In another exciting first for the Geek Goddess Interviews, this week’s featured fangirl is a member of the 501st Legion, a volunteer organization of costume enthusiasts who promote interest in Star Wars while contributing to their communities through charity and volunteer work.
English professor Lindsay Ludvigsen remembers seeing “Return of the Jedi” as a young child. Even then, she felt the pull of the Dark Side, a fascination she now expresses by donning the painstakingly detailed uniform of an Imperial Officer, thus transforming into Commander Ludvigsen of the Galactic Empire.
As event coordinator for the Southern California Garrison’s Orange County Squad, Ludvigsen puts her love of Star Wars to good use as her squad “troops” to bring smiles to the faces of fans young and old, joining in charity events for a variety of worthy causes.
Even while devoting so much energy to Star Wars, Ludvigsen is enthusiastic about several other fandoms, including Harry Potter — with her predilection for the Dark Side, guess which house she’s in — Doctor Who and, yes, Star Trek.
If, like me, you’ve ever been curious about what it takes to join up with the Legion, you’ll want to read what Lindsay has to say about the group’s mission, what it means to be a member, and what it’s like to be a woman in the 501st.
You joined the 501st in 2016. How did you hear about it? What prompted you to join up?
I cannot remember the first time I heard about it, but I’ve known about the 501st Legion for a while and had always wanted to join, but kept putting it on the back burner until finally in 2016 I told myself, this year I will join.
So I started doing research on the costume I wanted (Imperial Staff Officer) in the Costume Reference Library on the Legion’s website, and started looking for the pieces. It took a few trial and errors (parts bought not quite right), but after nine months I finally had everything perfect and submitted my application and photos, and was approved a week later!
Tell me your personal Star Wars saga. How were you introduced to the films? What role have they played in your life?
I was introduced to the films by my parents. I can remember seeing “Return of the Jedi” in theaters — an early memory but one I remember well. Must have made an impact! My mom made me a Princess Leia costume for Halloween when I was younger too, and I had long hair then so she put it up in the two buns!
My sister and I used to have lightsaber duels with our 80s lightsabers, and I grew up reading the books and later comics. I watched the Ewok movie and holiday special! Later I would have lightsaber duels with boyfriends (and win, of course), and I’ve see every movie the day they come out. I love the animated “Clones Wars” series as well as “Star Wars Rebels,” and I still read all the books and comics! I also enjoy going to Star Wars Celebration — my favorite convention.
Were you always drawn to the Dark Side of the Force?
Yes, of course I liked Princess Leia, but I always liked more of the Dark Side characters like Darth Vader and the Emperor — he is the first character I remember making me feel scared. I remember watching “Return of the Jedi” in the theater as a kid and when the Emperor showed up he was scary! I asked my mom what was wrong with him and my mom said that’s what you end up looking like when you’re bad, ha ha! I think she wanted me to behave for a while!
Star Wars is everywhere right now, thanks to Disney’s continuation of the franchise. Do people seem to be more interested in the 501st since “The Force Awakens”?
Yes, my Garrison — the Southern California Garrison — has received several new members within the past year, and the 501st Legion is now over 11,000 members worldwide.
How does one go about joining the 501st?
To join, one just needs to be at least 18 years old, and he/she needs to have a costume that follows the Legion’s Costume Reference Library (CRL), which can be found on the Legion’s website. The 501st is for the “bad guys” in Star Wars, our sister group — Rebel Legion is where to go if one wishes to be a “good guy.” We often troop with them and they are also a great group of fans! But once you know what character you want to be, look at the CRL for your character to see what is needed.
Also, there are detachments for every type of character so joining the detachment forum is a really good idea because you will find help for your costume there. Also, you can find more help by joining your local Garrison’s forum. Many Garrisons have “armor parties” where one can go to get help with their costume. You do not need to be a member to join the forums and go to armor parties.
Once you have your costume ready, you fill out the application on the Legion’s website and send your Garrison’s Membership Liaison (GML) your costume photos and then wait for a reply!
Are there many women involved?
Yes! I often troop with many ladies and we are in all different costumes: Officers, Stormtroopers, Biker Scouts, Jawas, Sith, TIE Pilots, etc. The Legion does not discriminate against race, religion, age, ability, gender, or size. One can be any character they like as long as they follow the CRL. In our Garrison, we have a wonderful female Kylo Ren and Darth Maul, and an equally wonderful male Captain Phasma!
You’re an Imperial Officer. Why did you choose that character?
I’ve always liked the Officers — I am a fan of Tarkin and Thrawn, and of course I like the new Officer characters of Krennic, Hux, Pryce (from “Star Wars: Rebels”), and Rae Sloane from the books. It’s their uniforms — they look so nice and put together! I like fashion and the Empire definitely has better fashion sense than the Rebels! If you can’t beat them dress better than them!
How did you go about putting together your costume? Was it challenging or time-consuming?
I’m not good at sewing so I commissioned my costume (which is also OK to do — you can make your own or commission one, just as long as it follows the CRL). My first uniform didn’t fit the CRL, so I had to do another commission, which was a little big but I found a good tailor to fix it.
The hat was hard but some 501st members told me a great place for hats, but the hardest part was the boots! I went through three pairs of boots until I just found a cobbler near me and had custom ones made! It was a lot of trial and error but being able to ask other 501st members on the forums and Facebook pages helped point me to the right people who make the parts to Legion standards.
Do you build any kind of backstory for your character?
No, not yet. My rank bar is Commander, so I’m Commander Ludvigsen of the Galactic Empire, but that’s all I have!
Is the cosplay or role playing element part of the appeal of the 501st, do you think? Do you go to a lot of conventions?
Cosplay is definitely an appeal to being in the 501st. Many members have more than one approved costume and also cosplay in other fandoms. Like any group, there are those that love to cosplay and role play, and those who maybe don’t do it as much, but still enjoy doing it when trooping. Members of the 501st also like making a difference in other’s lives through trooping and charity. I enjoy bringing smiles to fans young and old.
I understand you’d like to build a TIE fighter pilot costume next. Tell me about that.
I want to have more than one approved costume for the 501st, and I also want a helmeted costume because some days you don’t feel like putting on makeup! But also I love to fly in real life — would like to someday get a pilot’s license, but in the meantime I can cosplay and troop as a TIE Pilot! I’ve always loved TIE fighters too, the sound they make is one of my favorite sounds!
You’re an event coordinator for the Southern California Garrison’s Orange County Squad. What does that entail? What kind of events do you coordinate?
Any event request that we receive that is located in Orange County, Calif., is sent to me and the Squad Leader. When the Squad Leader approves it, I contact to host and ask him/her more questions about the event and accommodations for us (often a room to change in and water because those costumes are hot!)
Then when I hear back from the host, I post it in the “pending” forum and once a member volunteers to be the event’s point of contact, it goes live for members to sign up to troop it! I let the point of contact know the host’s contact info and he/she keeps the host updated on our participation at their event.
How do people tend to react when the 501st shows up at an event? That must be priceless.
Yes, people love seeing us at their events in our costumes. Trooping is lots of fun, but the kids are the best, they just love seeing us and want pictures with us. There’s always a lot of surprise when we arrive and then excitement. I love seeing kids’ reactions to us and it makes every troop so much fun!
Fundraising and charity and volunteer work is key to the mission of the 501st. What are some of the things your squad has done? Do you have any favorite memories?
Yes, the Legion as a whole has raised $150,000 for Make-A-Wish in 10 months, and in the OC Squad we do events to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s at the Walk4ALZ events, Special Olympics events, visits to Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and we attend many library and school events, as well as parades and conventions! The other Squads within SCG also do many charity events — we may be in different Squads, but we all troop within each other’s Squads anyway.
One of my favorite memories was doing an event for foster children during the holidays and we helped pass out donated gifts to the children and they were so happy to see Star Wars characters, and I felt good making those children so happy and seeing their excitement at us being there. There was just a good feeling all around at that troop.
You’re an English professor. How did you come to select that as a career? What do you enjoy about it?
I thought I wanted to teach history, even got a BA in it, but when I took some literature classes I realized I liked the fictional world more than the real world! So I got a second BA and MA in English. I also think knowing how to communicate and think critically are important skills, no matter what profession a student may choose, so I’m happy to teach it. I enjoy teaching at the college level too because it is here where you see students start to plan their futures and really think about what they want in life.
I’m assuming you love books and reading. Did that play role in your interest in geeky things at all?
Oh yes, I always read books and comics as a kid/teen (and still do as an adult)! I’ve always favored fiction too, still do, so sci-fi and fantasy have always been my favorite kinds of stories to read.
Do you incorporate fandoms or pop culture into your teaching in any way?
Yes, I try to. Just the other day, I discussed character analysis in literature and we watched an episode of “Doctor Who” (“Vincent and the Doctor”). Students had a worksheet they did where they analyzed one of the characters in the episode. I like doing that because I know some students who got into “Doctor Who” after doing that class assignment!
As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change about the world of fandoms and geek culture?
Maybe more women helping each other within our fandoms, but I’m lucky enough to have many lady (and guy) friends who help, and there is a great Facebook page called Ladies of the Legions where women in (or wanting to join) the 501st Legion, Rebel Legion, Mandalorian Mercs, and Saber Guild go to get help from other ladies on their costumes, and talk with other ladies about costuming and fandom issues. It’s a great group and members often meet up at different conventions, too.
Does your love of Star Wars manifest itself in other ways in your life besides the 501st?
Yes, I collect a lot of Star Wars stuff! And I’ve been enjoying the new books and comics. And because of Star Wars, I have made many friends because we share the same interest.
What are your plans for “The Last Jedi”?
I’ve had my ticket for opening night for a few months now! A friend reserved a theater for her and all her friends, and when you reserve a theater they give you your tickets early! So I will be seeing it with lots of friends! I also bought some tickets for the next day because I know I will be seeing it many times in the theater anyway!
I understand you are also a Harry Potter-phile. How did you first discover J.K. Rowling’s series?
The books had been out for a couple years already but no films yet, and I was at a bookstore and saw them on the shelf. I had heard good things about them but was still shy about buying a “kids book.” So I casually went to the shelf and picked up the first one and bought it. Within a couple days, I finished book one and I went back to the bookstore and bought the others that were out then, too (books 2 and 3) and was not shy about it! I remember when I went up to the cashier to buy the rest, the clerk said she saw people doing that a lot, ha ha!
How do you express your passion for this franchise?
Besides my Star Wars collection, my Harry Potter collection is one of my biggest. I think it’s because when those books came out I was a young adult in college but still living at home and had a decent paying parttime job, so that means I had money to spend just on collectibles! My Harry Potter collectibles are some of the neatest and oldest ones I have. I also have a Slytherin school uniform costume — also one of my oldest costumes, but still fits! And I still wear it to conventions. I would eventually like to get Narcissa and Bellatrix costumes, too.
What’s your Hogwarts house?
You’re a Whovian, too! What do you like about the series?
The positivity is what draws me to the series. No matter what happens in the show, there is a sense of hope in each episode, and it makes me feel good and reminds me that there are good things and people in this world.
Who’s your Doctor?
12th Doctor!! I love Peter Capaldi! I know some fans say your Doctor is your first Doctor, but the first Doctor I saw was 11th, and he bugged me at the time, so I almost didn’t watch more “Doctor Who”! But then I gave it another try and liked it more and more, and then I caught up on all the past episodes. But I didn’t have a favorite Doctor until 12th. I just relate to him more than others. Also, as a side note, I really like Missy!
Are you looking forward to the upcoming Season 11?
Yes, I am, although I will really miss the 12th Doctor and Missy.
Our interview would not be complete without mentioning that you are a Trekkie, as well. Which incarnation of the series if your favorite and why?
I really like “Star Trek: The Next Generation” because that is the show that got me into Star Trek. For a long time that was the only one I had watched, but then I started watching “Deep Space Nine” and enjoyed that, too. I liked how “ST:TNG” seemed to be mostly about outer exploration, but “DS9” was a lot about inner exploration. I also like “Voyager.” I admit I haven’t really gotten into the Original Series, but I like Spock. I have, however, enjoyed the new films, and I did like “Wrath of Khan” — that’s a classic.
Have you been watching “Discovery”?
No, not yet. I’m going to wait and see if it becomes free in the future. But some of my friends have watched it and like it.
And I have to ask … which is better? Star Wars or Star Trek? (Hopefully your answer won’t get you kicked out of the 501st.)
Ha ha! I honestly love Star Wars a little more, although I do like some characters in Star Trek, such as Picard and Q, but there are many 501st members, including myself, who like Star Wars and Star Trek too, so it’s all good!
About the Geek Goddess Interviews:
No Man’s Land chats weekly with a “Geek Goddess” whose devotion to her fandoms manifests itself in unique and inspiring ways. We’re always looking for interview subjects, so if you know someone who might be ideal, please respond via the comments, private message, or email, email@example.com.