Darth Vader, Han Solo, Rey and R2-D2 stood outside Regal Theaters at Westview Promenade on Saturday, and while that sounds like the start to an awesome joke, it was actually for a more noble cause.
Members of the Star Wars-themed Rebel Legion, 501st Legion and Mandalorian Mercs gathered outside the movie theater to collect toys for local charities. They took pictures with fans of all ages and joined in the hype of the newly released Star Wars film, “The Last Jedi.”
“The charity work is the most important thing,” said Melissa Ralph, who was dressed as a TIE fighter pilot and had already dropped off her Star Wars brand gifts in the donation box.
Her head-to-toe black costume was complete with breast plate and film-accurate helmet. Her character selection was also strategic so as to outrank her husband, William, who was dressed as a stormtrooper.
Both are members of the 501st Legion’s Old Line Garrison, which has raised close to $24,000 for charity through appearances alone this year, Ralph said. Each event is a chance for its members to put on intricate costumes, but also to share in the fandom of the story that has extended off the screen for so many.
“Kids come in all ages,” Ralph said. “We’re all kids when it comes to Star Wars.”
Jon Cohen, owner of Beyond Comics in Frederick, has helped organize the character meet-and-greet during the film premieres since “The Force Awakens” was released in 2015. This year, his store gave away a Star Wars comic book to the first 100 people to donate toys at the event.
“The theater works with us, because we give added value that they can’t do on their own,” Cohen said.
Groups, such as the 501st Legion and Rebel Legion, are made up of fans who are recognized by the Star Wars franchise and can dress up in approved film-accurate costumes for charity events.
Beyond Comics — which is a seller of high-end Star Wars merchandise — is in regular contact with three or four of the members of the groups, which makes coordinating a charity event like this simpler, he said.
The Ralphs were joined by Melissa’s sister, Rebecca Cook, and her boyfriend, Henry Bradford, who were both at their first “trooping” event as official members of the 501st Legion. When asked why the Ralphs chose to align themselves with the dark side (a.k.a the “bad side”) of the film franchise, Rebecca Cook fell instantly into character.
“We’re the good guys. That’s what I have to say. Those rebels are here to stir up things,” she said.
However, Samantha Kelly would beg to differ. Dressed as the heroine of the newest films in series, Rey, she greeted girls, boys and parents who have fallen in love with the strong female character.
“When I saw ‘The Force Awakens,’ I wasn’t expecting Rey to be as awesome as she was, but it inspired me,” Kelly said.
After seeing the film, Kelly, 22, joined the Rebel Legion in Florida, where she attends college. She is currently home for the holidays, and drove two hours from Cecil County with her mother — who is also a member — to be at the event.
While Rey has brought in a whole new generation of Star War fans, some of the series most iconic rebels still attracted people for photos.
Dave Turnbull — dressed as Han Solo — has been a member of the Rebel Legion for the past five years, but his love of the films goes back to 1977 when he saw the original film.
“Everybody’s trying to rate movies on how good they are — and I try to rate them on that feeling as a kid. That surge of adrenaline,” Turnbull said.
The energy was palpable on Saturday as a steady parade of people went to the theater for the new film.
Kelly saw the newest film, “The Last Jedi,” on Thursday, but she wasn’t giving away any spoilers. And, despite some ominous undertones in the trailers about Rey, Kelly said her passion for the character has remained.
“She has a lot of spunk in this one,” Kelly said.