4 May 2023

Meet the Canberra cosplayers who celebrate Star Wars Day every day

| James Coleman
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Star Wars

Star Wars cosplayers at the Canberra Geek Markets. Photo: James Coleman.

Canberra man Paul Anderson will be heading to the Goulburn library today. But far from browsing the books like it were any other weekday, this is May the 4th, recognised the world over as ‘Star Wars Day’ for its similarity to the Jedi blessing, “May the Force be with you”.

This means Paul will be entertaining the region’s kids dressed as an Imperial Scout from Return of the Jedi. And he won’t be alone.

Paul is a member of the 501st Legion, an international fan-based organisation dedicated to the construction and wearing of ‘screen-accurate’ replicas of Imperial stormtroopers, Sith lords, clone troopers, bounty hunters, and other villains from the Star Wars universe.

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In the Canberra region, it’s represented by the Black Tower Squad. While it might simply appear as an icon of the Canberra skyline or maybe an upside-down syringe, to others the brutish concrete design of Black Mountain Tower (or Telstra Tower) could pass for an Imperial base in a galaxy, far, far away. So inspired, Paul and tens of other local cosplayers formed the squad in 2017.

“We’re the bad guys, if you want to look at it that way,” he says.

The ‘good guys’ are represented by the ‘Mandalorian Mercs‘ (or Mercenaries) and Rebel Legion – which includes the Jedi warrior-monks, fighter pilots and ‘wookies’ – both with members in the ACT.

All three groups are managed by the Southern Cross Garrison, which covers NSW and the ACT.

Star Wars

A Mandalorian at the Canberra Geek Markets. Photo: James Coleman.

“We have troops as far away as Orange, Albury, as well as Goulburn, Queanbeyan and Canberra,” Paul says.

“But because we’re a relatively small area here, a lot of what we do is combined, so if one club gets an invitation, there is the opportunity for other clubs to come along.”

But far from fighting for intergalactic peace, they exist for “charity”.

“The idea is that it’s a group of people who enjoy dressing up in movie-accurate costumes and get together for charity events,” Paul says.

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These include the Cancer Council’s annual Relay for Life in Goulburn, the Special Children’s Christmas Party in Canberra, Dreamnight at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, as well as other charity events “as best we can”.

There’s no charge for appearances at private weddings, formals or birthday parties, either. The group only ask for donations to a chosen charity partner, which – at the moment – is the Black Dog Institute.

Star Wars

Members of the Black Tower Squad, dressed in Star Wars costumes. Photo: Paul Anderson.

Paul joined the 501st Legion in 2017, prompted by his daughter’s love-struck reaction to a Darth Vader impersonator.

“She has autism and doesn’t really show much emotion,” he explains.

“But we were at a special party in 2016, and when she saw Darth Vader, she just took to him – grabbed his leg and refused to let go. It was the first time I had seen a reaction from her like that, and I thought, ‘Damn, I want to be part of that’.”

He’s since bought three costumes from US-based online stores – a TIE fighter pilot, an Imperial gunner and a Scout. His daughter isn’t such a fan of the gunner suit, which is “entirely black from head to foot” and features some components Paul has crafted himself.

“She won’t come to me if I’ve got that on,” he says.

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The typical costume is available in one of two sizes – standard and large – and costs up to $500. Some reach as high as $3000.

“It’s not a cheap thing to get into.”

The realism of the costumes means some of Paul’s fellow troopers have to remove their helmets to show kids there’s a real person underneath. But for the most part, they attract plenty of photos, high-fives, and conversations about costumes and characters.

“Sometimes, they’ll be really pleased to see us and come right up and want photos. Others want to talk about their favourite episode or character, but others just run in fear and terror. We try to stay in character.”

Star Wars

Canberra doesn’t have its own Darth Vader, but this one lives near Goulburn. Photo: Paul Anderson.

His wife might want nothing to do with Star Wars, but Paul admits it’s also for the fun.

“We joined for different reasons, but we’re all there because it’s fun. We’re all a big family really.”

Because many of the members have work commitments during the day, they can’t guarantee attendance at events on weekdays. But they’ll do their best, with enough notice.

“The sooner we get the request, the sooner we can start looking at people who can go along.”

Visit the Southern Cross Garrison website for more information.

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