After all this talk about costume accuracy, I’m confused about the guy at the table in the corner who wears a half-assed tunic and a pair of what is very clearly football shoulder pads. I’m not kidding – I can see where they say EASTON on the plastic.
“Who’s that guy supposed to be?” I ask. “Is he like, the Bo Jackson Jedi or something?”
“Oh, that’s the Saber Legion table. They don’t really dress in authentic costumes. Their whole thing is that they do Jedi light saber battles.”
“Like, they hit each other with light sabers?” I ask, watching the dude in football pads swing a light saber over his head and pull back a thrust right before it hits a 10 year-old in the throat.
“Yeah, it’s pretty intense. They beat the hell out of each other.”
“So it’s like Fight Club for dorks.”
Nick says nothing. Football pads dude executes an impressive leaping pirouette and stabs his saber into the ground. Star Wars dork or not, he could definitely kick my ass. We keep moving.
The crowd is not nearly as congested as I anticipated, and my handler duties are relegated to taking a few family photos. I do have to monitor and reapply black makeup to Nick’s neck each hour, which I am relieved to discover is pretty easy and also allows me to feel like I’m contributing.
Nick makes Kids 2 and 3 cry in quick succession somewhere around 11:30, and after he unsuccessfully tries to quell Number 3’s tears, he turns to me and tells me his costume is getting hot and he needs a break.
Though we did bring a tiny fan for just such an occasion, I have a better idea. I suggest we go to an exhibit in the Korean War section of the museum, a room set up to simulate the legendary 1950 battle of the Chosin Reservoir. The “Frozen Chosin” exhibit is kept chilly — 45 degrees or so — to simulate the dire conditions experienced by the Marines in that historic winter battle.
Nick loves it, not only for its soothing temperatures, but also its ambiance. He takes one look at the simulated rock formations and track lighting and gets giddy. “This is perfect,” he says. “We have to take some pictures in here.”
That’s another thing that has been happening all day. Aside from all the photo requests they get from fans, these guys are frequently taking photos of themselves. Throughout the entire event, different Legion members produce their phones from hidden pockets and ask me to snap photos.
I point out to Nick that he and his friends take more photos than sophomore girls at a sleepover and he laughs. “When it takes you two hours to get ready, you might as well make the most of it,” he says.
We return to the main room to find Betty, a woman dressed in a green Empire officer outfit that makes her look like a Nazi. I’m sure this was a conscious decision on the part of George Lucas, but it’s still unsettling.
The blaster on Betty’s hip is movie accurate, but the Canon DSLR hanging around her neck is not. Nick pulls her from a group of kids swinging light sabers fashioned from duct tape and pool noodles and asks her to take some photos. “I found this incredible place,” he says.
I learn the reason Nick is so hot to get good photos today is he’s in the process of making up new trading cards, a practice carried out by the majority of Garrison members, though I’m not exactly sure of the intended audience. Are they meant to be collected? Put into plastic sleeves the way I coveted my Topps Lenny Dykstra rookie card when I was 9? Or are they more advertorial in nature, meant to be a calling card of sorts? It is unclear, and I don’t ask, because Nick is the most excited he’s been all day and I don’t want to bum him out by asking snarky questions.
“Get me over here like I’m tracing a path,” he instructs Betty as he crouches between two plastic rocks. Betty snaps a bunch of photos with her Canon and, I have to admit, they look bad ass, even on the camera’s tiny display screen. Nick’s light saber, which looks chintzy and fake under normal lighting, flares with a realistic glow in the Frozen Chosin room.
If I narrow down my focus to just Nick and his poses among the scenery of this dark little room, it’s impossible to discern him from any official Lucasfilm promotional material I’ve ever seen. He looks legit, in a way that makes me swell with excitement, maybe even pride. Yeah, that’s Darth Maul. I’m his handler today. No big deal.
But it’s only a matter of seconds before I’m pulled out of my fantasy by rapid machine gun fire, explosions, and simulated squadron chatter piped from the room’s loudspeakers.
“Make sure your bayonets are fixed good, men!”
“Stand down! Don’t worry, they’ll fight like Marines.”
“I’m hit! Corpsman!”
I’m so amused by the juxtaposition, the fantasy of Darth Maul on a planet in a galaxy far far away against the very real battle of the Chosin Reservoir, I start laughing.
“What?” Nick says, hopping from a rock to check Betty’s most recent shots.
“Nothing,” I say. “It looks good.”