I confess to having secretly admired the evil Empire since I was seven years old. In the summer of '78, while the rest of my pals fought
over who was going to be Han Solo, I was always ready to play the part of the bad guy. Back then,
the real action was in pretending to be an Imperial stormtrooper,
TIE pilot, or the baddest bad guy of them all: Darth Vader.
Being bad was good. To a little kid used to being picked on by bullies and older brothers, playing the villain had its perks.
I could capture the Princess, which only the prettiest girls in the neighborhood were allowed to be. Spare me the sexist lectures.
The bad guy makes the rules. This was my game. I got to choose.
Let me tell you, there is no more thrill than having a beautiful Rebel babe in your power even if you weren't quite sure what
to do with her at that age. Actually, I had a clue. It was my minions who were inept. The Princess always escaped.
The Empire Strikes Back premiere only whetted my appetite for more Imperial action figures. I was the envy of my pals for
having amassed more than a dozen stormtroopers and hard-to-find Imperial officers. A Kenner Imperial troop transporter and AT-AT walker
rounded out my formidable arsenal.
When Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, I confess to being disappointed that the Princess was Darth Vader's daughter.
Forget Luke's own problems in that department. My years of lusting for Leia while
I played Darth Vader did more psychological harm to me than it did him.
In middle school, my action figures were stored in a shoebox under my bed. I was getting too old to use the excuse that
I was playing Star Wars with the younger kids just to keep them occupied. I brought my collection out in secret. My rare handmade Slave Leia action
figure (poorly painted onto a 1980 Bespin model) would do a dance for the Imperials; which was better than doing a dance for a horny old slug monster named Jabba the Hutt.
For proprieties sake, Darth Vader stayed in the shoebox.
By 1985, I consoled myself by reading my old stash of Marvel Star Wars comics while waiting for my copy of Bantha Tracks, the magazine
of the Official Star Wars fan club. I try not to think of those made for TV Ewok movies and the droid cartoons shown around that time. They gave
me more nightmares than the 1978 "Star Wars Holiday Special" gave George Lucas.
I confess I'd take the "Star Wars Holiday Special" over the Ewoks any day. The Holiday Special had tons of Imperial bad guys for me to
admire. I thought that Wookie kid Lumpy deserved to have his stuffed bantha torn apart by an Imperial officer.
Chewie's kid was way too big for that kind of stuff, my seven-year-old mind reckoned. (I confess the same officer telling Lumpy to
pick up his room after he and some stormtroopers wrecked it was incredibly evil.)
The years went by. Not happily, I confess. Girls who once vied for my attention in the hopes of being chosen as Princess Leia
totally avoided me throughout high school. In 1986, while I was off at my cousins for the summer,
my mom sold my Star Wars toys to a kid down the street at a garage sale. I tried to buy them back. The kid wouldn't budge.
My mother has since apologized
for her actions, but it took years before I could truly forgive her.
After college, I realized there were girls who liked Star Wars. I met my future wife
at a local bookstore in the Star Wars section. She and I could talk with other SW fans from
all over the world as internet mailing lists, RPG meets, and websites became popular.
I felt like a kid again as I bought each and every new Star Wars novel, comic, and collectable during the 1990's.
I discovered new and more honorable Imperials like Grand Admiral Thrawn, Captain Pellaeon, and Baron Soontir Fel from the Expanded Universe.
I confess, I also came to grudgingly
respect the Rebels after reading the exciting Rogue Squadron series.
In the spring of 2002, I attended Celebration II with my wife and five-year-old son. The big hit for my family were the
costumed stormtroopers who roamed about the halls dispensing citations and posing for pictures with Star Wars fans.
A chip off the old block, my son
preferred posing with the bad guys when it came to having his picture taken.
I'd tried years before to put together a decent stormtrooper costume. I never felt it looked right. One of the stormtroopers
at Celebration II told me he was with the 501st Legion. He gave
me some plasteel armor pointers and told me where to go if I needed help.
Bit by bit, I put my outfit together. Thanks to my mom, I also have an Imperial officer's uniform. She said it was the least she could
do to make amends for selling my Star Wars action figures.
My wife, son, and I admire the 501st Legion. The members are serious about their craftmanship. They devote a great deal of time
and dedication to their organization. Most of their tours of duty involve charity drives. It's a great feeling to see the happy looks on
when an authentically dressed squad of Imperial troopers marches their way.
The running theme throughout Star Wars was the hope for redemption; because love is more powerful than the light and dark side combined.
I think that's why Star Wars fans appreciate the 501st Legion so much.
Sure, members of the 501st are playing the bad guys, but I believe most people know there's more to them than costumed villainy.
Even the 501st's leader Darth Vader, the baddest bad guy of them all, had his good moments.