Star Wars: A New Hope was released in the summer of 1977, beginning one of the most adored sagas in film history. For many, the early films marked a significant point in their lives. One that would steer them on a course to a galaxy far, far away—or at least, to dress the part.
James Welch has been a fan since the first time he saw it in a drive-in theater when he was 4 years old.
But only in the last four years did he consider turning his enjoyment into a full-fledged hobby.
After seeing a clip of the 501st Legion costume group performing at the Rose Bowl in 2007, Welch thought to himself, “I could do that.”
For the uninitiated, cosplay groups like the 501st Legion are renowned for their Star Wars outfits and uniforms built through careful research and construction based on detailed stills of the series.
“We have very strict guidelines that we go by,” Welch says. “They have to be movie accurate.”
It wasn’t until 2012 that he reached out to the Mountain Garrison in Nebraska, where he lived at the time, and attended one of their costumed parties “and it just snowballed from there.”
In 2014, Welch moved to Arizona and joined the Dune Sea Garrison, a Star Wars cosplay group.
Welch’s first of his three costumes was a Tusken Raider of Tatooine, complete with the unnerving cloth-wrapped face mask and wind swept robes.
“When I got it approved, I had about $600 put into it,” Welch says.
Because of the detail put into these near-replica costumes, they tend to cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars to make. Welch has seen a Darth Vader outfit that cost $6,000 and a Boba Fett outfit, complete with the jetpack and blaster rifle, cost $4,500. And in the same way some artists cannot stop painting on their canvas, a costume maker is “never ever completely done” adding more and more details, pursuing the perfect construct.
The process may seem daunting when it not only requires money, but also skill. One of the advantages of joining a group like the Dune Sea Garrison is the connections you build among other cosplayers.
Welch had one member build him the armor pieces for his Snow Trooper outfit and another who helped with detailing. Materials, of course, are important since picking the right, breathable materials prevents “dying from heat exhaustion.”
But after all the work, the payoff is all in the fan reaction.
“Sometimes it’s kids,” says Welch. “But it’s usually adults who grew up seeing the Tusken Raider attack Luke Skywalker and they recognize it right away.”
The Dune Sea Garrison attends several events each month, ranging from geek conventions to donation runs.
“Charity work is the bulk of what we do,” says Welch.
Their last big event was the MS Walk at the Phoenix Zoo on November 14, where they helped to raise money for the cause.
“I absolutely love it,” says Welch.
Some movie theaters have approached the Garrison to attend their opening nights for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Welch, however, has plans to see it on that very evening. It has been a full decade since the last film was released.
“I’m curious to see where the story goes,” says Welch. “I hope this is the start of a new run.”
Catch the Dune Sea Garrison at Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest this month, and certain theaters for the movie release in December.