Good Life

11 questions with 501st Legion member Andrew Marzka

A series of Star Wars fighters lines the walls of Andrew Marzka's basement.
A series of Star Wars fighters lines the walls of Andrew Marzka's basement.

Dress for the job you want — even if it only exists in a galaxy far, far away.

Andrew Marzka, of State College, is a member of the 501st Legion, an international “Star Wars” fan organization where the clothes make the members and the members make the clothes.

Marzka has built his own Stormtrooper armor and imperial royal guard uniform, both held to the highest standards of authenticity — and they don’t just hang in the closet either.

The Legion has put its singular sense of style to use for charity appearances and other alliance approved acts of kindness that seem out of line with the house that Vader built.

Below, Marzka talks space tailoring and his anticipation for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which arrives in theaters on Dec. 18.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how uncomfortable is your Stormtrooper costume?

A: My Stormtrooper armor is actually pretty comfortable. I’ll rate it an 8 only because of some mobility and visibility limitations.

Q: There’s an entire galaxy’s worth of “Star Wars” villains to choose from and you’ve crafted costumes based on several of them, from stormtroopers to sith lords. Do you have a favorite?

A: My favorite is still my first costume, an emperor’s royal guard.

Q: Was there a learning curve in terms of building something like that? How long did it take you?

A: Each of my builds have used different skill sets. Some skills I was used to using and some I had to start at ground zero and figure it out as I went. As for time, each one is different. My shortest is a couple of weeks and others have taken a few months. But once they are done and ready for duty we are always fixing, tweaking, adjusting, improving ... So a costume is never “really” done.

Q: Aside from the films themselves, what did you use for reference materials? It seems like there would be a certain attention to detail that’s required.

A: We have exceptionally high accuracy standards in our group. Most of the references come from screen shots and other LucasFilm-approved images.

Q: What’s the secret to achieving the level of authenticity that you needed here?

A: Research! We also have a tremendous amount of resources in the way of member knowledge and networking with the individual character builds.

Q: Have your costume-making skills come in handy anywhere else? Are you the go-to dad come Halloween?

A: I have always been creative so I use a lot of that just about everywhere. We have a good time at home dressing up; my 7-year-old son, Nick, really enjoyed it as well. He already has a Jawa and wants to do an Imperial Officer so he can match his dad!

Q: How many members are in your garrison? Are all of them locally based?

A: We have almost 200 members in Pa., W.Va., and Del. Internationally we have over 2,000 active members.

Q: There are many worlds of science fiction and fantasy in pop-culture. Why “Star Wars?”

A: “Empire Strikes Back” was the second movie I had ever seen in a theater when it was originally released in 1980. For kids it’s a fun movie with lots of action, fun characters and monsters. As you get older though the storyline really resonates and there are a lot of important life lessons.

Q: The 501st has members all over the world. Have you had the opportunity to interact with many international fans?

A: The most interaction I have had internationally is with other members through our forum boards.

Q: Have you been able to take part in any of the charitable projects that the 501st has taken part in for groups like The Association for the Support of Children with Cancer or Toys for Tots?

A: My first event was at the Janet Weiss Children’s Hospital in Danville. During the annual telethon fund drive, we hopped from room to room with a wagon of new Star Wars toys and action figures bringing smiles to kids’ faces. When we left, the wagon was empty and I had more than sweat running down my face when I took my helmet off. It was very moving!

Q: Expectations are high for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” In your mind, what does the movie have to accomplish in order to qualify as success?

A: I think what J.J. Abrams is doing with the film for a visual standpoint is going to deliver a “back to the original trilogy” feel. The story itself is what is going to make this movie, and from what I have seen from the trailers I think it’s going to be an overwhelming success!

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready