Last week, 21-year-old Aussie Jacob French completed a grueling trek across his home country. He started last summer and walked 3,000 miles from Perth to Sydney to raise funds for Australia’s Starlight Children’s Foundation.
And he did it wearing a stormtrooper costume.
French is a member of the 501st Legion, an international group of costumed Star Wars fans who regularly gather to raise money and awareness for various charities. “Jacob is a great example of the unique characters we get in the Legion,” says Scott Allen, who serves as Charity Officer for the 501st (his current preferred costume is an ESB-era Darth Vader).
Allen explains that the Legion started 15 years ago as an alliance of like-minded folks who enjoyed wearing stormtrooper gear to events such as movie premieres, “just because it seemed like it would be a fun thing to do every once in a while.” Since then the group has evolved into something much bigger.
“Different organizations started asking us if we would show up,” Allen says. “We became sort of this unofficial charity fundraising machine over the years. And so now we get literally hundreds of requests every year to help raise funds for charity in one respect or another.”
They may be having fun doing it, but this is serious business: “In the past three years we’ve raised — just as us, the guys and gals in the costumes — between 250,000 to 350,000 dollars each year as an organization for charity,” says Allen. “And then we’ve appeared at other events where they’ve advertised us and they’ve said, come meet the Star Wars characters, so indirectly we’ve helped raise, like last year, 11 million dollars.”
Eleven million dollars. That’s definitely using the Force for good.
In The Comlink, “Star Wars” fan and MTV News producer Tami Katzoff explores the glory days of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Whether you’re Team Jedi or Team Sith, friend of Wookiees or wanted by bounty hunters, any and all “Star Wars” fans are welcome along for the ride.