Since Star Wars first hit the screens in the late 1970’s, most have thought of the Stormtroopers as a background character, canon fodder who couldn’t be less precise or important. Then in ‘The Force Awakens’ they gained so much more. They were no longer Clones, bred for one purpose, but actual men and women conscripted to the Empire from a young age to be loyal. We saw the first helmet less trooper, Finn (FN-2187) and our first confirmed female trooper, Captain Phasma, played by Gwendoline Christie, a truly powerful and amazing character. There are fans out there who have joined the ranks of their own accord, Super Fans like TK38282 (R) of the 501st Legion, Southern California Garrison, also known as Itzzia. When asked most will tell you they would be a Sith or Jedi, not Itzzia, she went out, found armor, and joined the Empire in late November of 2016, during Thanksgiving week. She received her designation as TK38282 after her approval from the Garrison on her ANH stormtrooper armor submission. Your number ID is a part of your submission to the Legion for new members. Nic Snavely, squad leader for the Inland Empire assisted her in deciding her top choice. They spoke and he instantly knew it was a form of her birth date (which also happens to be International Women’s Day) according to her, “he’s a cool dude.”
Itzzia considers herself to “be at her best when in the armor.”[sic] she can “block out any negative thoughts and worries, I just focused on my mission for that troop. I feel safe, I feel strong, all my insecurities (yes, I have many) seem to disappear. It’s an awesome feeling.”
When I asked her if she was a cosplayer or an artist, she responded “I don’t consider myself either. I am a loyal fan to my genres and never follow something just because it’s popular at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate an awesome character, design concept, and storyline but not everything is made for me. I am loyal to the dark side of the force. I grew up with Star Wars and Harry Potter at different times of my youth and adolescence so they are both dear to my heart; although I’ve been sorted in Gryffindor, I prefer to be in Slytherin.”
Itzzia’s TK is from Anovos, (http://www.anovos.com.) The company did, and still has, a long wait. She had purchased one during a Comic Conconvention but was on a waiting list. As time passed Itzzia started to join Facebook groups where she could learn more about where to find armor and how to build it. As luck would have it she found a Legion friend, Eric Kirk from the Midwest Garrison in Tennessee, who was selling his armor kit, that speeded things up for her in customizing it to fit and submitting. “I call him Godfather now.”
After receiving her approval she began to do good with it, “I was off for two weeks during the holidays, so I booked myself solid and just trooped constantly driving to hospitals and foster homes. On December 23rd I met an amazing young lady, Kathlyn Chassey also known as Littlest Wookiee at a UCLA hospital troop who suffered from cystic fibrosis and needed a double lung transplant. My Christmas morning was spent with my friends from the San Joaquin Squad as we visited the burn unit for the Ronald McDonald House.” It was an unforgettable week for her and miracles happened, Kat got her transplant on December 26th and is doing well. “She’s become one of my closest friends, I call her minime and she calls me biggime.” she added.
I asked her about the reason behind joining the 501st, “I had heard about the 501st years ago… I used to go to Comic Con on my own, when tickets were cheap, available and the hallways were somewhat empty.” Itzzia continued by saying, “I worked in Marketing for an Animation Production Company in Sherman Oaks and we went to all the local trade shows. I would run into some of the Legion members there at their booth but I was always busy and couldn’t talk much. I finally made it to one of the panels at Comic Con years later, I still have some video footage and pictures from it. It was packed, some had to stay outside due to capacity but the panel was great! They all answered questions about building armor and becoming members. It was at a Star Wars Celebration in Downtown LA where I knew I wanted to suit up and join them. I played laser tag with stormtroopers and it was so much fun!”
I asked the question I’m sure many do, Why a stormtrooper? Did you ever consider a Sith or Jedi? “It’s what I can relate to…I need the armor, it’s not just a costume to me. I have always loved a knight armor, so I see a Stormtrooper like a Knight of the Galaxy. Regardless of how many times I hear not to miss a target or that I am too short to be a Stormtrooper, I still love it! I also would never do any costume where my face wasn’t at least somewhat covered. It’s just not me, not my style. I want to be covered from head to toe so I become someone else entirely, kind of like Batman.” laughs “There are so many people that have thought there was a male under that armor, until they spoke to me and heard a female.
So, are there many women in Armor? In the 501st?
“Absolutely! It not a male dominant club now, there are plenty of women in it of all ages with many different costumes all over the world. Women power!!!”
I have to know, Do you have fans of all ages come up to you when you are in Armor?
“Absolutely! Star Wars has become a cultural phenomenon. There isn’t someone out there that doesn’t recognize a stormtrooper.”
What are the children’s reactions?
“Most of them run up to us, get very excited and immediately want a high five or a hug. Others are more shy and timid and we wait until they approach us so we don’t scare them. But even adults get happy when they see us and take selfies with us. Families really enjoy what we do. It’s amazing to see so many people come together for the fandom of Star Wars, regardless of our age or background. It is very cool to witness.”
The one thing she has not spoken of was her retired status. She explained how life had become more difficult before joining the Legion and she fully wholeheartedly gave it her all for months, dropping everything else around her personal life. “I just focused on working and trooping on weekends, it got me through some tough times.” She hopes to rise up to the ranks once again and hear the Empires call. I recommended getting a new FN style armor from “The Force Awakens.” She laughed and gave a simple, “maybe, one day….we’ll see.”
*The Peter Mayhew Foundation was an integral part for Kathlyn Chassey’s medical care. If you like to donate to her or others please go to the links below.
Top photo: Self portrait by Itzzia C.
Photo: Sarah Flores (left to right) Daniel Craig TD91728, Itzzia C. TK38282, Bert Palting TB24261, Manuel Gomez Dekker TK97253
Photo Credit: Andrew Roberts, Relay for Life, Bakersfield, May 2017