‘Stormtrooper’ to play his role for youngsters
By Brian Stanley Bstanley@stmedianetwork.com May 31, 2012 8:44PM
Updated: July 6, 2012 9:56AM
He’s watched it many times since, but Javier Esqueda still remembers going to the movies to see “Star Wars” when he was 7 years old.
After the big ships crossed the screen, the doors of the Rebel craft exploded in a shower of sparks and the Imperial Stormtroopers came blasting in.
“They had the armored suits and looked so cool, and I wanted to be one so badly,” Esqueda said. Instead, “Butch” served in the Marines before becoming a Joliet police officer. It’s not following Darth Vader, but at least there were weapons and body armor involved.
When the Internet gained popularity in the late ’90s, another officer told Butch he’d found a website teaching how to make homemade Stormtrooper armor.
Before just typing in his credit card number, Esqueda made a phone call and ended up speaking with a deputy from Orange County, Calif. Besides bonding over the Force, the deputy gave the Joliet officer a tip and Butch learned about the 501st Legion, an international fan organization dedicated to wearing replicas of movie costumes.
Esqueda got in touch with the group and found two other members in Illinois.
“When ‘The Phantom Menace’ came out in 1999, they suggested we call a theater and dress up,” he said. The trio went to the premiere at Old Orchard mall in Skokie and ended up getting interviewed on television.
The Midwest Garrison of the 501st Legion has grown to more than 150 members who regularly “go trooping” each week at community and charity events.
“The look on a kid’s face when they see an actual Stormtrooper in front of them is amazing,” Esqueda said. “About five years ago I went to a picnic for pediatric cancer patients and looked down to see a little boy was hugging my leg. He got so excited and said ‘You’re my favorite.’ ”
The tough trooper admits the white mask was hiding tears brought on by the ill boy’s appreciation.
“Kids like Jake. That’s why I still love doing this,” Esqueda said.
So naturally on Saturday he’ll attend Star Wars Day at the Joliet Public Library downtown.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. more than 40 Stormtroopers, Clone Troopers, Biker Scouts and Emperor’s Royal Guards will pose for pictures and show off their costumes.
There also will be complete costumes on display and an exhibit that shows how they’re put together.
The troops will run an “Imperial Academy” where youngsters can put on a small helmet and practice running an obstacle course and hitting a target with a blaster.
Artists Dave Dorman and Steve Palenica, who have both illustrated Star Wars projects professionally, will meet with fans. There also will be music and refreshments.
This is the third annual Star Wars event at the library, which drew more than 2,000 people last year.
Some of whom still can’t tell the difference between a Gungan and a Gundark but had a good time anyway.