In November of 2010, the international community of Star Wars fans rallied to defend my first-grade daughter Katie, who was being taunted by the boys at school because she was a girl who loved Star Wars, which was apparently “only for boys.” The support was instant and effusive, and Katie quickly regained her confidence as a Star-Wars-loving female. Some of the most vocal supporters came from the 501st Legion, a charitable organization that raises millions of dollars for charity. The members of the 501st each build intricate Star Wars costumes that are exact replicas of those worn by characters in the Star Wars movies.
And then, in September of 2012, nearly two years later, we came full circle, and it was our turn to stand up for the 501st Legion. The Star Wars fans as a group were hurt and outraged when they became the target of a taunting online slideshow featured on news websites. The slideshow featured pictures of people in costume attending Star Wars Celebration VI, a biennial convention. The captions were cruel, and many of the people in the photos were members of the 501st Legion. Katie and I were able to offer our support and encouragement to the very people who had been so kind to us. The Star Wars community is like that – we have each other’s backs.
In the wake of the September cyberbullying incident, Katie decided that she wanted to be a Stormtrooper for Halloween this year. This was how she could show her solidarity with the 501st Legion. I wanted to find her a costume that was a little more authentic than what the stores were offering, and I knew who to ask.
In August, Katie and I had met some members of the 501st Legion at the launch of my new book about bullying. Katie, who had been dubbed The Littlest Jedi when her story went viral, had a grand time that night romping around Barnes & Noble with professionally-costumed Star Wars characters. Remembering how kind everyone had been, I sent a message to one of the guys, asking if he had any suggestions for how we could make Katie a Stormtrooper costume.
What transpired next is nothing short of astonishing.
The 501st decided to make Katie her own set of custom Stormtrooper armor, built to the exact specifications from the original Star Wars movies in the ‘70’s. Two years ago, Katie became an unexpected symbol of geek pride and anti-bullying. Her story touched something deep in the core of the 501st — a desire to always stand up for what you believe in –and based on those strong feelings, the members of the 501st wanted to make her a Halloween costume that no other child could replicate. Katie would become a Stormtrooper, as if she had stepped onto the set of a LucasFilm movie.
As the 501st moved forward with this project, I worried about our budget. We had earmarked a certain amount of money for the costume, but that was back when we thought we would be jazzing up a Stormtrooper costume from Target. I approached Brian Troyan, telling him how much we could put in, hoping that the project would come in at our budget, which was now four times what we had planned to spend. Brian laughed and said that the 501st wanted to do this their way. They wanted to raise the funds for the costume, and in return, they asked if we would donate the costume back to them after Katie outgrew it, so that it could be used for Make-A-Wish kids. Perfect, I thought with relief, because I had been struggling with feelings that the generosity was too much for my comfort. Knowing that the costume would be passed on to other children was the best solution.
Over the past six weeks, the 501st Legion reached out to Star Wars fans around the world, seeking parts and materials, all in an effort to create something that did not yet exist. To get started, they needed an extensive list of precise measurements of Katie. Very precise, as in: Circumference of palm not including thumb; Forearm, inside length from wrist (bent forward) to inside of the elbow; Circumference of thigh just above the kneecap; and dozens more. Katie’s body fairly hummed with excitement as I tried to get her to hold still while I measured her palms and limbs, her torso and chest, her feet and stomach.
The culmination was a trip Katie and I took yesterday to Naperville to pick up her armor. As mentioned, the 501st does not do anything halfway. We arrived at the home of one of the members to find the following greeting:
501st Legion members had traveled to Naperville to await Katie’s arrival at the home of a member.
Steve Gaza, the person whose house we visited, gave the following speech to Katie when we walked into the home:
“Katie, your story has touched thousands of people all over the world. It REALLY touched the hearts of the 501st legion and and your friends at the Midwest Garrison. So when we heard you had this dream of dressing up as a Stormtrooper, we said, ‘How can we help? What can we do?’
Now, when you are a member of the 501st Legion and the Midwest Garrison and you decide that you want to build a costume, it has to look JUST LIKE it did in the movies. And sometimes that can be pretty hard to do.
So, in the 501st there are smaller groups that you can contact, and they show you what to do so your costume looks just like it did in the movies. And those groups are called Detachments. And — you guessed it — the Stormtroopers have their own detachment! And that group is called the First Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment, or the FISD.
Well, a couple of the big bosses at the FISD went on their website and told your story to the entire world, including the fact that you wanted to be a Stormtrooper. But you can’t just go to Home Depot or Target and buy a real Stormtrooper suit. Things have to be made, and things have to be bought with money too. But that’s how the world helped out! Members of the 501st started donating money, and donating parts! People from four corners of the earth worked together to make your armor!
Well, once all the parts were bought and everything was arranged, then everything was sent right here to this house. Then your friends at the Midwest Garrison here took over. A message was sent out that said, ‘we need a team of people to help build the armor that Katie’s going to wear.’
A team came together of five people, and I want to make sure that you meet those five people. The first person here is Officer Javier Esqueda, the 2nd person in Mr. Steve Mammen. You met him, he was at your book signing, except he was dressed up as an Xwing pilot, so I know he looks a little different today, because he is a Stormtrooper. The next person that helped out is Mr. Bryan Troyan, who you also met at your book signing. The next person that you’ve met before is Miss Adrian Bean. And because everything was sent to my house I got to help out a little bit too, so my name is Steve Gaza. Pleasure to meet you!
Now, are you ready to suit up like a Stormtrooper?? Well, let’s go do this!”
Katie gave them $5 that she has been saving from her allowance to help with the costs of the parts, and then we went to work getting her dressed.
Katie, who had been feeling a little shy during the presentation of her armor, quickly relaxed as we got her dressed. As she looked at the parts strewn all over the floor, she exclaimed, “It looks like a Stormtrooper exploded in here!”
Once she was fully costumed, she gathered her breath and made a simple thank you:
“Thank you very much for the Stormtrooper costume, and I can’t thank you enough. I’m having FUN. And I will stand up for you.”
Then, we all went outside and took a bunch of awesome pictures!
That’s my daughter in there!! She looks amazing!
Star Wars most definitely is for girls!
Buckets off! The faces of the wonderful and generous team who helped with the final assembly.
A picture with Mommy. I kind of wonder if I’d be able to squeeze into that awesome armor??
Steve taught me how to remove the armor and repack it in the special carrying case that included the names of those who helped make this happen:
As soon as we arrived at home, Katie insisted that we unpack the armor so she could put it on again to show her Daddy. He was just as floored as I was by the generosity of strangers who we now count as friends.
This morning, Katie wrote a special note to all of you who worked on her Halloween costume:
I often say that my husband and I were the first ones to adopt Katie, but she has since been adopted by the Geeks, the 501st, and the Star Wars fans around the world. I look back to the earliest months of Katie’s life, when she was living in foster care and her future seemed desperately uncertain. Nine years later, she is one of the luckiest little girls in the galaxy. This grateful mother thanks you for loving my girl so much! Carrie Goldman
Check out Carrie’s research-based book, Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear