including the coveted Millennium Falcon. But he doesn’t remember seeing one of the films until Return of the Jedi debuted in theaters.

According to family legend, his father Carlos J. Ramos Moll, now 69 and also a member of the 501st, was in college when Star Wars originally debuted 40 years ago in 1977. “He skipped out of his classes to go see it,” his son says. “He’s always been a fan of Star Wars. He’s very gung ho.” By the time the trilogy was wrapping up, it had become a family outing, including abuela Mercedes. “She liked it,” Carlos says. “I remember my grandma talking about the little furry bears. She thought they were cute.”

But the transition from Ewok fan to Jawa cosplayer was decades in the making.

Carlos heard about the 501st Legion just as they were starting up 20 years ago, but at the time he was a young man in the Air Force, raising a family that would eventually have three daughters, and he didn’t have the time or the money to join up right away.

After 21 years of service, Carlos retired from the military and in 2015 relocated back to San Antonio to help his family. “I’m also a disabled veteran myself,” Carlos says. “We all take care of each other.”

He joined up with the 501st soon after, although nerve damage to the right side of his body, a degenerative disc disorder in his back, and other issues make it difficult for Carlos to stay in costume for long periods of time.

Still, Carlos wanted to join the 501st. Beyond the excitement of becoming a human action figure, he loved the way children and even adults interacted with the stormtroopers and other characters, pausing at special events for a hug and a photo op.

And one of the group’s primary functions is to raise money for charities, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Among his other health struggles that have required 150 operations for the disabled veteran, his father has survived four bouts with cancer while his mother is in remission after her first, Carlos says. “To me it was a big deal. And now that’s what I do, I go to any event that I’m able to go to.”

A little short for a stormtrooper

It was his father’s health problems that first brought the family to Texas, Carlos says, as they sought the best care for the ex-Army man. Even now when he’s out trooping in his Imperial crewman’s uniform, his father uses a scooter to help him get around.

Carlos’ father was the first family member to get involved, but his mother, Adela quickly joined up, too, after watching fans mob the 501st cosplayers until 2 a.m. at a toy release for The Force Awakens.

Then his sister wanted to take part. Her one stipulation — a lighter costume that would be easier to move around in in the Texas heat.

That breathability and mobility made it the perfect costume for their grandmother, as well, who had often stepped in to care for the twins when their father was ill and their mother was out in the workforce, Carlos says. “She’s been our partner in crime.”

She’s a little short for a stormtrooper anyway, at just 4-foot-10, but the perfect size for the pint-sized Tatooine pillagers. “We figured since Jawas are short…this would be a great outfit.”

The Jawa costume builds were fairly inexpensive, Carlos says, even with the group’s requirements for authentic fabrics and screen-accurate details.

The other Legion members have always been willing to lend their expertise to his family whether it was finding the perfect outfit for his disabled father or figuring out how to make a cloak that would look right at home scurrying out of a Sandcrawler.

Each ensemble uses about three yards of Monk’s cloth soaked in RIT dye for the perfect shade of brown. “The pattern is really easy,” Carlos says. “The hood is just a square. It’s a really simple costume to do.”

That even goes for the mask, a breathable mesh covering with glowing yellow eyes. “Believe it or not, it’s not that hard,” Carlos says.

A plastic hockey mask, purchased on sale for $3 after Halloween, and a hard-hat liner make up the base, with holes drilled into the mask to house two LED lights. A piece of black speaker cloth finishes the look. With the boots, gloves, and a special utility belt purchased online, each Jawa came to life for under $120, Carlos says.

They even have speaker bots that tuck into the robes. Utinni!

A family affair

Beyond costuming, the family also dabbles in prop building, with nine 3-D printers toiling away to create the parts for first an R2 unit followed by a BB unit. The hobby builds, part of what Carlos affectionately calls “The Bored at Home Team,” are another way for the family to share their excitement for Star Wars, working on projects when their health allows.

“Yeah, I put them to work,” he jokes, usually taking turns sanding away the grooves left behind from the fabrication process. “Everything that I’ve made, everyone has touched.”

After a heart attack a few weeks ago, grandma Jawa Mercedes is still recovering and in nursing care, Carlos says. But for her birthday May 1, the family gathered around for dinner in her room, and Carlos hopes that when she’s feeling better the whole family can go out and troop together. Since news of her enlistment in the 501st Legion spread to members worldwide, the family has received messages from around the globe. “We can’t get grandma out of the bed right now, but they’re all looking forward to troop with her.”

And he has plans to make two more Jawa costumes for his parents — Carlos already has his own along with several other 501st-approved ensembles — so all five family members can hit the sand dunes looking for droids they can sell to unsuspecting moisture farmers.


The Most Impressive Fans Q&A

Carlos J. Ramos Moll (IC31480), 69 years old, Dad

Who is your favorite Star Wars character?

Yoda, because of his knowledge and charisma.

Which Star Wars film ranks highest on your list?

A New Hope.

What’s your first Star Wars memory?

I skipped class from college to see it when it came out in Puerto Rico.

Do you have a favorite scene?

In Empire Strikes Back when Luke begins training with Yoda.

If you had to choose: join the rebels or live the Imperial life?

The Empire.

Adela M. Ramos (IC78913), 68 years old, Mom

Who is your favorite Star Wars character? 

Princess Leia, because it shows how women can lead and be strong role models.

Which Star Wars film ranks highest on your list?

A New Hope.

What’s your first Star Wars memory?

Buying the action figures for my children when they were first released in Puerto Rico.

Do you have a favorite scene?

Anything Yoda was involved in because I found him to be intellectual.

If you had to choose: join the rebels or live the Imperial life?

The Empire.

Yadira Ramos (DZ21612), 43-years-old, Sis

Who is your favorite Star Wars character? 

BB-8 because I love the way he rolls around in the films and he is funny!

Which Star Wars film ranks highest on your list?

The Force Awakens, because it brings back our old familiar heroes and introduces new characters and a strong female lead.

What’s your first Star Wars memory?

Playing with the toys we received as kids.

Do you have a favorite scene?

When BB-8 gives a thumbs up to Finn. It’s something you never would expect from a droid.

If you had to choose: join the rebels or live the Imperial life?

The Empire.

Carlos R. Ramossanchez (TK10567), 43 years old, Twin brother

Who is your favorite Star Wars character? 

I always wanted to be Han Solo as a kid, but I was always fascinated with the Stormtroopers.

Which Star Wars film ranks highest on your list?

The Empire Strikes Back. It has so much information and development of characters — the struggle the heroes go through and the way the Empire is focused on their discovery.

What’s your first Star Wars memory?

Receiving toys from the line and, although I never saw A New Hope or Empire in the theaters, I remember going to the movie theater in Puerto Rico to see Return of the Jedi with my entire family!

Do you have a favorite scene?

I used to say my favorite scene is when Darth Vader showed up in A New Hope with the stormtroopers to capture the plans, but after seeing Rogue One, the scene at the end is so much more intense. That has become my favorite scene.

If you had to choose: join the rebels or live the Imperial life?

The Empire.

Mercedes Rentas Gelabert (DZ11927) 90 years old, Grandma (answers as told by grandson Carlos)

Who is your favorite Star Wars character? 

She is a fan of the movies mainly due to her grandchildren being fans.

Which Star Wars film ranks highest on your list?

Return of the Jedi. She thought the furry bears were cute and funny.

What’s your first Star Wars memory?

Going to see Return of the Jedi with the grandkids at the theater in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Do you have a favorite scene?

The Ewoks in the forest.

If you had to choose: join the rebels or live the Imperial life?

The Empire.

Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Follow her on Twitter @KristinBaver.

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