By the end of 2007, Mandalorian Mercs had started to really take off as a group. Our scattered membership had taken part in many events, and we had gotten our first European Clan. By the time 2008 rolled around, we had five very active clans and just over 50 official members. We had our first real test in damage-control in late 2007 with the death of our website and forum, but we came through that, and by 2008 had a brand new platform running strong for the group. In fact, it’s the same website and forum we continue to use today.
One of my most memorable moments of 2008 was participating in the “Mandalorian Wedding” at San Diego Comic-Con. Two of our members (who had been married in May) had wanted to do a Mandalorian-themed Star Wars wedding. After speaking with them, we all decided that San Diego Comic-Con would be the perfect place to have the “Mando” wedding. It was Mandalorian Mercs’ first year as a fan-group at SDCC, and making sure we presented ourselves and the organization well to the fans was a top priority. I booked a ticket, packed up my newly finished Mark 2 armor, and flew from North Carolina to California to help with our presentation, and the wedding.
The first order of business outside the fan-table duty was to present our 2nd Honorary Membership. We were very lucky that Karen Traviss was slated as a guest author, and it was an honor to present her with this great award. Her work as a Star Wars author helped propel Mandalorian fandom to new heights, and we were very privileged to be able to honor her for that work. While Karen would be unable to attend the wedding, she wrote a copy of the traditional Mandalorian wedding vows for the couple to use at the ceremony. Karen and I had been conversing about Mandalorians via e-mail for quite a while, so it was great to finally meet her in person. Later on during the convention we had lunch together with a mutual friend (who was also a Mando Mercs member), and she read us some lines from Republic Commando: Order 66 that would come out later that year. There’s something to say about listening to the author read to you, especially in a proper English accent.
Mando Mercs had several events going on, with photo shoots at the Lucasfilm pavilion and Slave Leia photo-op bodyguard duty being two of our biggest. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many camera flashes go off at one time than I have at the Slave Leia shoot. Even behind the darkened T-visor, it was almost blinding.
Friday is traditionally “Star Wars Day” at Comic-Con, so that was the day we decided to have the wedding. It had been decided that the wedding would take place behind the convention center in Embarcadero Park, so a small arch laced with ivy had been constructed along with a carpet for the wedding procession. To keep it in “Mandalorian Tradition” the ceremonies were kept to a minimum, but many Star Wars costumers came out to take part in the event. The couple had asked me to officiate the wedding, and I was honored to take that part. Without being too wordy, I welcomed everyone who came out and proceeded into a short ceremony where the couple exchanged the traditional wedding vows. Once the couple was finished, I shouted “OYA!” (the traditional Mando cheer) to which the attendees followed with a group “OYA!” After that it was pictures before we retreated to the comfort of Joe’s Crab Shack for the reception. One thing I didn’t foresee was how much attention the wedding would receive — not only did the local NBC affiliate come out, but the story was covered by a Reuters reporter and ended up on news outlets as far away as India. There’s still part of me that wonders what the people of India thought when reading about this event.
Saturday at SDCC would find me setting a personal record of time “in-armor” as I made it a full 18 hours completely kitted up…including bathroom breaks (don’t ask me how — it’s magic!). I had been invited to several after-hour events, but I was exhausted by the time the day was over. Sunday was my day of rest, where I was able to get out and actually see the convention floor unimpeded by photographers. The best part about SDCC was getting to meet the West Coast Mando Mercs members. Part of my trip out was to show them how important they were to Mando Mercs, and that if they were putting their faith in the idea, then I was going to go out of my way for them. I made many friends on that trip, and it wouldn’t be long until new clans would sprout up across California.
One of the most important moments for me at SDCC would come from the imparting of wisdom from a good friend of mine who would go on to found the Dune Sea Clan in Arizona, and I still remember them to this day. “If you want this to work, you’re going to have to be out in front inspiring people to join…sort of like the Pope of Mandos.” I thought that was a little bit too much at first, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that a good leader has to lead by example. There is a lot of commitment and sacrifice that goes into leadership. It can’t be about power, glory, flashy titles, or any of that nonsense. The only real perk to being a leader is knowing the job you’re doing is bringing others joy, because when you start thinking about yourself, it’s time to step down.
After SDCC, the next big event was DragonCon 2008. Mandalorian Mercs had an even bigger appearance for our second time at the show, with an actual fan-group table filled with all the trimmings. Many of our official members from across the US came out to be part of the show, and it was a great time for everyone. I was overwhelmed by the amount of energy members were showing on both East and West Coasts. It really sank in just how much people wanted to see Mandalorian Mercs succeed, and that gave me the desire to push forward and work on expanding the group.
By the fall of 2008, Mandalorian Mercs had chartered 13 clans which included the Canada, UK, and Mexico. It was during this time that I was approached by several of our members and Command Council officers regarding setting a formal standard for the organization’s leader. Up until this point I had never officially held the title of “Mandalore” in the Mando Mercs, I was simply the founder and current Commanding Officer of Talon Clan (NC/SC chapter). I had written our charter to mimic a Mandalorian-style governance similar to what we knew in the Expanded Universe, but I had never felt right about declaring myself as the overall leader…that should be something the members felt was earned. With that in mind and with the Command Council agreeing, we agreed to let the members make the decision. A long list of epithets was put forth to the Mercs members, most of which came from Command Council suggestions. By the end of the vote, a majority of members had decided on an epithet that wasn’t on the list; “the Uniter.” While I embraced this as the will of the membership, I couldn’t really wrap my head around “the Uniter.” Knowing how canon Mandalores had awesome titles like “the Ultimate,” “the Indomitable,” or “the Destroyer,” made “the Uniter” feel a bit lack-luster. It wasn’t until someone explained how they felt it was fitting since I had united the various pocket groups and fans. That was the point it clicked for me, and I felt (and continue to feel) deeply honored.
So 2008 wrapped up a great year for the Mandalorian Mercs. Several new clans and members were on-board, we had participated in our first major events, and Mercs had named their leader; 2009 had some big shoes to fill!