July 27, 2015 could be recorded as the beginning of the renaissance period for the Star Wars community in Asia. On a hot and humid afternoon, more than 100 costumers from nine different territories answered the call by Disney and marched in the Hong Kong Disneyland parade. Despite the love the region has always had for Star Wars, there has never been a cohesive identity behind it. That is, until now.
Considering Asia spans such an enormous region of the world with so many languages and cultures, it should come as no surprise that cooperative events of a large scale haven’t been easy to organize. It was in 2001 that I was contacted by Shuji Hayashi in Japan with the proposal to form a 501st unit there. Ever since then, I’ve seen 501st units pop up all over central and southeast Asia — all with raging enthusiasm. But a pan-Asian effort was hard to envision. Celebration Japan in 2008 was as close as we came. Like in the boardgame Risk, it’s just crazy hard to maintain a single force in Asia.
Leave it to Disney to make dreams come true. Jac Tong, event organizer for Disney, reached out to 501st Legion and Rebel Legion units in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. Along with 501st Hong Kong XO, Man Kam Sang (TK ID 2328), they plotted a single mission: stage the largest assemblage of Star Wars characters ever seen in that part of the world, and do so with fans from all across Asia.
Executing that mission would be most impressive. In fact, the sheer amount of communications, logistics, and on-the-ground work caused everyone to rethink how they did everything. Costumers became translators, both for the Disney documents in English and for communicating with neighboring units and their languages. Costumes were quickly outfitted with improvements to deal with the heat and humidity of the event, and Disney staffers scrambled to prepare the park for a newly choreographed performance. Units also flew in on separate flights to prevent undue attention from the local press, while Legion members on the ground improvised wi-fi units to coordinate with each other to converge on the target.
After months of work, the plan was in motion. By parade day minus two, everyone had arrived in Hong Kong and wasted no time bonding as a Legion. The Macau Outpost hosted a proper welcome with a traditional Chinese dinner that never seemed to end. Groups joined up to tour Mongkok and Yau Ma Tei for toy shopping, a past time every Star Wars fan understands. Members gathered at the hotel to compare armor techniques and show off their latest work. At last, Star Wars Asia had a community in one place!
Parade day minus one saw rehearsals and interview coaching for the next day’s press conference. Such was the fever pitch over the event that the media was eager to hear from this collection of super cool fans. A large dinner hosted by Disney followed, which members of the Japanese Garrison celebrated by wearing summer kimonos (called yukatas) printed in Star Wars decorations. The maker was a survivor of the 2011 tsunami. At the dinner, the Legions received their special event packages and were welcomed as visiting heroes.
Moses Kong, TI11480 of the Macau Outpost, had this to say about the convergence:
“The 501st Legion Macau Outpost is a small, tight-knit group. We consist of six members and we only attended localized charity and community events. With the fan parade organized by Disney, it allowed us to come out and undergo a renaissance — the Force awakened inside us. Suddenly, our contact list multiplied as we made many new friends who share the same interest. We discovered new ways to upgrade our equipment and we finally realized that the 501st Legion is not only a simple Star Wars fan club but an extended family of Star Wars brothers and sisters!“
Against this backdrop another coming-together occurred. Several female costumers finally got to meet face-to-face after only knowing one another over the Internet. It is no secret that female fans have come forward in the last 10 years to claim a proud and prominent place in Star Wars fandom. This was much harder in a region where groups do not meet together regularly. So for one weekend, the ladies were here to make sure the world knew that Star Wars is for everyone.
TyreneTeo, BH 80666 of Singapore Garrison, said it best:
“This was a big moment for me, as for the longest time I’ve been one of only two ladies in armor in Singapore Garrison. Meeting and getting to know these wonderful women made me cry tears of joy inside. We showed the boys that Star Wars is not only for the guys. The girls are just as passionate about it as well.”
The next day, the invasion commenced. Up at 4:30 a.m. and loaded onto buses, the combined forces from nine territories prepared for battle. At the resort they formed up in the halls of the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, the one interior area large enough to stage them before step-off.
Tyrene remembers pre-event preparations were their own adventure:
“Rehearsal was not without a few hiccups in terms of walking in the middle of the road, but mainly it was so that we don’t walk into the official photographers who were squatting in the middle. Then the big photo op. A crane extended above us. The photographer shouting commands for us to be in line and some on the ground helping to arrange us beautifully. In the hot blazing sun, we stood there for about 15 mins, armor couldn’t protect us from the heat. But we knew that this is the picture that we will remember for years to come.”
But a disturbance was felt in the Force. Rain began to move in. The invasion appeared doomed. Moses recounts:
“Everybody wondered that, after so much hard work by the organizers and coming this far, whether this parade [would] be ruined by the summer monsoon. Suddenly, our bus exploded in tunes of science fiction and fantasy songs — including scores from our beloved Star Wars — which boosted everybody’s morale. Thus, the karaoke bus was born.”
Anna Yamana, TK7888 of the Japanese Garrison, waited in her Tusken gear along with dozens of other Imperials and Rebels on the buses. Then the word went out:
“The Disney staff asked if we would be willing to walk the parade route in a very light rain. We said ‘YES!’ So off the bus we went, and hurried quickly into our parade formation. We didn’t have to wait long; only a few minutes later, we heard a familiar announcement begin in a bright, cheerful man’s voice: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,’ it began, filling us all with excitement. We all knew the announcement, but we knew it as eager guests waiting for a Disney parade. We had never been on the other side of the Disney gates, eager to entertain the waiting crowd. Then the Star Wars main theme played over the park’s loud speakers as we set out on our march, with thousands of fans and dozens of media crews watching in excitement. It was an amazing event for everyone involved, and over so quickly that we didn’t even have time to feel hot or tired. We finished full of exhilaration, surrounded by friends old and new who all shared a passion for sharing their love of Star Wars with the world!”
Anna took a moment to appreciate what had just been accomplished:
“After a huge group photo, it was time to go home. It wasn’t until I saw the Hong Kong Disney cast members crying as they hugged each other that I realized just how stressful that whole project had been for them. It was obvious that they had worked incredibly hard, and I felt gratitude for their efforts. Hopefully, now that we all know each other, perhaps we can better help each other next time.”
Mission accomplished. The fans at Disneyland Hong Kong were treated to a mix of Imperial and Rebel never before seen in the East. How big an impact it had in the region and the identity of Star Wars fans cannot be measured, but if the cheers and the swelling of pride in the costumers is any indication, there was a seismic shift in the world of Star Wars Asia.
Moses recalls it personally:
“The nostalgia, the bliss, and the feeling of bond and brotherhood between diehard Star Wars fans – there is no words in the English vocabulary to describe the mixture of ecstatic sensations of that day. Not even the smoldering heat and the humid air could stop the relentless advance of troopers led by the unlikely duo of Darth Vader and his old friend R2D2.”
In his final report, Man Kam lays it all out:
“111 Star Wars fans from nine territories across Asia, two local celebrities – Ms. Shiga Lin & Mr. Pakho Chau and R2-D2 are joined the marching at 12 p.m. Start at street near to Fantasy World, and go through Sleeping Beauty Castle and Main Street, USA. We shared the Disney Magic Journey and happiness to everyone. Not only the parade success, it is also the great moment in Hong Kong Star Wars history.
Take this opportunity, I must thank Lucasfilm, Hong Kong Disneyland, and The Walt Disney Company Hong Kong for my appointment and trust; and thank the joint command, including Dominic Zou from the 501st Singapore Garrison, Roy Waung from 501st Taiwan Outpost, WachilapatIntuputi from 501st Thailand, and Frank Zhang from 501st Chinese Garrison. Finally, thanks to all brothers and sisters who attended and supported the parade, the support team formed by Hong Kong Star Wars Fans, OAT Limited.”
So if last month you felt a ripple in the Force, as if a thousand voices cried out all at once, now you know why. Star Wars Asia has seen a new dawn in fandom and nothing will ever be the same. And after 18 years of watching this gradually unfold, I personally can’t wait to see what comes next.
Albin Johnson was a lowly stormtrooper on Detention Block 2551 before Lord Vader lost a bet and allowed him to find the 501st Legion “Vader’s Fist.” He’s also man-servant to R2-KT, “the pink Imperial droid with the heart of gold.” You can learn more at 501st.com and r2kt.com or follow Albin’s off-duty antics at albinjohnson.com.