Star Wars, by its very title, is a tale of epic battles. It’s a pageant of good versus evil, a struggle between conquest and salvation. It’s not called Star Romance or Star Force-Magic or any other title tied to one of its underlying themes. Those things happen against the back-drop of a good-old-fashioned war story.
People love a good throw-down. It’s in our blood to compete. Those of you reading this blog may not engage in tribal warfare like our ancestors, but we still find ways to identify with modern-day “tribes” of a sort. Sports are a clear example of that as an outlet. Sports fans identify with their teams like they are our tribes. We wear their colors, we cheer like maniacs, and we take a lot of joy (and regret) over watching them battle it out.
Two years ago I found a fun way to mash up my love of Star Wars with my love of watching football. I repainted an old set of Stormtrooper armor in Carolina Panthers colors just for fun. I reported in this blog last year the growing number of “Sports Troopers” who decorate their Star Wars costumes to match their favorite sports teams. The responses surprised me.
I figured sports fans with no interest in Star Wars would think us crazy. After all, they likely don’t have an appreciation for imagination and costuming that Star Wars fans should have. But it was Star Wars fans who were the most puzzled by this trend. Some wrote me asking, “Why waste time on something like sports?”
Oh, how our assumptions get tested!
On November 18 the New England Patriots came to visit my Panthers. My good friend and fellow 501st Legion member Sean Carmichael contacted me months in advance. Sean happens to be “Patriots Trooper,” sporting a set of clone trooper armor repainted in Patriots colors. He and I have always enjoyed a friendly rivalry over our teams. He invited me to join him at the game and posed the challenge: “What if Panthers Trooper and Patriots Trooper made an appearance?”
Like I said, everyone enjoys a good throw down!
Say no more, I was in. He reserved us seats right on the 50-yard line, just 13 rows up from the field! He and his wife flew down and our local Garrison hosted them for a quick dinner before the game. Also in attendance, members of our Swiss Garrison and Garrison Italica from Italy. It was truly a Legion event!
Shortly after that, we hopped onto the light rail to the game. To my surprise, it was the 501 train. I’m not kidding. To paraphrase Lord Vader: “It was our destiny.”
All during our trip to the stadium the fans went nuts over our appearance. Every 10 feet it seemed someone wanted a picture of one or both of us. Sean’s wife, Krista, went the extra mile and made herself up as “Patriots Leia” and she was an even bigger hit!
At the game it was a surreal experience watching football from inside a helmet. The energy was high as half the stadium had to be Pats fans and they were out in force! (Pardon the pun.) The noise level, at a record high, rang through my helmet like an amplifier!
I hate to admit, but Pats Trooper was a much bigger hit with the Pats fans than Panthers Trooper was with the locals. Credit goes to Sean for a stunning job capturing the Pats symbols on his helmet in such a creative way. It all goes back to that “tribal markings” concept I mentioned earlier. People really identify with symbols that they love. And that went double because of our Star Wars presence. Half the people who stopped us were thrilled to see Stormtroopers in the building, the other half went nuts over seeing their teams represented.
Somehow we missed getting put up on the Jumbotron, however. You had guys in colorful clown-wigs and one guy in a luchador mask who got some camera time. I’m not sure how they could have missed two guys doing a rock-em-sock-em-robots impression, but with the crowds we were an enormous hit. And the Panthers PR department was very excited, putting local reporters onto us for our story. Even Jonathon Stewart, running back for the Panthers, was excited to find out Panthers Trooper was there and wearing his number!
Another unexpected surprise was that the theme of the game was “Support Our Troops” in honor of the military. Some of the fans had fun with that, yelling encouragement to us as troopers from Star Wars. But it was of course all about the real heroes: our brave men and women in the military. They didn’t seem to mind, though, because every soldier we met went nuts over seeing us. It was something else to get photos with the real troopers.
Star Wars, for me, has always been about having fun with one’s imagination. It was quite a thrill to share a great Star Wars sports moment with some great friends from the 501st. It was also cool to show my team how proud I am of them in a way that was new and eye-catching. And as a former psychology major it was fun to study just how sports fans would accept geek culture. I always consider the 501st to be ambassadors of the Star Wars universe to the world at large. I’m proud to say that fun is alive and well in both the fandom world and the sports-fan world!