My Star Wars costuming experience has come full circle. It started out as an admiration and envy of those marching in costume at Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. At that time I had no idea who the costumed group was or how they got their hands on such screen-accurate costumes. Fast forward a few years and I was part of that parade myself five times over two different weekends in 2015! I even got a chance to troop with my brother, Nathan, and his son, Ethan, who came out with their whole family from California.
The first weekend was largely a “research” weekend with friends in preparation for when my family came out for a full-blown vacation troop the second weekend.
My First Weekend
I went down with a few friends on Thursday, May 14, 2015. The next morning we arrived at the employee entrance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There was a coned-off section in the parking lot designated as the place to set out our costume bins for dogs to sniff for security.
You can get a sense just from the costume bin decorations just how intense the 501st members are. There was probably about $200k worth of costumes just sitting in the parking lot by the time everyone arrived.
On the left are the guys I traveled with: Patrick Gray and Bobby Shively (and not pictured, Kristin Mullaney, who was there to take pictures and enjoy the parks). To the right of me is fellow Georgia Garrison member Jeff Gossmann (oh – and I’m the guy in the flip flops).
We checked in and picked up our back-stage badges and the swag we had ordered.
From this point until we get to the parade I don’t have any more pictures because Disney is pretty strict about no pictures backstage.
While the dogs are checking out our bins we’re hanging out in a warehouse adjacent to the employee parking lot where the parade floats are maintained. People who had done this before were easy to spot because they brought camp chairs to sit in. The rest of us sat on the warehouse floor or stood around.
There was a debriefing at 9:30am. Then we begin suiting up around 9:45. We didn’t have to line up for our marching order until 10:35 so I used some of that free that time to trade cards.
On Saturday all of the TDs stepped back out into the parking lot to get pictures right before lineup. It was fascinating to see the slight differences in everyone’s kits, from the shape of certain pieces of the kit, to the dirt paint jobs, to accessories like packs, pouches, and backpacks.
They called out the costume order for the parade at 10:35. We had about 10 minutes to decide within each detachment how we’d organize ourselves. For the sandtroopers we decided each day that we’d line up from shortest to tallest. Thanks to my 1 inch lifts that I put in my boots I was always in the last or second-to-last row of sandtroopers.
Soon we were walking in order to the step-off point that enters Hollywood Studios. From here we could see the Disney costumed characters and sometimes even the Star Wars celebrities drive by as they took their place for the parade. One day James Arnold Taylor walked through the crowd of 501st folks and said hi, thanked us for being there, and just chatted a bit.
We stood at the step-off point for 10-15 minutes, hydrating as best we could. Right at 11 the parade began and we marched out into the park!
It was amazing! Star Wars music blaring, crowd going wild, and Mr. Announcer introducing the 501st Legion!
We were instructed in how to walk and how to hold our gun. All stormtroopers were required to keep head forward and not wave. But under my helmet I kept moving my eyes right and left watching people frantically getting their cameras pointed and focused as we walked by.
In this image I’m the guy with the orange shoulder pauldron right behind a guy with a white shoulder pauldron. You can see the large beige gate in the very left side of the image that leads to the backstage step-off area.
In this one I’m the one with the lamp post coming right out of my head:
The third day, Sunday, it rained on us just a tad. It was no biggy. Caused a slight delay in step-off time for the parade but otherwise it kinda cooled us off a little bit.
And here are a few videos of the entire parade done by blogger-type people.
In this one I’m at the 1:40 mark:
In this one it’s the 4 minute mark:
And this one the 3:13 mark:
With weekend 1 down, lessons learned in the bank, I was ready to lead the way with my family to weekend 2!
My Second Weekend
While the first weekend was a lot of fun and I’ll never forget the first time I stepped out into Hollywood Studios for the very first parade, the second time I went down there was especially memorable because I got to share the experience with family. We met my brother and his family for weekend 4, which was held from June 5-7.
Here’s a picture of me, my brother Nathan, and his son Ethan prior to suiting up.
Here we are suited up:
Our wives and kids were sitting on the parade route.
My two daughters were dressed in Jango and Boba Fett dresses that my wife made for them before the trip so they got a nice surprise from Jango Fett (a Disney Employee, not 501st) as he walked by.
Here are a few pictures of the troop from that weekend. I’m the only one with a T21 blaster with a sling hanging down. My nephew is right in front of me.
Needless to say it was just an awesome experience and like I said at the beginning a nice way to “round out” my experience with the 501st. I can thank the Star Wars Weekends parade at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for getting me into the 501st, and now I’ve even participated in the parade myself. I can’t imagine this troop ever being topped in terms of crowd reaction and breadth/depth of 501st participation. I trooped with roughly 15 other sandtroopers! This will definitely be on the list of must-do troops in the years to come.