Recently, in a territory not so far, far away, a couple of Star Wars fans joined forces to raise money for the Nunavut Kamatsiaqtut Help Line.
Iqaluit's Rejean Martel Cooper and his wife Holly Cooper posed in handmade Stormtrooper and Tusken Raider costumes, respectively, alongside a homemade and fully-functional R2-D2 unit — built from scratch by Iqaluit's Daniell Thompson — at the Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiere. Together, they raised nearly $300 for the help line — trading photo ops for donations.
They also posed the night before the premiere for a special prescreening of the film in support of the Iqaluit Blizzard minor hockey team.
"They didn't have to donate,"said Martel Cooper of the guests. "They could have just enjoyed the experience. That's what it's all about, right? Coming up, enjoying the experience, and whatever you can give is great! I mean, we're helping a local community. That's what it's all about."
The Stormtrooper suit Martel Cooper wore came from a kit of bare bones materials, but it was up to him to cut, paint, glue and assemble the costume by hand. He spent "countless" hours putting it together, and even now it takes 45 minutes to get on, though it's well worth it, he says.
Villains in costume, good guys at heart
The Coopers are part of a group called the 501st Legion: a worldwide volunteer organization of some-8,000 Star Wars villain costume enthusiasts. To join, their costumes had to be fan-made and match as closely as possible with the costumes from the Star Wars franchise, then be approved by the organization, which prides itself on its high standards.
Since joining a year ago, they got right into the organization's mandate for giving back to the community. Earlier this year they were front and centre with Thompson's R2-D2 again at the massive Iqaluit Christmas craft fair, raising money for the Inuksuk High School graduating class.
One of the Coopers' charitable highlights is helping fulfill an Ottawa boy's wish to go to Disney World through Make-a-Wish. The 501st's Ottawa-based garrison — which the Coopers are part of — adopted the young boy's wish, but also gave him some Disney magic right at home.
"They blocked off the whole road, and had all of us, as many as could show up that day, freezing," said Martel Cooper, who plans to start his own 501st faction in Northern Canada. "It was a cold day but it was worth every second. And when he came out, he was just smiles from ear-to-ear. The entire neighbourhood came out and was cheering him on. It was great."
"The feeling you get when you're part of something like that is amazing," added Holly Cooper.
A droid in Canada's North, there is
But where there's villains, you can be sure the good guys aren't too far away — as is the case with Daniell Thompson's R2-D2 unit right across town.
Thompson spent countless hours over two years building it. According to him, it's the only such unit in the North, and one of about five or six in the country.
He's invested about $4,000 in parts, but the smiles he gets are invaluable.
"It's when the kids see him, and they don't see me, that's the best part. They think he's completely alive," Thompson said.
Using a retro-fitted PlayStation controller, Thompson discretely works the controls to make his R2-D2 come to life by rolling around the room, playing one of more than 40 sounds and songs, or spinning its dome a full 360 degrees.
"They'll look through the holes to see if there's somebody inside and that kind of stuff and they have no idea where it's coming from. That's the best part."
Thompson is often invited to bring his droid to comicons across Ontario, and will be heading back to conventions in Ottawa and Cornwall this summer — the latter also the site of a wedding where R2-D2 will be the ring bearer.