VICKSBURG, Miss.—For ERDC Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory (CHL) Deputy Director Jose Sanchez, the phrase “May the Force be with you” has taken on a life of its own. Sanchez, with the help of his custom-made Stormtrooper costume and an international organization, is using his love of Star Wars to make a difference.
“I joined in 2006, before there was even a Mississippi chapter,” said Sanchez. “Now, the Mississippi Rancor Raiders, part of the 501st Legion, boasts nearly 50 members and a variety of characters. We believe in what we’re doing, and we have a good time.”
The Rancor Raiders are part of a world-wide group that participates in the art of Star Wars costuming and list their goals as “to celebrate, to promote and to contribute.” While founded on the idea of providing a place for fans to network, a major part of what they do – and the reason Sanchez joined – involves charity events, fundraising and volunteering. Members help nonprofit organizations use the public’s love of the films to drum up support.
“We greet people, we take pictures, we mingle … We make people happy,” said Sanchez. “We are all professional people, we all have day jobs, but we make a commitment to this. We do it because we have a love for the Star Wars world, but we also do it because it is a fun way of getting people excited about charity. Kids light up when they see us, and often the parents are equally as excited. It’s a worthwhile experience.”
Charity collaboration includes the Toys for Tots Foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Stormtrooper Sanchez also participated in a Mississippi Symphony Orchestra Night of Star Wars music, a walk to promote a cure for diabetes and sci-fi night at the Mississippi Braves (Darth Vader had the honor of throwing out the first pitch), with all proceeds going to charity. Perhaps his most formal event was the Crystal Ball Gala, a black-tie evening in Southaven, Miss. and the state’s largest multi-cause charity event, where no one minded that he’d skipped the tuxedo.
Standards for admission to the 501st Legion are impressively high – Sanchez was required to submit very specific costume details and photographs to ensure his suit is a movie quality replica – and the group works directly with Lucasfilm to receive approval before every event. In fact, George Lucas himself is said to be a huge fan of the organization.
Outside of charity events, Sanchez has continued to put the costume to good use – having recently marched in a Star Wars-themed parade at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and even checked common access cards at ERDC’s Vicksburg front gate on Halloween while fully decked out. He called the reaction “priceless.”
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