If you happened to find yourself at the Mayfair Mall Barnes and Noble a few months back and spied a Star Wars storm trooper checking out a Nook (Barnes and Noble's e-book reader), don't worry, you weren't hallucinating.
The spot-on costumed characters from the Star Wars movies taking over the store that day are members of a local branch of The 501st Legion, a group of Star Wars fans across the world who show their devotion to the legendary science fiction epic by making top-notch costumes and volunteering at events to promote Star Wars and serve the community.
"We have a passion for costuming and a passion for Star Wars and a passion for doing good work," said Kristal Brandt, public relations officer for the 501st Legion's Wisconsin Garrison.
The 501st, also known as Vader's Fist, started in 1997 and has grown into a sizable worldwide volunteer charitable organization. While they don't charge for appearances they often suggest donations to other charities.
Members draw from the movies to make their own costumes all which must meet the group's professional-grade standards.
"There are a lot of reference sites out there and we support one another as we build, but for the most part it is self created. But to standards. We have very clear standards on what that should be," Brandt said.
Oddly enough Brandt was not a huge Star Wars fan before joining the group more than a year ago.
"I have a son and he was amazed by them," said Brandt, "For years we followed the 501st members. I felt like a groupie. Every time they showed up we had to go see them. It finally got to the point where it was, 'Either you join them or you are really a geek'."
After joining Brandt dove right into the group making her own biker scout and Jawa outfits.
"I was not a Star Wars fan, my husband is a Star Wars fan through and through and my son is a huge Star Wars fan. My interest in it really comes in the creation, the costumes. The sewing, the building and that aspect," Brandt said.
The group also has been a great way for Brandt and her super-fan son and husband to spend time together and help the community.
"For me, I get the pleasure of doing this as a family and giving back to the community with part of our lives," said Brandt, "This is something that we do that we build in time to our schedules to be able to go out and do good things, whether it is to promote or help with charitable events. And when we are doing it we have fun."
Most of the garrison's members have multiple costumes.
"We have a few Vaders in our garrison. There are multiple costumes but usually the events are big enough that if someone wants to be something they can. We have two Boba Fetts and if the event is big enough you put them on opposite ends of the event and no one can tell the difference."
Requests for the Wisconsin Garrison to appear at events from birthday parties to charity and promotional events can be made through their website.
"When we have a request come in for an appearance that is done on an entirely volunteer basis. We do anything from birthday parties to your typical fundraisers, library events to promotional things," Brandt said.