The Force is Strong with This Parade

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Every Labor Day, fandoms from all corners of the entertainment universe converge in Atlanta for Dragon*Con, which touts itself as “the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe!” One of the highlights of the weekend is the official Dragon*Con parade that happens on Saturday morning. This costumed display has become such a big attraction that even Atlanta residents that don’t attend the con get to the route an hour ahead of the parade’s start time to make sure they have an optimal viewing experience.


I have been attending Dragon*Con for well over a decade, but this was the first time I watched the parade. I now feel slightly foolish for missing it all these years. It’s an incredibly fun experience, seeing so many enthusiastic fans turn out in their best finery for everyone to see — even if it is a little early in day. From “Dr. Who” to “Game of Thrones,” almost every franchise you can think of has fans marching in full regalia. Anime and manga are well represented, as are cartoon favorites, and the steampunk contingent is huge and impressive.

But the grand finale of the morning? It’s the Star Wars costumers, naturally. After all the other sights and delights have passed by, you would think the crowd would be exhausted from cheering and clapping, but the second the first vehicle with a paint job from a galaxy far, far away becomes visible, the spectators all seem to get a fresh burst of energy. It’s as though the event turns into Star Wars Carnivale for the last leg of the show.

It starts with custom-painted Star Wars cars, carrying such illustrious passengers as Imperial troopers and even Master Yoda himself. (I’ll confess it made me consider a repaint for my own wheels.) Next up are the life-size LEGO characters, which are utterly adorable and made the kids (and adults) around me squeal and gasp. Then, the royal class graces us — escorted by a Jedi entourage, of course. Even a motherly she-Vader walks the route, tempting onlookers with cookies from the dark side. Right on her heels is Emperor Popetine (no, that’s not a typo) and an assortment of Dark Jedi, just so anyone considering a life dedicated to the ways of the Force knows they have options outside the Jedi temple.

Next up are costuming clubs. The Mandalorian Mercs are first. If you’ve never seen this crew in action, you will be amazed at how colorful they are as a group. I love to see people take an idea and run with it, and the custom-designed bounty hunter costumes in this assembly really show off incredible creativity and style. The Mercs are followed by the good guys of the Rebel Legion: There are plenty of members of the Jedi Order, Rebel pilots, Leias, and even a group of Victorian-inspired costumers done up in the orange and white of X-wing pilots. Did you know there’s a Kilted Trooper Brigade? If you’re having trouble figuring out what that might entail, it’s armor or Imperial uniform up top, kilts on bottom, and there are a LOT of them in the Dragon*Con parade.  Last but not least, the 501st members march through the streets. They’re a huge contingent, and the crowd goes crazy, because everyone loves armor.  It’s the perfect way to end the parade.

The best thing about this event, for me, is the passion and pride of fandom on display. The people marching love their costumes and the movies that inspired them, and they bring spectators so much delight. Clone troopers high five kids and kids-at-heart. Jawas frolic right alongside Tusken Raiders. Biker Scouts party like the Emperor gave them a day off. And I couldn’t help but notice that no one marches in single file to hide their numbers.

Holly Frey cohosts the PopStuff podcast at HowStuffWorks.com. She’s an avid costumer, and Star Wars has been an integral part of her life since opening day in 1977.

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