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Fighting for Peace, Order...and the Imperial Way!
By Lizbeth

As a child growing up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Tony Piccolo immediately connected with the Empire of the Star Wars universe. Years later, at the age of eighteen, he became part of an Imperial costuming organization that specializes in volunteer charity work. Sporting the call sign of TK-8702, the now twenty-year-old Piccolo proudly dons his authentically styled stormtrooper armor, bringing smiles to curious onlookers and movie fans alike as a member of the 501st Legion.

"I first saw Star Wars when my Mom was watching the VHS tapes and remember being wide mouthed at how big the Star Destroyers were," recalls Piccolo. "Even then as a little one, I pretended I was an Imperial Captain with my own ship."

Asked why he identifies with the Dark Side heavies, Piccolo admits he has always viewed the Imperial stormtroopers, officers, and their fearsome commander Darth Vader, not as bad guys, but as 'hero-villains.'

"My definition of a hero-villain is a villain who through a story has an internal conflict or a back story that isn't all that villainous. A villain that rectifies his (bad) actions and performs a heroic act as Vader does in Return of the Jedi also falls under that classification for me," explains Piccolo. "To me all Imperials had this in them. Even as a child I noticed this."

His love of the galaxy far, far awayand its hero-villainsnever left him. One day, that part of the GFFA came calling at the collectable merchandise store where Piccolo worked. There he was introduced to the 501st Legion members of Garrison Carida who were holding a toy drive to raise gifts to hand out to kids on their hospital visits for the coming year.

"I'd always been searching in life for a good way to give back to my communitysomething that I could truly enjoy," an excited Piccolo stated. "With my love of Star Wars, finding a group that would allow me to dress up as a stormtrooper, while helping others at the same time, was a godsend!"

Here's Tony Piccolo unmasked. In addition to his TK-8702 stormtrooper personna, he also appears in Imperial gunner gear as IG-8702.

What about scaring the kiddies? And then there's always the problem of persons dressed up as a Jedi...or a Rebel pilot...who risk being arrested as enemies of the Empire.

According to Piccolo, most children don't run for cover at the sight of an Imperial trooper. Both they and their parents enjoy the interaction and willingly pose for a photo op with the designated bad guys of the Star Wars universe. (As for the occasional encounter with a Jedi or Rebel pilot...they have been known to flee from a stormtrooper detail.)

Looking back, Piccolo believes the original Star Wars films may have been Rebel propaganda, making all of the Imperial personnel out to be evil when the majority of Imperials were probably no different in their hopes for peace and happiness than the majority of the denizens under their sway.

"Sure, the movies made the Imperials out to be the bad guys who just wanted to crush the Rebellion, but I began to read other stories as I expanded my Star Wars knowledgestories of Imperials who had just been recruited from their peaceful home worlds into service to protect the galaxy."

"My definition of an Imperial is not an evil soldier fighting to enslave the galaxy and destroy the hero. It's quite the opposite," opines Piccolo. "Sure, they had ruthless ways of doing things, but only because that was what their training taught them to do. An Imperial to me is simply fighting to protect the galaxy he knows and to maintain order so that his family, wherever that home may be, can enjoy peace. By those ideals, I want to live my life like an Imperialand so far I'm proud of what I've done."

Imperial trooper TK-8702, a. k. a. Anthony Piccolo, should be proud of what he and his fellow members of Garrison Carida have accomplished on their home front. When he is not working full time or appearing in his Imperial uniform, Piccolo works long hours as an Events Coordinator, scheduling and fine tuning plans for his garrison's public appearances and, most importantly, the numerous charities that enlist the 501st to help out.

"Our garrison had an election in which a new commanding officer was chosen," states Piccolo on how he got the job. "At the start of his term he formed his command staff and decided to create the position of Events Coordinatorwhich had not previously existed within the group. He spoke to me over the phone and asked if I would be willing to step up and fill the position. I accepted."

As an EC staff officer, Piccolo is in charge of contacting persons who head a variety of organizations sponsoring sci-fi/fantasy conventions, store grand openings, book signings, local fairs, promotional appearances, hospitals, charitable foundations and walkathons - all of whom have requested the presence of costumed Star Wars characters from Garrison Carida.

"As far as charitable events go, it usually falls upon me to contact a local hospital's public relations director, director of child life, or a walkathon's chairperson" explains Piccolo. "The two of us will work together finding a date that best fits into the garrison's schedule as well as their event planner's schedule."

Once the date and logistics are fixed, Piccolo posts a message online to the general membership of Garrison Carida, along with a poll so those who are interested can vote on whether or not they will be able to attend the event. According to Piccolo, Garrison Carida's favorite events are ones that involve children in need.

"Our garrison just finished doing a Make-A-Wish Foundation event in which we presented the child with a Darth Vader FX lightsaber, an autographed Episode III poster signed by Hayden Christensen, and a good many toysall of which were graciously donated by Lucasfilm."

Piccolo adds, "We also had a stormtrooper helmet, specially made, that one of our troopers wore, (at the ceremony) took off, then dropped to one knee, and presented it to the child."

During a Make-a-Wish Foundation event, Joshua receives a custom stormtrooper helmet by a 501st member of Garrison Carida.

"We do nine children's hospital visits a yearand hand out hundreds of toys to the kids. We are a very active garrison. I work my Imperial tail off to schedule and coordinate close to sixty events a year," says Piccolo. "It's hard work, but well worth it. I do it to make the children smile. It's my way of both exploring my love for Star Wars and giving back."

Once an event date is secured, volunteer members of Garrison Carida travel to the location to suit up. An area to get in and out of gear is usually provided by the sponsors, since driving in stormtrooper armor is not practical, nor advisablealthough some of the Imperial officers and technicians have been known to do so. Even with a private room at their disposal, getting into a stormtrooper suit or other get up can be tricky and time consuming depending on how each individual costume has been constructed.

"It all depends on the trooper," explains Piccolo. "Some take their time, some take awhile and need assistance. Some are even quicker than me and I'm rather fast. It usually takes me ten minutes from start to finish, including wiring up the electronics for my helmet voice amplifier."

Marching about in full armor can be tiring, not to mention having to deal with the heat generated while patrolling events. Many stormtroopers head back to the dressing room to get a swig of water or relax a bit before they return to duty. Many have grown accustomed to the suit, developing a tolerance to any discomfort levels.

"As far as wearing them for long periods of time, you'd be surprised at how much endurance we (troopers) have. At Celebration IV in LA, I was in my biker scout uniform 14 hours straight the first day. 10 hours straight the second day, and for 13 hours straight on the third day," says Piccolo. "I exercise regularly and keep up a good enough stamina to not let it wear me down."

Although the 501st Legion is not officially affiliated with Lucasfilm, the worldwide volunteer organization is the preferred costume group for Star Wars-related events, film openings, and video game release dates. Legion members were featured prominently at Star Wars Celebrations I-IV in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and London.

Garrison Carida's PR officer has an excellent working relationship with Lucasfilm's Fan Development Division, garnering Star Wars actor autographs and donated licensed merchandise that benefit charitable events in the area.

"Lucasfilm has always been great to the 501st," says Piccolo. "They continually incorporate us into the Star Wars galaxy. Over the past few years, Lucasfilm put the 501st into the Star Wars Databank as Vader's official Legion."

"They even got Hasbro to make an action figure of a 501st Trooper, and had us march in the 2007 Rose Parade 200 strong! The 501st is featured in books, Star Wars Insider, and Bantha Tracks Online."

501st members from all over the world march in the 2007 Rose Parade in Pasedena, California.

Out of uniform, Piccolo has his own 'Imperial Chick' whom he loves very much. At present, he and his girlfriend are trying to decide what 501st character she would like to be.

In addition to his enjoyment of making children happy and giving back to the community, Imperial Chicks asked Piccolo what else he likes about being a 501ster.

"I've been an Imperial all my life for far too many reasons to list," answers Piccolo. "A few of the main ones are the armor is cool, the equipment rocks, the ladies are the best, and I love doing my part to maintain peace and order in this galaxy."

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