Monday, June 13, 2016

Want to rule the galaxy? Be a stormtrooper at ToyCon!

What has plastoid composite body armor for blast protection, modified sniper plates for field operations, and a soft spot for helping others? It’s none other than a Stormtrooper from the 501st Legion, and at the ToyCon 2016 at the SMX Convention Center last June 10-12, these troopers with a heart of gold spread the terror (and love!) of the Empire all weekend.

Bad guys doing good

Every year at ToyCon, avid collectors hold exhibits of their prized possessions, trusted merchants lay out their wares for eager bargain toy hunters, and cosplay fanatics duke it out on stage and revel in the sheer joy of wearing their fandom. While the other participants of ToyCon last weekend lined up for much-awaited comic book signings, rocked out to Kristian Nairn (who will always be revered for holding the door for all of us) and his Rave of Thrones, and gushed out to Dean Cain’s interviews, the members of the 501st Legion’s Philippine Outpost patrolled the grounds in the name of the Empire. Of course, when they’re not trying to rule the Galaxy or trying to scour the scene for trooper hopefuls, they’re happily posing for pictures with devoted Star Wars fans—all in Vader’s name, of course!

“Some people join The Rotary Club, The Lions Club, or other charity organizations. The 501st is no different,” says John SideƱo, trooper since 2011. “Currently, we have a membership of 7,000 members worldwide within possession of at least one screen-accurate Star Wars costume.” So no, they are not mascots or cosplayers, and yes, the 501st Legion is that huge. As the leading force in fan-based charitable occasions, Vader’s Fist not only promotes undying loyalty to the Empire, but it also dedicates itself to brightening the lives of the less-fortunate people around the world—one humble Stormtrooper at a time.

The official Philippine Garrison of the 501st Legion is a non-stock, non-profit volunteer organization. Aside from ruling the Galaxy, all they really want to do is to volunteer for charity, which is why they never charge for appearances in events. They have already helped organizations such as Tuloy Foundation, PGH Silahis ng Kalusugan School, Kythe, Inc., HERO Foundation, Make-A-Wish Foundation Philippines, and so much more. “Last year, we raised over 14.7 million USD for charity coming from Garrisons all over the world,” says John. “It’s fulfilling, but it’s also hard work.”

For the love of Star Wars

Dressed as Attack of the Clones Clone Trooper Phase 1, John is a true Star Wars fan. During this weekend’s ToyCon, he had photo-ops with Daniel Logan, star of Episode 2 as Boba Fett. “Wearing fiberglass in tropical weather is probably some crazy person’s version of a good time, but for us, it’s a labor of love—the love for Star Wars,” he shares. Their costumes are born from meticulous research and loads of hard work, usually built by their own hands and painstakingly assembled with a passion that’s unlike any other.

That doesn’t mean he and his fellow brothers-in-arms can’t take breaks from their armors every now and then, especially since ToyCon has so much to offer. The geeky merchandise have definitely increased this year, with more busts and displays of DC Comics fan faves, a Suicide Squad prison booth and a tattoo parlor from Harley Quinn, retro gaming paraphernalia, adorable Tsum Tsums stacked on top of each other, dazzling Disney Princess figurines, more comic book hardcovers on sale, and an awesome Stan Lee exhibit.  Visitors also got a chance to meet top comic artist and creative director Pat Lee for sketches and autographs, as well as test out new board games with friends. There was a full-on Tokyo Underground Experience with Hiddy from Secret Base, Electric Ribbon, Yanakiku, and an electrifying music jam from DJ Kasu, who brought on waves and waves of nostalgia with well-loved opening and ending themes from favorite anime shows of old. After all, who can resist screaming cha-la-head-cha-la at the top of their lungs?

Of course, there was Funko Pop galore in almost every corner, with large Pop statues of Frozen characters, the Hulkbuster, and even our very own local mythical creature, the Manananggal. The highlight of the displays and the favorite photo-op for all the visitors was the gigantic Voltes V model that even the 501st Legion couldn’t resist to pose with. What used to be an approximate of Php100 as an entry fee during previous years is now Php500 per head, but that’s only because ToyCon 2016 is bigger and better than ever.

The Empire wants you

Still, if you want to attend next year’s ToyCon (which will be held on June 30th, July 1st, and July 2nd 2017) with a different kind of ultimate fan experience, why not sign up for the Philippine Outpost of the 501st Legion? They’ve been part of the Philippine Toys & Collectibles Convention since 2005, and if you’re loyal, hardworking, and fully expendable, then yes, the Empire wants you!

“The 501st has very strict requirements. One must have a screen-accurate costume from the Galactic Empire, meaning the villains from the film’s and expanded universe. One must also be at least 18 years of age and is required to participate in one major SW event once a year to be on the active roster,” says Clone Captain John. “One must also do handler duties before becoming a member. Once the Legion sees that all requirements are met by Legion standards, you will be issued a Legion ID number based on your character.” John’s is Legion ID TC8358.

Once you become a member of the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers, also known as Vader’s Fist, the most important aspect of your work is your heart that’s bursting with charitable love. “The 501st and the Rebel Legion visits hospitals and is a favorite of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, especially when it’s for the kids,” shares John. “They are the true heroes. Each day, they struggle to stay alive—and the joy we see on their faces when we do visits [makes it all] worth it.”

If that’s what it means to be Bad Guys Doing Good, then you’d better not wait to sign up! Strap on your cycling unit, pressure-sealed body glove, ration-filled utility belt, and your integrated comlink—a Galaxy of charitable opportunities awaits.

*This article was first seen on The Philippine Online Chronicles HERE.

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