Are Star Wars Fan Clubs Ruining Star Wars?

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Star Wars has always and will always ignite passions, inspire debate and sometimes cause strife and mayhem. This has never been clearer than in recent years as Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi fractured the Star Wars fan base. But what happens when that infighting and political intrigue seeps into one of the largest Star Wars costuming clubs out there? Imagine you save and scrape to finally buy that Stormtrooper costume, you spend hours and hours watching YouTube videos on how to build your costume and then go through the painstaking approval process of the www.501st.com only to find the club fractured and at war with itself?

Well, It seems that’s exactly what’s happening at this very moment. According to what we’re hearing, an internal faction of the most visible Star Wars costuming group there is, The 501st Legion, has reportedly staged a coup and ousted one of the club’s elected leaders in a secret hearing that’s now been made public

The details of what’s allegedly transpired in the 501st made their way to a recent Reddit post on the subject. You can read portions of the post in the quoted sections below:

“Over the weekend the Star Wars costuming group the 501st Legion suspended membership of Dawn “Kylo Ren” Bright, after she attempted to investigate charity money mishandling by the UK Garrison. This was done in a closed door hearing, with membership unaware of the event until it’s conclusion. This hearing was pushed by a sub-group of the 501st known as Project Mayhem.”

“Project Mayhem,” however, is an unofficial sub group of the 501st, despite having listed members and even merchandise issued to support it.

The post continued:

“For the past year and a half, there has been a movement inside the 501st Legion to attack and harass the Mid West Garrison (the Chicago group) over issues over the Star Wars Celebration Chicago event. This group has attacked the chicago folks, accusing them of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the chicago folks have responded that because of one of the previous heads of the 501st and the actions of him removing their non-profit tax id from some of the celebration events, the chicago group owed thousands for some of the 501st events at celebration chicago.

During one of the latest hunts by this group (“Project Mayhem”) started to make demands that the head of the 501st, Dawn Bright (who is known for doing a lot of the work on the Kylo Ren costume), go after the chicago folks. During this fight, Dawn brought up that the UK Garrison (PM has multiple UKG members) appeared to have some very funny financial stuff going on, using a data-scraping app that reported that the UKG had over $4,000,000 in their bank account. She also leaked a video of UKG members talking about this “charity slush fund” account. A huge argument ensued over her bringing this stuff to light.

Flash forward to May, and into early June. The UKG pushes for a harassment charge against Dawn, claiming that her questioning the financial stuff involving the $4,000,000 was her attacking individual members. There is a private hearing (many of the images are screen grabs from these private threads) and she is found guilty of a minor offense per the 501st charter. They then decided to suspend her, and remove her from office. All of this was done without the general memberships knowledge. Membership woke up on Sunday to find that their elected leader was now banned from the site, and stripped of her title.

Keep in mind, Project Mayhem has gone against multiple members over the past year, often with ties to the chicago group, or individuals that have spoken out against their abuse of power, bullying, harassment, and fear tactics.”

According to the same Reddit post  (which we’ve independently verified), Albin Johnson, the man who founded the 501st Legion over twenty years ago to combat bullying and to feel included, posted the following statement:

“I find it absurdly ironic that certain UKG members, for all their fine points, act like babies whenever any criticism is leveled at them. If material is brought forth, then just defend it. Like you expect EVERYONE else to do. Seriously, the amount of second-guessing, assumption-of-the-worst, skepticism, patronizing, and condescension leveled at any critic of UKG policies speaks to some kind of over-compensation that itself is suspicious. Don’t like an LCO? Badger away at them for a few months. Don’t like a ruling? Hit the bully pulpit about it when you get back. Not happy with running a completely unconventional operation that no other Garrison runs and being tolerated for it? Just complain you’re being persecuted somehow. I didn’t agree with the execution of Dawn’s process (note: I was conspicuously silent instead of jumping onboard). But to have her suspended for bullying? Seriously? What kind of upside down one-sided logic is running here? None of the most prominent, consistent critics of Legion Command would tolerate even the slightest degree of criticism and questioning from inside their own units – that stuff is snuffed out. But they are happy to do it here! They eat up all this free speech and make the most of it to sow dissent (not progress). But back home, forget about it – their critics remain silent or disappear outside of any Legion oversight.

The future of the club is this: unless people get passionate about bringing a positive environment and worthy goals then the forum members getting their ya-ya’s over beating people up as a sport will run this entire show. This club is the laughing stock of every Star Wars fan group, media outlet, and convention partner we have. I hear it in side-bars on almost every meeting I have with them and all the way up to the top. Lots of sighs and uncomfortable head shaking. They work with us because of the niche we’ve carved out for ourselves (many of the newer and louder voices had little to do with that, btw). Now history tells me that my above criticism will elicit a rebuttal wave of criticism against me personally (okay fine) and gasps of disbelief as if I’m disparaging the good name of the fine ol’ Legion. Someone will likely assume a fake high-ground to trumpet how awesome we are in spite of how bad Legion Command has gotten – this will serve to show they still have the best interest of the Legion at heart. But they don’t. No one can be more proud of the Legion than I am – I built this system along with all the freedom of speech that allows haters to breed (oh, the regrets sometimes). But like a proud papa (that’s right, I’m your daddy) I speak hard truths out of love. And like a bunch of surly privileged teenagers, those of you who’ve spent the last three years spewing negativity and printing up PM swag like a bunch of anarchists won’t listen. You are zealots. Zealots are intractably right, never open to change, obsessed with a feverish goal of domination. The rest of the Legion is too nice or too easily bored with arguing over this anymore and don’t come onto the forums. They’re out there actually making the club look good, all the while the grass under their feet turns brown. So there’s my ‘future of the club’ prognostication: use the forums to hammer out good policies, joke around like brothers and sisters, build one another up over costume projects, spin wild ideas for future plans for the club, work out solutions for real-world challenges like social distancing… or else this endless cycle of one-up-man-ship will drive out the last of the fun people and be left for the scavengers. Will Disney stomp on us then? No. Disney will likely not impose any restrictions on us because they want to keep their consumers happy and we’re too big now. But another club will eclipse us and the 501st will be a relic. Because it was hopes and dreams that got us here – none of this was built on what we got going on now. The choice is yours.”

Strong Words from the club’s founder…

…but rightfully said? The controversy does revolve around the group’s charitable collection and spending practices. This particular charity, according to its own protocol isn’t supposed to receive money but instead act as a pass-through to charities.  From what we have been told by independent sources, the issue centers on questionable “charity practice” by the United Kingdom Garrison (UKG). (Areas are formed under garrisons with the 501st Legion being the home office.)  UKG’s description of those practices begins at about the 15-minute mark of the video below. [Disclaimer: We offer no legal analysis of the claims made, nor purport to have first-hand knowledge regarding not-for-profit laws and charitable practices. We are only providing information that we find to be… strange and worthy of investigation.]

We have talked about it before on our Star Wars Fanatics show. We even have members of the 501st on the show. Can you imagine joining the 501st during the middle of a pandemic only to watch the Legion Commanding Officer (an elected yearly position by Legion Members) ousted? Oblivious to the drama, new members are tossed into this whirlpool of politics without knowing who or what to believe. And that’s after spending thousands of dollars or more on a costume! FOR Charity!

There are already multiple Reddit forums on the subject, as well as vocal outcry. If you have plenty of time on your hands and want to know more, here’s the link to the primary Reddit Forum on the topic.

When it all boils down, however, it seems that an organization that was once proud to call itself the premiere Star Wars costuming club has seemingly now burned itself to the ground. We have heard of bullying and other issues to people in costumes in conventions but have written that off to individual members. We have even heard of Ray Park and Daniel Logan shunning the 501st and abandoning their honorary members. These Star Wars actors didn’t even respond to this apology from the 501st that we are aware of.

So we have to ask: is this 501st turmoil ruining Star Wars for Star Wars fans?

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