Viewers who tuned in to the latest episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+ got to see some cosplayers turning their passion for Star Wars from a hobby into canon: members of the 501st, as well as a handful of other fans were featured prominently in the episode, helping to fill out the ranks of the Empire’s legions of stormtroopers.
Significant spoilers for Obi-Wan Kenobi ahead!
Over the course of the series, Obi-Wan Kenobi has been reluctantly coaxed out of self-imposed exile on Tatooine (where he’s been keeping an eye on a young Luke Skywalker), after an Imperial Inquisitor, Second Sister, arranged the kidnapping of Leia Organa from Alderaan. After pleading from Bail Organa, Obi Wan tracked down Leia, tangled with some Imperial forces, and ended up discovering a sort of underground railroad for former Jedi and force-sensitive individuals trying to escape the Empire: The Path. Inadvertently, he and Leia led the Empire to the Path, after the Second Sister tracked them to the planet Jabiim, and brought along the Empire’s military might.
That culminated in a showdown between the Empire and the refugees: realizing the Empire was on its way, Obi Wan and his new allies barricaded the doors, prompting the Second Sister to swoop in with a pair of drop-ships loaded with stormtroopers, who helped to batter down the doors and invade the compound.
As Disney and Lucasfilm have set out to produce a handful of live-action shows, they’ve had a key asset at their disposal: Volume, a massive screen that can project any number of backgrounds, allowing the studio to cut their costs and make a series without the exorbitant fees that come with constructing the massive sets and worlds that Star Wars is known for. Along those same lines, costuming tons of extras in expensive-to-produce costumes has led them to pull in the fan community to lend a hand. Those stormtroopers? A number of them were members of the 501st Legion’s California Garrisons, who are thanked in the end credits of this latest episode.
#BehindTheScenesSunday🎬— The Star Wars Underworld (@TheSWU) June 12, 2022
On set footage of the Order 66 scenes being filmed for #ObiWanKenobi Part I, shared on Instagram by stunt performer Daniel Graham: https://t.co/NXrDLHC0vN pic.twitter.com/3YzBLeJWQs
The 501st (disclaimer: I’m a member of the New England Garrison), is a world-wide costuming group dedicated to replicating the bad guys of the franchise – chiefly the iconic stormtrooper. The group has a series of standards that it applies to member costumes, and the result is that they look just like the ones that you see on the big (or small) screen. At one point, Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill commented that the suits that 501st members wore were better than their on-screen counterparts, and thus, the group can serve as a ready pool of costumed extras that can fill that gap when the studio needs them.
This isn’t the first time that Lucasfilm has called on the 501st Legion to help fill this role. Back in 2019, members of the 501st took part in a pivotal scene in The Mandalorian, backing up Moff Gideon on Navarro as he tried to capture Din Djarin, his diminutive ward, Grogu, and their allies. In another instance, actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee – who happens to be a member of the 501st and Rebel Legions – plays a Rebel pilot named Carson Teva in both seasons of The Mandalorian.
This season of Obi-Wan Kenobi has featured 501st members in other roles as well: actor and stuntman Ardeshir Radpour suited up as one of the 501st clone troopers in the flashback scenes, as well as one of the stormtroopers on the planet Mapuzo. Another member who goes by the online name Rexing Around, showed up in a background scene on Jabiim. Back in December 2021, Variety reported that the series had cast a number of fans to step into the background, with Maya Erskine noting that they were “incredible on set.”
Lucasfilm has long had a strong relationship with the constellation of fan communities that have sprung up around the franchise: the studio has acknowledged the groups and has set up a series of loose guidelines and expectations for the types of events that they appear at. By helping to foster these communities, they’ve helped to create a ready and willing pool of individuals with high-quality costumes that can step in to help promote the Star Wars brand: not just on the small screen, but at official events, TV spots, parades, and more.
Given the volume of Star Wars shows coming down the pipeline – Andor, Skeleton Crew, and a third season of The Mandalorian, it seems likely that we’ll see some costumed fans pop up once again at some point down the road.