The 501st Legion at Wizard World New Orleans: “We all help each other out”

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Trey Guillotine, Entertainment Editor

Wizard World New Orleans marks both the end and the beginning of the New Orleans Comic Con circuit. Usually taking place the first weekend of January (this year Jan. 3-5, 2020), Wizard World New Orleans is one of, if not the biggest, comic conventions held in New Orleans. Every year, it fills the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center with shop tables, board games, fandom panels, and, one of the biggest draws, celebrities. In the past, Wizard World New Orleans has hosted legends like Stan Lee, Peter Mayhew, Bruce Campbell, and even a number of the Marvel Cinematic Universe cast such as “Captain America” Chris Evans and New Orleans’ own “Falcon” Anthony Mackie. This year saw much of the cast from “Smallville,” the Superman prequel series. Visitors had the chance to meet some of their favorite characters like Erica Durance, who played Lois Lane, Michael Rosenbaum, who portrayed Lex Luther, and even Superman himself, Tom Welling. But what really gets fans excited for this convention is the cosplay.

Cosplay, a combination of costume and play, sees cosplayers, designing, building and wearing costumes portraying their favorite characters across pop-culture. While it’s a hobby for many, a number of cosplayers have found enough success and popularity to make a career out of cosplay and convention appearances. All cosplays are different, though. Many cosplayers strive to work toward film accuracy, even using the same materials used by costume designers for the official films. But other cosplayers take more creative freedoms, mixing fantasy and science fiction characters, genres, and even creating pin-up style costumes. 

While solo cosplayers wander the show floor posing for pictures, other cosplay organizations have their own tables set promoting the group’s cosplays, events they have attended in the past, and even promoting charity organizations. “We are generally a costuming a group but we focus on charity and community programs, so we support charities, cancer walks, any kid groups and organizations, a lot of school events, and conventions. In this case, we’re raising money for The Peter Mayhem Foundation,” says Kevin Bachemin, the Commanding Officer for the Bast Alpha Garrison of the 501st Legion in Louisiana. 

The 501st Legion has a long history of cosplaying dating back to their founding in Aug. 1997. According to their website, “… The Legion seeks to promote interest in Star Wars through the building and wearing of quality costumes, and to facilitate the use of these costumes for Star Wars-related events as well as contributions to the local community through costumed charity and volunteer work…” 

The 501st’s table held pamphlets with information about upcoming events, 

“One of the primary drivers of the 501st is the screen and film accuracy,” says Bachemin. “A number of our California members were in “The Mandalorian,” and we’ve had members who have been in some of the films as extras, so they come with that kind of screen accuracy. We look like we can be on the screen because we have been.” Behind Bachemin were other members of the 501st, dressed as different stormtroopers, standing in front of a backdrop simulating a hallway in an imperial star destroyer. They posed for pictures with other “Star Wars” fans, and even let con-goers try to shoot them with nerf-guns.

“Get to know the community. Get to know the people, a lot of our folks are very friendly, knowledgeable, and have been through costume builds for all the Star Wars groups,” said Bachemin, gesturing to a number of other tables in the area. While the 501st cosplayers were dressed as imperial stormtroopers, other subgroups had cosplayers dressed as characters from Disney+’s recent show “The Mandalorian.” Another was a mix of Rebel and Resistance fighters and Jedi Knights wielding differently colored lightsabers, the iconic weapon for the Jedi Order. “A lot of members will sometimes have groups that will get together to have costume parties. Once you have the materials, we’ll help out. We have a lot of resources. We all work well together. We all help each other out.”