Saber Maidens admin sews her way to a space for women to connect with the Force

This week, we continue to combat the toxic masculinity and divisive rhetoric that’s threatening to make being part of the Star Wars fan community kind of a downer. In the second installment of a two-part interview, we’re featuring another co-founder and co-admin of the Facebook group Saber Maidens.

As we learned last week, Saber Maidens is a support group for women who are into Star Wars, the (light)saber arts, and prop and costume fabrication. The group began as the vision of Pat Yulo and Celeste Joy Greer Walker (who we featured last week) as they sought to create a safe space for female fans wary of being shamed or bullied by fanboys.

In this interview, we meet Pat, who got hooked on sewing after taking classes at her local community college and soon discovered an outlet for the Star Wars passion sparked, interestingly enough, after she made the connection between “Spaceballs” and “A New Hope” as a high school freshman living in the Philippines.

Pat now has eight approved costumes with Rebel Legion — no easy feat! — and troops regularly with the charity group; will be featured in the upcoming docuseries “Looking for Leia”; is admin of My Little Pony-Star Wars mashup group MLP Jedi; and holds a special place in her heart for that purple-haired goddess, Admiral Holdo.

She also throws down the gauntlet to fanboys crying tears over a new era of inclusive Star Wars stories. In her words:

“We’re here to declare that this new female-centric version of Star Wars is here to stay and for every fanboy shedding tears, there are more women behind you not willing to put up with it.”

You’re an admin and co-founder of the Facebook group Saber Maidens. For those who aren’t familiar with the group, what is Saber Maidens about?

Saber Maidens is a support group for women (cis, trans and everything in between) who enjoy dressing up as Force users and wielding lightsabers. People who participate in the group have varying needs met — some are more into the creation of the costumes and are looking for sewing help, others are more into the physical choreography of using a lightsaber. All of them are people looking for a space to talk about Star Wars that does not include the negativity of the current “fanboy” state out there.

What are your duties as admin and co-founder?

I always joke that for any group, my duties as admin is to find relevant memes to post on the group. We moderate conversations and try to engage our members to talk about their current projects.

Tell me about the conversations with co-admin Celeste Joy Greer Walker that led to the founding of the group.

Somewhere buried in the bowels of Facebook Messenger was the beginnings of the conversation that started Saber Maidens. Celeste and I originally envisioned a safe space for female Star Wars fans to discuss their love of the fandom. It differs from other groups because we primarily focused on Jedi and lightsaber choreography, because it was how we met and some of our fueling passions in the fandom. We’re not pilots or princesses or smugglers. We identify with the Force and make that our focus.

Why did you feel women needed a “safe space” in the Star Wars choreography clubs?

For full disclosure, I was always at the periphery of the choreography clubs. My skill, time, and other duties prevented me from exploring and spending more time with the group. So my participation is fleeting at best. What I’ve personally experienced hasn’t been too jarring, but also, that’s because I haven’t been too entrenched in that atmosphere. My one major negative interaction with the choreography club was getting burned by a saber maker who overcharged me for a lightsaber and took two years to deliver.

Saber Maidens members sometimes meet for “crafternoon get-togethers” to work on projects and hang out. Tell me about those meetups.

Gosh, nothing is more fun and unproductive than getting together for a crafternoon! We set goals — like working on arm bands or learning new makeup techniques — and then get distracted by the conversation, food, and fun of the atmosphere. Sometimes we take submission photos together for the various clubs. Each person who attends has a different craft agenda sometimes and each person works on their own project while in the company of others.

What other activities have Saber Maidens participated in as a group?

Some of the members of Saber Maidens have presented at local cons on how to create authentic looking Jedi costuming. The speakers have now been nicknamed “Jedi Master Interfacing” and “Jedi Master Velcro” based on how much time they spend at each session talking about their love for each item. We say Jedi are held together by Velcro, snaps, and the Force.

You were inspired to get into costuming in 2002 after working at a local Renaissance Faire. What appealed to you about this particular craft?

I’ve always been a crafty person and loved making things. When I was younger, it was about painting and embroidery. When I moved to the U.S., I lost a safe space to paint and needed to find an outlet that didn’t make such a big mess. I joined the Renaissance Faire and learned how to sew. Then I got a sewing machine and ended up taking classes at the local community college.

My first teacher was very curious about my questions as no one else in the beginner’s class was asking about working with fur. (I wanted to make a Care Bears costume). He told me to volunteer for Costume Con, and that’s when I saw what the local costuming community was like and I fell in love with the creativity.

A combination of working for Faire and participating in the local costuming community really helped me to come out of my shell. High school me was VERY quiet, shy, and reserved. Now I’m a lot more assertive, goal-oriented, and boisterous.

Pat Yulo in a Winter Fairy costume she fashioned out of her wedding dress.

You took a sewing class at community college and went on to earn a certificate in theater costuming. What’s the most important thing you learned during your studies?

I went in for one class and, like an addict, kept going back for more! I loved it and the school was so supportive and thorough. I learned that SEWING IS HARD. It involves pain, some blood, a lot of heartache, and lots of overthinking. I know my math skills improved, as did my engineering mind. Sewing teaches math and patience, which are not really byproducts you think of when it comes to the hobby. Practice, practice, practice.

The Saber Maidens are currently working on Lightsabers for Leia, scheduled for Oct. 21. Tell me about that campaign.

The primary goal of this group build is to submit as many lightsaber-wielding Leia costumes by October 21, 2018, as a way to honor Carrie Fisher and her legacy as Leia. Princess Leia and Carrie Fisher inspired generations of fans and have been role models for many young, aspiring Jedi. When Leia was shown with Force powers in “The Last Jedi,” the moment reverberated through the fandom.

There are a lot of other instances of Leia using her latent Jedi abilities in books and comic books. Seeing Leia use a lightsaber was like seeing a potential fulfilled, and we’d like to bring that to life. For many, it reinforced the strength we knew Leia had. We want to make Leia as visible as possible in costume clubs so she can continue to serve as an icon for courage and hope.

We’ve established there are multiple variations of this version of Leia, such as Force Unleashed Leia, Infinities Jedi Leia, Marvel Jedi Leia, and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye Leia to name a few. There are certainly more instances, but those are not as fully resourced with pictures. There is also a lot of fan art that is near and dear to us. Pick a version and go with it!

We are also doing a fundraiser for the International Bipolar Foundation, which was a cause dear to Carrie’s heart. We are selling patches of our Saber Maidens logo and a special Lightsabers for Leia patch and all proceeds go to IBPF. We will also donate the money on October 21. You can order patches here.

How many people are participating and what kind of costumes are they creating?

A lot of people are working on their costumes, but we currently don’t have an exact number. As with any costumer, there is a lot of laziness and delay until we get close to the deadline. Then we’ll all freak out and finish it in a week or two. Some of us are having a hard time sourcing the appropriate materials or fabrics. We also need to decide if we want to make the costume for fun or to have it approved by either Rebel Legion or Saber Guild.

What sort of efforts are going into preparing for Oct. 21?

We are all doing a lot of research on the costumes and figuring out what is available out there. Because there are multiple instances of her wielding a saber, it’s a matter of choosing which costumes speaks to you the most. And sewing, lots and lots of sewing.

How were you personally affected by the passing of Carrie Fisher?

I remember getting the news of Carrie Fisher’s passing while finishing up breakfast on a cold, post-Christmas morning. I had to sit down and collect my thoughts. I felt like someone I knew personally had passed, and I don’t normally get this feeling for celebrities I had never met. And I was motivated to do SOMETHING. I worked with my friends at the Rebel Legion and we created a vigil for Carrie at the Yoda Fountain in front of Lucasfilm. The next day, we brought candles, pictures, cans of Coke, and a sign that we all wrote on. We sat around, talked, and comforted one another. It was a big blow to our community.

You’re a member of Rebel Legion, a group of Star Wars costuming enthusiasts who give back to the community through charity and volunteering. How did you become involved with that group?

A couple of years ago, I was wandering WonderCon as Kaylee from “Firefly” in a large, pink, fluffy dress. I came across the Rebel Legion booth and thought that if I was going to make a Star Wars costume, it would be good to use it for something meaningful. I never imagined years down the line I’d end up with TOO many Jedi costumes. (There might not be a thing as too many as I’d like to make more!). My first troop with them was for the Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco at Lucasfilm. We got to entertain kids and teach them how to use lightsabers before they went into to watch episodes of “Clone Wars.”

You currently have seven approved Jedi costumes and one Admiral Holdo costume. Wow, that is a lot! Tell me more about the different costumes and what it took to create them.

Full disclosure: I didn’t make my first approved costume. It was beyond my skills at the time to make Callista Ming, so I commissioned someone to make it for me. As my sewing skills improved, I made Jocasta Nu and a variety of generic Jedi. I like the idea of generic Jedi because you aren’t beholden to screen accuracy. You can let your imagination run wild a little bit and create colors and a character that could exist in the Star Wars universe.

I have a Jedi made up of gray fabrics that I inherited from a friend. She passed along a collection of gray skirts that had been owned by a friend’s wife who had passed suddenly. I patchworked all the skirts and gray fabrics together and I think the end product looks really polished and sophisticated, and in some way, acknowledges the leftovers of a life missed.

Could you explain what kind of work is involved in getting a costume approved by Rebel Legion? I’ve heard it isn’t easy.  

Things you learn with experience — when making a costume for any of the costume clubs, first check to see if they have a CRL (Costume Reference Library) for that character or type of character. Do research — see what’s out there, what’s been done, what’s been approved before you. Generic Jedi are one of the easiest to sew and give some leeway to creative license. Join online groups like Ladies of the Legions or the group’s forums to ask questions about your costume build.

When it’s done, take clear photos in good lighting and then submit them via a website form. It doesn’t matter how many costumes you’ve submitted — each one is nerve-racking as you wait for your approval letter! Holdo was a tough one for me because I didn’t have time to make it myself. I had to outsource the dress and submitted shortly before the movie came out, so there wasn’t even a CRL yet.

Pat in her Rebel Legion-approved Vice Admiral Holdo costume.

Which of your eight costumes was the most challenging?

Jocasta Nu was a learning curve because it took a while to figure out how to do the embroidery on her tabards. I had a newborn at the time and I’m not even sure how I finished that and a generic Jedi during my months of maternity leave. But I figured it out with some chalk, a twin needle, and a TON of dark brown thread. I must have used up over six spools!

What kind of volunteer work have you done with Rebel Legion?

I’ve been trooping with RL for almost 10 years now. As a working mom and wife, I use trooping as my “spa day.” I’ve trooped at the Ronald McDonald House, Lucasfilm, autism walks, the Great Reno Balloon Race, and Davies Symphony Hall to name a few. I love interacting with the public — especially when I hand a woman or girl a lightsaber to hold for a photo. Their eyes just light up and it’s a reminder that a lightsaber is symbolic of strength and power and, yes, women can have that power too. I’ve also helped to plan some of the parties and get-togethers.

What do you enjoy most about being a part of this group?

Deep down, I feel like all human beings are just looking to be accepted. Being part of a group like Rebel Legion fulfills that needs and provides you with friends in good times and in bad. When one of us are hurt, we rally together to help one another out. In many ways it also acts like an extended family.

You’ve said you have a whole closet full of costumes. Tell me about some of the non-Star Wars looks you’ve created.

My Jedi costumes intermingle with my steampunk stuff. A lot of my steampunk and RenFaire skirts are actually my Jedi skirts. There are fairies in there, too, one for each season. When I got married, I designed my dress to be inexpensive and reusable as a winter fairy costume. So I’ve actually gotten a lot of use out of what’s supposed to be a one-time dress. There’s also some historical stuff, like Regency, Edwardian, Dickens, and Medieval. There’s also a Dolores Umbridge and a Slytherin, and some mashups too.

Pat with the Star Wars-My Little Pony mashup group MLP Jedi.

You manage the Facebook group MLP Jedi, which is a mashup of Star Wars and My Little Pony. I had no idea such a fandom existed. Please give me all the details of how this came to be!

At Celebration Anaheim in 2015, a friend of mine and I sat at a panel about Star Wars mashups. At the time, I had made a vow — NO mashups. Ever. And yet, there we were, sitting and plotting about our mutual love for Star Wars and My Little Pony. We each picked our favorite ponies and thought nothing of it for a couple of months. The following January, I got word that cousins of mine were moving to the Bay Area and they were big Star Wars and MLP fans as well. All of a sudden, we were able to make costumes for the Mane Six. So I worked hard to construct six costumes in three months in time for BABSCon 2016. Since then we’ve just been recruiting other friends willing to join us, including a bunch of little Padawans.

Are a lot of people into this specific mashup?

There are at least 20 of us with this mashup and there is certainly fan art out there that shows there’s a fan base!

I’m having a hard time visualizing what the MLP Jedi “scene” might look like. Can you describe it for me?

I’m not sure if there’s really a scene, but we always attend BABScon, the local My Little Pony con and do a panel for the kid’s club. We sing the MLP Jedi theme song, talk about using the Force, and make lightsabers out of balloons. Last con, one of our new members who does DayBreaker Sith even did a panel about science.

You’re featured in the upcoming docuseries “Looking for Leia,” which focuses on women in the fandom. How did that come about?

Luck and the Force! I was sitting in the airport, killing time because my flight was delayed, when Celeste posted about “Looking for Leia.” I checked out the website and sent them a lengthy, gushy email about how much I love Star Wars and how I interact with my fandom. Turns out Annalise Ophelian, the filmmaker, was local to the San Francisco Bay Area and was interested in my story.

Tell me more about that experience.

The film crew came to my house to film me individually in the morning, and in the afternoon we had a round table discussion with a group of women, some of whom had come in from Reno and Texas to be part of it. Sit a group of women down for five hours and they can easily fill all that time talking about Star Wars! They also filmed some footage of the MLP Jedi being a bunch of goofs, ‘cause really, when you’re a candy-colored Jedi, life can be a lot fun. When I went on a trip to the Philippines, I managed to connect with Rebel Legion and 501st ladies there. We even managed to film some footage there, which I hope made it to the final cut!

Why did you want to be part of this amazing project?

Who would pass up an opportunity to talk about Star Wars and how it’s influenced our lives? It was a great opportunity too – I have met so many amazing women in this fandom and have connected with people around the world. My part of Saber Maidens was born out of the desire to have a space for women to connect with their fandom.

Tell me your Star Wars origin story. How did you discover George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away?

A long time ago, in a Philippines far, far away … it was Saturday, Sept. 12, 1992. I was a freshman in high school. My dad had just come back from his weekly trip to the laser disc rental store and came back with our weekend movie. “We’re watching Star Wars,” he said. My dad was a jock through and through, but man, did he love movies and movie trivia.

That afternoon we were transported to a galaxy I had never imagined … until I saw two familiar droids crossing the sand dunes of Tatooine, when I shouted, “Wait, wait, wait ….is this the movie “Spaceballs” is about?!” Up to this point, I had seen “Spaceballs” about 300 times and thought it was the best ever! I had no idea it was actually based on something.

But my life changed that day. In retrospect, it’s weird to think of how a simple movie can change your whole life and perspective but it did — it became the bedrock of my geekdom, which dictated how I interacted with people from then on.

Why do you think this franchise has proved to be such an enduring passion for you?

Why does any mythology endure? I like to imagine that hundreds of years from now Star Wars would be the equivalent of Greek and Roman myths today. The characters and storyline are universally understood, especially in light of the “Hero’s Journey” by Joseph Campbell. And now with the new trilogy we finally get the Heroine’s Journey.

The evolution of the franchise has been exciting to be a part of too. More people are starting to renew their passions and more are joining it. The widening of character-types and arcs are allowing more people to see themselves in the movies as well. I never connected with Princess Leia but Vice Admiral Holdo? Man, there was a woman who was stately and not afraid to be herself.

Does Star Wars manifest itself in your life in other ways besides costuming?

My Star Wars passion has ebbed and flowed over the years, and there were the “dark times” shortly after “Episode I” came out. I was disillusioned with the direction of the franchise. Joining the Rebel Legion really did fan the flames of fandom, and I appreciate the costuming community for it.

I feel like my Star Wars passion is all-pervasive and touches all parts of my life. My husband is a huge geek too, just in a very quiet kind of way. One Christmas, I gave him a picture that said, “I love you more than Star Wars.” He laughed and said, “That’s not true but it’s a nice sentiment.”

There’s a Rose Tico quote on the Saber Maidens page — “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” I found this interesting in light of the fact that the Star Wars fandom seems to have gotten nasty recently with all the “Last Jedi” hate and arguing about the “Solo” movie, petitions to remake the film, and calls for Kathleen Kennedy to be fired. What are your thoughts about that?

That quote really struck a chord with a lot of us. Sadly, it feels like there is a lot of hatred in the Star Wars fandom, and I hate to say it but most of it is coming from men. All of the female-centric circles I’ve been in have been happy with the changes in the franchise, including women of color, ages and various body types. Sadly, these additions have not been well received and the paradigm towards hate grows stronger every day. It makes women want to give up with their fandom, which is one of the reasons I think Saber Maidens and communities like it are important.

But like the old adage goes, you can’t fight fire with fire, you can’t fight hate with hate either. What is it with fragile toxic masculinity that has made it rear its ugly head in many vocal forms lately? We’re here to declare that this new female-centric version of Star Wars is here to stay and for every fanboy shedding tears, there are more women behind you not willing to put up with it.

Pat as Dolores Umbridge.

What are some of your other fandoms?

Oh man, at my heart I am a geek and when I love, it’s deep and thorough. Let’s see, I love Doctor Who, My Little Pony, Firefly, Twin Peaks, and Harry Potter, to name a few. Things that aren’t completely considered geeky but that I treat with full force passion — Broadway musicals and books by L.M. Montgomery, especially “Anne of Green Gables.” My husband and I made our pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island for her.

Let’s close with a few Star Wars questions:

What’s your ultimate favorite film in the franchise?

“A New Hope.” I just love that classic hero’s journey, especially the scene where Luke stares off into the two suns and the music theme swells around him. I don’t know how many times I painted that sunset in high school!

What other movies, franchise entries, or stories from the Star Wars universe are you into?

I used to read the Expanded Universe (now Legends) voraciously. I stopped once they killed off Chewie but have been picking up some of the newer books as well. I LOVE “Leia: Princess of Alderaan” by Claudia Grey because it explains how Leia accesses the Force so beautifully and introduces Holdo, who reminded me of my high school self.

Who’s your favorite character?

Luke Skywalker forever. That farm boy is my jam.

Favorite droid?

R2-KT

Lightsaber color?

Orange. It’s a unique color and stands out in a crowd of blues and greens.

Porgs? Yes or no?

I would trade porgs for crystal foxes! There are a voracious subset of Saber Maidens who are totally team porg. We even have a member who does Daenerys Targaryen but with porgs — she is the Mother of Porgs. Me? I want a Swarovski tie-in with the crystal fox.

If someone wanted to join Saber Maidens, how would they go about it?

Find us on Facebook! We have a page that’s available to the public and a group that’s private. Also, we do meetups in the San Francisco Bay Area because it’s where we started. But if you’re a group of lightsaber-wielding gals and want to meet up in another location, we hope we can help with that too!

If readers would like to get involved with Lightsabers for Leia, what should they do?

Post on our Facebook page or join our private group. If you have questions about the costume build, we hopefully can pool our knowledge to figure it out!

 

 

Toxic masculinity no match for saber-wielding Leia fan

This has been a summer in which the Star Wars fandom seems more divided than ever. The geek community has been forced to confront an alarming amount of toxic masculinity bubbling up from below the surface, whether in the form of “Last Jedi” haters calling for the firing of Kathleen Kennedy or fanboys actually crying over a “Fanboy Tears” mug.

So I’m kinda overjoyed that the next installment of the Geek Goddess interviews is a two-parter, featuring founders and co-admins of the Facebook group Saber Maidens, a refreshingly fierce, optimistic, and inclusive support group for women who are into Star Wars, the (light)saber arts, and prop and costume fabrication.

In Part 1, we meet Celeste Joy Greer Walker, an OG, lifetime Star Wars fan who saw “Episode IV” in 1977 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood with her parents (who sound amazing). The story of how she cried when the movie ended because she wanted to see it again almost had me in tears, as did many moments in this interview. 

Celeste describes Star Wars as her life’s foundation and she’s immersed herself in the galaxy far, far away in inspiring ways. As a child, she began dressing up as Princess Leia, created her own costumes from thrift store finds, and once crafted a lightsaber from her bicycle’s handlebar grip (much to her Dad’s chagrin).

As an adult, she’s a member of saber dueling organization Saber Legion, is involved in several saber dueling clubs and competes in tournaments, makes her own costumes, considers Carrie Fisher a role model, and also embraces Harry Potter and steampunk. 

Celeste serves up an impressive amount of Jedi-like wisdom when it comes to subjects like misogyny within the Star Wars fandom, a certain Rose Tico quote, advice on raising awesome geek children, and all the “Last Jedi” hate. 

(Next week, come back for Part 2, featuring Celeste’s co-founder and co-admin, Pat Yulo.)

Photo: Ruth Miller, Eclectic Eye Fine Art and Photography.

You’re an admin and co-founder of the Facebook group Saber Maidens. For those who aren’t familiar with the group, what is Saber Maidens about?

We have a formal definition on our Facebook page that we spent a lot of time debating about. What it comes down to is Saber Maidens is different things for different people. Some fans come to it for costuming support, some for choreography support, some for lightsaber support.

How did the group come to be founded?

Right now, there’s a lot of machismo in Star Wars fandom. That has not always been the case!  But the most macho of machismo is in Star Wars lightsaber-centric groups. A lot of lightsaber fans come from martial sport and there is traditionally still a lot of separation of the genders.

I made my first lightsaber from an old flashlight, my bicycle handlebar grip, and a copper pipe. I was 10. My dad was annoyed that I disfigured my brand new handlebar grip.

My interest in lightsabers ebbed in 2012 … and I began my journey into the Star Wars lightsaber fandom. Even in San Francisco there was not a lot of room for non-heterosexual males. A lot has changed since 2012.

But when I started I was often the only non-male in the class. I was mistaken for someone’s girlfriend, someone’s mother … my saber comrades found it hard to believe that I was a Star Wars lightsaber mega fan! Some were in such disbelief that a creature like me could exist (cis-female hetero Star Wars lightsaber mega fan) that they ignored me entirely, like I did not exist.

Celeste Joy Greer Walker and Saber Maidens co-founder and co-admin Pat Yulo.

What are your duties as admin and co-founder of Saber Maidens?

I post or repost things that I think would be interesting to other lightsaber enthusiasts. I also give a lot of encouragement to those who are first getting into the costuming and choreography aspect of Star Wars fandom.

I’m also working on trying to reinvigorate the martial sport of saber combat dueling for non-male individuals. That’s going to be a slow road because there’s so much stigma even in coed martial sports… Groups like LudoSport and Saberist Academy are making an effort to encourage a coed atmosphere. But there are still a lot of roadblock, often from well-intended men who think they’re being inclusive because they let you be there. That, unfortunately, is not the same as respect.

Saber Maidens has a public page but it’s a closed group with more than 50 members. That’s pretty large for a closed group!

I used to know everyone that was involved. I met them at a convention or at costuming choreography meetups. But now there’s a lot of people from all over the place. And Saber Maidens is maturing into a group to be very proud of.

The Saber Maidens motto is “saving the galaxy one stitch at a time.” What was the inspiration for that slogan?

We had been going back and forth about it for a while. We must have had 200 or 300 ideas. I am probably exaggerating a little. But that came together very organically. I think one of us was cross stitching Star Wars characters and there were some jokes about “A Stitch in Time,” and then it escalate and before I knew it, there it was.

Why a group for just women? I think some men might assume (quite wrongly) that women aren’t interested in lightsabers.

Hahaaaaaaaaaaaaaahaha.

Just a minute. I’m almost finished laughing and then I can answer your question.

You said, “some men.” Even men who identify as feminist can become protective of their lightsaber man space with an Imperialistic authority.

And more importantly, we’re trying to be more inclusive than just women. There’s a lot of people who identify in a lot of different ways who get left out of the conversation when it becomes machismo dominant.

Your members belong to a diverse array of Star Wars costuming groups, including Rebel Legion, the 501st, Mandalorian Mercs, and Saber Guild. That sounds so fun! What’s that like?

It is a privilege to have a costume that is accepted by one or all of these groups where you can go out and represent Lucasfilm to the public. I’m very proud of the volunteer work I have been able to do as a member. But we have quite a few Saber Maidens who participate purely for the love of lightsabers and the love of Star Wars and for whatever reason don’t want to be members of the costuming clubs.

Are you a member of any of these groups?

I have an approved costume with Saber Guild. I also served as costume coordinator and  local assistant director for Saber Guild Golden Gate Temple. Currently, I’m representing a Saber Guild outpost in the high desert of central California. I’m also working on approval for several costume with Rebel Legion.

But, of course, what’s first on my to-finish list will be the Jedi Leia (costume) from Empire Infinities.

What’s your personal involvement in the “saber arts”?

I first got involved with a little group in the Bay Area. We eventually evolved into the group that is now Saber Guild Golden Gate Temple. My first performance with Saber Guild was at the 2012 San Diego International Comic-Con.

Celeste with the Saber Guild at San Diego Comic-Con.

I’ve also been involved in several saber dueling clubs. I was the first woman in the Bay Area Saber Legion Charter. I was also one of two women who competed in the first International Saber Legion tournament. I’m very proud of that. The martial sport of saber dueling is so very, very different than choreography and cosplay.

What I do with Saber Guild dressed as a Jedi librarian is more like dancing with my Sith opponent. Combative martial sports with lightsabers is more like aggressive speed dating.

Celeste sports a Hat for House Elves.

Do you do a lot of costume making? If so, what Star Wars costumes have you built or put together? Where did you learn the skills required for that?

I started putting together costumes and dressing as Princess Leia at 5. As a child, I did Ren Faires. And I had a dress-up trunk in my room. Why wait for Halloween dress-up when you can dress up all year long? A lot of my early costumes were purchased pieces combined with thrift store finds. I didn’t do much original fabrication until that last five years.

I didn’t learn how use a sewing machine until I was in my early 30s. I started making hats and Harry Potter cosplay. In 2015, one of the other founding Saber Maiden’s, Mary Fischer-Boyd, took me under her wing and really showed me the art of Jedi and Sith costuming. Mary and Pat have a panel they do at many of the cons in the Bay Area, “How to Dress as a Jedi.” The both showed me the ways of the Jedi robe making.

Celeste, front row, second from left, at a Saber Legion meetup.

What do you enjoy most about it?

The hospital visits that I have done have been the most rewarding and memorable adventures. Star Wars was an escape for me when I was growing up. Haha … it still is an escape for me. And I think it is for a lot of people. I just really enjoy that I can set all the mundane stuff aside, the real life stuff, and just give myself permission to play. I feel really fortunate that I had parents who nurtured my passions and interests.

There were some horrible things that happened to me in my childhood. Without going into the unpleasant details, I’ll just say that I really over-identify with “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Star Wars and Carrie Fisher have helped me find balance in my day to day struggles as a survivor of rape with PTSD.

When I am in costume, I love to see the adults come out of their shell. Not everybody had my mother and father, not everybody had a costume trunk when they were kids. Some kids don’t get to be kids. And playing is a learned behavior. If you never learned how to play as a child then you really should learn how to play as an adult. Like Mark Hamill said, “Learning to play is cheaper than therapy.”

Celeste at Star Wars Celebration 2017.

Saber Maidens members sometimes meet for “crafternoon get-togethers” to work on projects and hang out. Tell me about those meetups.

Sometimes we actually get sewing projects done. But there’s also a lot of consultation like, “This is what I’m working on, this is the problem, how would you solve it?” There’s also support, like when you’re costuming a lot of body issues come up, so we support each other around exercise and diet and health problems. And we remind each other to be kind to ourselves.

I think the best thing about it is that there’s such a broad base and we try and include both costuming and choreography. Some of our members find it difficult to do choreography and learn choreography in a machismo atmosphere.

Don’t get me wrong most of the guys are great, but it only takes one bad egg to stink up the kitchen.

Once I was working with a student who just felt too embarrassed to work on choreo in a coed environment. So having a place to practice, a place where you can get over all of your insecurities and play, I think that’s really what our crafting/saber meetups are about. Being a community.

Could you briefly explain what kind of work is involved in getting a costume approved by Rebel Legion or Saber Guild?

All of the costumed organizations have their own set of costuming rules so it can be challenging.

The first thing to do is to be in contact with your local costume advisor or coordinator or director.

People often want to do a big fancy costume first. I discourage this. Do the simple basic generic non-face character costume first. Figure out all the bells and whistles and hoops you have to jump through because most likely your costume is not going to get approved the first time around. Then when you’ve done the generic, you can delve into a more complicated costume.

Celeste as Princess Leia in 1987.

You’ve been a Leia fan since childhood. How were you affected by the passing of Carrie Fisher?

I was deeply affected! I remember when I read the news I was standing in my kitchen and I laid down on the floor and I cried, and then I called in sick.

Carrie Fisher put her struggles out there, her attitude was f*** them if they didn’t understand. She has been and still is a role model to me. That brazen honesty, that internal strength is something I still admire about Carrie Fisher.

You saw Star Wars at the age of 5 in the summer of ’77 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Tell me about your memories and first impressions of that.

My vivid memory … The movie was over and I was told I had to leave and I didn’t want to leave. And I remember shuffling my feet and staring at the carpet. And then I started to cry as I wanted to see it again. My Dad picked me up and one of the ushers in the fancy hats said, “You will get to see it again.” I have seen it 100 times. I dreamed that night of Death Stars and princesses wielding lightsabers.

Your mom was a DC Comics and sci-fi fan who raised you on Doctor Who, Star Trek, and classic monster movies. How did that shape you?

I grew up living this stuff. My mother is 87. Her favorite gift for her birthday this year was Wonder Woman sheets. Fandoms transcend age. I’ve never known anything else. When I became an adult and started meeting people who had never seen Star Wars and didn’t know who Doctor Who was, that was culture shock for me.

At home, It wasn’t seen as a childish thing. The idea that people had that I would somehow grow out of my love of Star Wars was extremely foreign to me. I’m 47 now, so any friends that I used to have that were hoping I’d grow out of it have moved on or they’ve gotten used to it.

Celeste and R2-D2 at the 10th anniversary Star Wars convention.

You saw Star Wars again in ’87 for its 10th anniversary and your parents came with you. What was that like?

We weren’t there just to see the movie. It was a four-day convention. But that was when my dad realized that Star Wars was more than just a kids movie. I think I was the only high school student there and the only fan there with their parents. Most of the people were aspiring filmmakers. I made quite a few friends … lost track of most of them over the years. We didn’t have Facebook back then.

What is it about the Star Wars universe that continues to intrigue and inspire you after all these years?

I’m a Star Wars mega fan. It’s my foundation. I cannot imagine not having Star Wars in my life. Being this deep into a franchise is kind of like being attached to the place you grew up. Some people leave their hometown. Some people take their hometown with them wherever they go. And some people stay right there their whole life. That’s what Star Wars is for me.

There’s a Rose Tico quote on the Saber Maidens page — “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” I found this interesting in light of the fact that the Star Wars fandom seems to have gotten nasty recently with all the “Last Jedi” hate and arguing about the “Solo” movie, petitions to remake the film, and calls for Kathleen Kennedy to be fired. What are your thoughts about that?

Wow, that’s a question, so you want me to write a book right?

The Rose Tico quote is a repeated theme within the Star Wars mythos. It’s just the first time that it was put into those words and said by someone who is not a man.

Luke had a very similar line in “Return of the Jedi” when he told Vader he would not fight him in the Emperor’s throne room and when the Death Star was exploding all around Luke is helping his father die with dignity, which I think was one of the first on-screen euthanasias. ”I have to save you.”

Anakin replayed, “You already have.” Vader came back to the light when he stopped fighting what he hated, the Empire and started fighting for what he loved, his son.

I think the Star Wars haters are very insecure people who receive some sort of emotional satisfaction through the act of complaining. If they don’t like it they should just watch a different movie. Or better yet, if they really, actually, truly love Star Wars then they should go make their own Star Wars movie or go write their own fanfiction. This franchise is alive because that’s what people did in the ‘80s and the ‘90s when there wasn’t anything.

Star Wars is a huge universe. Make it bigger, make it better, talk to your therapist and take your medication. At least I think that’s what Carrie Fisher would tell people.

Celeste at San Diego Comic-Con in 2003.

There also still seems to be a fair amount of misogyny in the Star Wars fandom. Have you encountered any of that?

Is there sand on Jakku?

We live in a sexist, misogynistic, bigoted society and at one time or another we’re all guilty of something. I would like to think that Star Wars fans are more enlightened. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Percentage-wise I think there is less misogyny and sexism then there was in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. But I think the Star Wars fandom has changed and there is actually more misogyny now than there was in 1987.

One of the questions that George Lucas was asked in 1987 at the 10th anniversary convention was, “Why aren’t there more female characters in Star Wars?”

His answer was something to the effect that Star Wars was a war movie and women didn’t belong in war movies. There was a resounding unified “booooo” from the entire audience. I’m not sure an answer like that would get a “boo” now. There are men out there who seem to think it’s the feminist agenda that has ruined their franchise.

What are some of your other fandoms?

I used to be big into classic “Battlestar Galactica” and “Buck Rogers,” but that’s only because it reminded me of Star Wars. As an adult I’ve been fascinated by Harry Potter and the entire steampunk Star Wars mashups stuff.

You’ve done costuming in the Harry Potter fandom and Steampunk genre. Tell me more about some of the other costumes you’ve done.

I really like capes! I have a closet full of capes that would astound even Lando Calrissian. Unfortunately, not many Jedi wear capes and neither does Leia.

You’re a single mom with a 23-year-old son who’s also a geek. Any advice on how to raise amazing geek children?

Figure out what they like and immerse them in it. Don’t force them to like your franchise. Ask them to explain their favorite franchise to you.

Photo: Ruth Miller, Eclectic Eye Fine Art and Photography.

And now, a few Star Wars questions.

What’s your ultimate favorite film in the franchise?

Star Wars Holiday Special. Just kidding. “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Besides Leia, who’s your favorite character?

Luke Skywalker, Duchess Satine.

Favorite droid?

L3-37, Lando’s droid in “Solo.”

Lightsaber color?

I have plans for making a paisley lightsaber.

Porgs? Yes or no?

I’m Porg neutral. But very fond of Lepis. And I feel adamant that Jaxxon should replace the Easter Bunny.

If someone wanted to join Saber Maidens, how would they go about it?

Like us on Facebook and just start participating in the conversation.

JPL’s PlanetaryKeri finds the droid she was looking for

I hereby mandate that, from now on, the role of the cool female scientist in every science-fiction movie be played by Keri Bean.

Keri, aka Twitter’s @PlanetaryKeri, has more nerd cred than anyone I’ve met.

I can’t even begin to describe the awesomeness of her educational background (studying the weather on Mars),  job (at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and hobbies, which involve everyone’s favorite droid, R2-D2, and everyone’s new favorite Star Wars heroine, Rey.

At JPL in Pasadena, Keri works on Mars rovers; the Dawn, which is orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres; and other fascinating space missions. She’s also part of the lab’s outreach team, making the science accessible to the general public.

In her downtime, Keri has quite the obsession with a certain sassy, blue-and-white Astromech droid. As a member of the R2-D2 Builders Club, she and her husband built their own functioning R2 unit, which goes well with Keri’s other hobby, cosplaying as Resistance Rey with the Rebel Legion club. 

And though we didn’t discuss it because it occurred after this interview, Keri was recently at the premiere of “The Last Jedi,” where she met Daisy Ridley, who signed Keri’s Porg.

Perfection!

You work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. It sounds like the best job ever. What do you most enjoy about it?

It absolutely is the best job ever! From the moment I was exposed to what JPL does when in high school, I knew I wanted to work there. I’ve now been working at JPL for over four years, and I still get excited to come into work every morning. I often can’t believe I work here. I think my favorite aspect is that I get to work with some of the best, brightest, and most passionate people in the world. Where else can you work on Mars rovers??

For the sake of laypeople like me, I’m going to ask you to explain some things — or maybe everything — about what you do. You’re a missions operations engineer. What does that entail?

My job is to operate spacecraft and tell them what to do. Since I have a scientific background, I focus a lot more on what’s called science operations. That means I spend a lot of time making sure as much data is taken as possible so scientists can use it to make amazing discoveries.

Currently, you’re working as a science planning and sequencing engineer for the Dawn mission. The Dawn is orbiting and exploring the dwarf planet Ceres. Could you explain your role in the mission?

So we use bits of code we call sequences to control each spacecraft. On Dawn, my prime responsibility was to work with the instrument teams to develop the sequences that would fulfill the science objectives safely. I am part of a small, four-people team that designs and executes all of the science data acquisition.

What information about Ceres has the mission yielded so far?

So, so much! Before Dawn arrived, all we had were these small fuzzy pictures of a round object. We found a large amount of evidence towards water ice, organic molecules on the surface, a transient atmosphere, and so much more! You can find out more at https://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov.

You are the tactical uplink lead and mobility/instrument deployment device engineer for the Mars Explorer Rovers. What do those titles mean? 

The Tactical Uplink Lead means you are in charge of the team planning the activities on Mars that particular shift. It’s a very mentally intense job because you have to remember a lot, make tough decisions, and more under a time crunch. I find it really satisfying. I get to tell a Mars rover what to do!

The latter role (we often shorten to Mob/IDD) is a downlink analysis role. After the rover drives or uses its arm, I’m one of the people that looks at the data and figures out what actually happened, did the activities complete safely, etc. It’s one of the first steps towards becoming a Mars rover driver!

That must be an exciting mission to work on! Tell me about that experience.

Opportunity, and her past twin, Spirit, were actually the first missions I worked on when I was an undergrad. I’ve been on and off the team since 2007! Both my undergrad and master’s thesis were based on data from Spirit. And now I’m a part of the Integrated Sequencing Team, and one of my responsibilities is also training people new to the mission on how to operate it. It’s a dream!

Keri Bean, dressed as Rey from “The Force Awakens,” with the Opportunity rover.

I read that you were interested in weather as a child and watched the Weather Channel a lot. What was it about the weather that fascinated you?

I wish I knew! It was an innate draw.

I also read it was the 2003 Columbia disaster that sparked your interest in space exploration. Tell me about that. 

I remember being at a Texas statewide academic competition called UIL, and they brought all the students into the auditorium. They announced the space shuttle had broken up over Texas and we had a minute of silence. I remember being angry. Not at what had happened, but why didn’t I know we had a space shuttle around Earth at the moment? I knew of the ISS, but what were they doing up there?

As soon as I got home I started reading as much as I could about space. My interested really got locked in a few years later when I got to witness in person the STS-114 launch, the return to flight mission post-Columbia. I went to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, the following two years. Between all of that, I got the space bug hard.

You attended Texas A&M University because it enabled you to combine your love of weather and space. You studied with Dr. Mark Lemmon whose focus is weather on Mars. Please tells us, are all the movies about Mars terribly accurate?

Mostly not. But you know, they’re movies and for entertainment! I’m willing to separate fact from fiction. “The Martian” is the closest I’ve seen to accurate, although even that has flaws.

If you could tell us only one fact about the weather on Mars, what would it be?

It snows!!!

You were able to work on several NASA missions as a student. What did you discover about yourself during this experience?

I found a couple of things. One thing was that I enjoyed astronomy as a hobby and not as a profession. I also found that I really like working with a team. A lot of my school experience was sitting in a cubicle by myself coding, and I just didn’t like the social isolation. I’m glad I got to experience spacecraft operations, as that was the balance between having a cool technical job while requiring social skills and interacting with people on a daily basis.

Are there many women working in your field?

A lot, actually! On Dawn, my manager, in the Science Operations Support Team, is a woman. Our deputy principal investigator and project scientist are women. On my JPL management side, almost all the managers up the chain are women. On MER, women rule! Up until very recently, all Tactical Uplink Leads were women for many, many years.

Right now, our lead systems engineer, lead Rover Planner (aka Mars rover driver/arm operators), and lead Mobility/IDD are all women as well. We also have more women Rover Planners than men. It’s quite often that mostly women staff the tactical team on Opportunity. I’ve seen quite a few shifts where there has only been one guy! But I also know that my experience is an anomaly, and I know many other women who tell me they’re the only women working on the team or in their job type. So while things aren’t perfect, I think there’s tremendous progress at JPL.

You’re a member of JPL’s Advisory Council for Women. How did you become involved with that? What does the council do?

So I try and help out with events that the Advisory Council for Women puts on. They have a yearly banquet (and this past year I nominated my best friend and STEM outreach extraordinaire Dr. Nicole Sharp to be the guest of honor, and she was!) and also do other events on lab.

Keri does some outreach for JPL.

You also do a lot of public speaking and outreach. And you’re an Internet celebrity with a big Twitter following @PlanetaryKeri. How did you get started in outreach? Why does it appeal to you?

I like people! A lot of my job is “translating” between the scientists and engineers, and that skill allows me to translate for the general public as well. I know there are so many people that want to do what I do, so I feel being public about it on social media is the best way to get people to experience what I do.

I could probably ask you about your job all day long, but I’d like to move on to another very important topic: Star Wars. You’re a member of the R2-D2 Builders Club. For those who are unfamiliar with the group, what is the purpose of the club?

The club is for those who want to build their very own Astromech!

How did you become involved with the group? Are there many female members?

I met a member who had built his own R2. I don’t know what it was, but when I saw R2 in person, I just knew I had to have my own. Luckily my husband was immediately on board, saying it looked like a fun engineering project. I wanted to wait a bit until I had a house, but then I saw all the droids in the droid builder’s room at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim and I just couldn’t wait anymore. I went home and ordered my first part that night. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many women in the club, but there are some! There’s now a group called Stardust Builders Initiative that spans over all the builder clubs (so BB-8, Mouse droids, etc.) and there’s close to 100 women or female-identifying people in the group.

Keri works on the dome of her R2 unit.

You built your own R2 unit. Tell me about that process. 

Oh gosh, where to begin?

It’s a long process. Most people take two to three years to build their droid. Mine was two years and a month. I had joined the forum and been reading for a good six months before I bought my first part, and that time isn’t included in that two years and one month duration.

My husband’s skills and mine complemented each other well. I took care of figuring out ordering parts, making sure they were cut/sanded/painted appropriately, etc. My husband has a background in electrical and computer engineering, so he did pretty much all of that. We still had a lot of help from friends! In fact, I have been having anyone that contributed sign the back panel of my droid.

It took a lot of nights and weekends to build. Honestly, over a year of that time was just waiting to get enough parts to actually assemble the droid. The first part we got was the dome, so we actually had our dome nearly complete in the first month of our building process. Then we had to wait a long time to get a frame, legs, and feet so we could actually assemble and stand R2 up. Once we could stand R2 up, things went pretty quickly. The last three months or so of building were pretty constant.

Once the droid is built, what do you do with him? Does the club do events? I’ve seen them at conventions and the droids are always a big hit.

I’ve only had my droid done for about six months now, so he hasn’t done a lot. We actually had a big, big push to finish because I had signed us up to troop at Legoland for their Star Wars weekend!

So we finished very late on Monday night on Memorial Day weekend, did a “soft opening” troop that Friday at a local school, then on Sunday was Legoland! It was super stressful but absolutely worth it since I got to troop as Rey with my droid there. I’ve brought my droid to JPL a few times and he is well-loved there. My husband and I want to make some more refinements before we really take him out and about more. Droids are never really done!

Tell me your personal Star Wars saga. How did you become a fan?

My first memory of watching Star Wars was in a car on a tiny 8-inch TV screen with an attached VHS tape player as my mother drove me across the country. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was in elementary school. The copies I watched were ones my parents had recorded from on air in the ‘80s, so commercials and everything.

So I liked Star Wars, but it wasn’t my main obsession until recently. I mean, I always gravitated towards the droids and had a small collection of R2-D2 things and I went to the midnight premiere of the prequels. But it wasn’t until I met the R2 builder that my love really expanded. “The Force Awakens” compounded that. I connected with Rey long before the movie came out. Now I’m hooked!

You’re a member of Rebel Legion, specifically the SoCal Sunrider Base. How did you discover the Legion?

I don’t remember exactly, but I have been going to comic cons for quite some time and probably first heard of them at one. I knew about them for years, but never had a strong desire to join since I didn’t have costumes that were up to requirements. I had a lot more fun costumes, like a feminine Han Solo, R2-D2 themed Jedi outfit, etc., that aren’t what the Rebel Legion is for. I finally decided that I would get a Rey costume up to snuff and join not only to enjoy being Rey, but also to find events to take R2-D2 to as well. The R2 builders aren’t organized in that regard like the Rebel Legion and 501st are.

What requirements did you have to meet to join the group?

Since I knew I wanted to be Rey, I had to pick which Rey costume to focus on. I really like her Resistance Rey (gray vest outfit), so I focused on that one first. I read the requirements listed on the Rebel Legion website and went from there.

Resistance Rey is an amazing character. Why did you choose her?

I just really connected with Rey in a way I have never connected with a fictional character before. She has so much of my personality and we share a lot of common traits. I eventually want all of Rey’s costumes, but I started with Resistance Rey because I loved the vest!

Was it a challenge to put the costume together?

Yes, especially since I don’t sew! I’ve tried to learn many times but I just can’t seem to do it. So I had to wait for the movie to come out then find someone willing to make it to RL standards on Etsy. I picked pieces from a few different vendors, and luckily it all worked out.

A large part of Rebel Legion’s mission centers around charity and volunteer work. What are some of the events you’ve participated in? 

I joined in January of this year and I’ve already done 18 events! I tried to pick more STEM-focused events since that’s what I’m passionate about. The highest profile events I’ve done were Legoland and Star Wars night at Angel Stadium. My first two troops were back to back for a STEM workshop for Girl Scouts. Another fun one was the El Centro Airshow since there were a lot of fun planes to take pictures in.

What kind of reactions do you get when you show up as Rey?

Rey is so popular, so I get a big response! I was a little worried that since this version of Rey is in so little footage in “The Force Awakens,” I wouldn’t be recognized. Luckily, I haven’t had that issue. Maybe it’s her distinctive hair that helps. Either way, I’m well received! It’s especially fun if I get to troop with a Kylo Ren and we play off of each other.

The little kids always think I actually am Rey, so I get to act a little bit and act like Rey for these kids. At my first troop, a young girl approached me asking me what my favorite food was. I said I had only ever eaten Unkar Plott’s portions, so I asked what her favorite food is. She said spaghetti. I said I had never heard of it, so what was it like? She said it was a plate of noodles. I asked what noodles were since I had never heard of them. At that point I could see the gears turning in her eyes and her blanking out so I said, “Ok, ok, I’ll look it up in the Resistance database. So cute!

When I was at Angel Stadium, I locked eyes from a distance with a small boy, maybe 3 years old? Anyway, he started sobbing and I had no idea what to do. His parents comforted him, and after a minute he bolted straight to me and wrapped himself tightly around my leg and through his sobs I heard something like, “Don’t let Kylo hurt you. I love you too much,” so I comforted him and told him the Force is strong with me and I’ll be ok. It was super touching.

Are there other characters you’d like to portray in the future?

I’m working on a few other costumes, but no other named characters besides Rey yet. I’ve got a Jedi and a Rebel Fleet Trooper costume in the works. I might do one of Jyn Erso’s because I really like her style.

Are you excited about “The Last Jedi”? It’s almost here!

I’m super excited! I’m excited to see where Rian Johnson takes us, and I absolutely can’t wait to see where Rey goes on her journey.

You once gave a talk about the Dawn mission to Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic. Please tell me about that!

Through the R2 builders, I ended up meeting someone who works at ILM and he invited me for a tour any time I was in San Francisco. So, of course, I had to go visit as soon as possible! My husband and I took a mini vacation up there. When coordinating my visit, I asked if he thought there would be any interest in me giving a talk about Dawn while I was there, and the rest is history! I’ve now visited a couple of times and it’s really fun every time. Once I even visited Skywalker Ranch … and when checking out at their store I met Dave Filoni!

What other fandoms are you interested in?

I think it’s obvious Star Wars is my main thing now, but I also like Star Trek, “Doctor Who,” “Battlestar Galactica,” Harry Potter, “Lord of the Rings,” and probably more I can’t remember right now. I’m not a huge comic book person, but I did like the Christian Bale “Batman” trilogy and the “Wonder Woman” movie. I used to really be into anime in high school but that faded when I went to college.

As a kid you were into Disney movies. Are you still a Disney nerd?

I’d say so. I go to Disneyland once or twice a year. I have watched a lot of the recent movies (for example, I just saw “Moana” over Thanksgiving break).

You once gave talks about Star Wars science and Dawn at Gallifrey One, the Doctor Who convention. Are you a Whovian?

A little bit! One of the things my husband and I want to do is have our R2 cosplay as a Dalek at the next Gallifrey One. Last year, I attended as Jakku/Scavenger Rey but used 4th Doctor scarf-patterned arm sleeves. That was well received.

I have to point out that there is a YouTube video in which you talk to Morgan Freeman about science. Morgan Freeman! How did that happen? Did you ever recover from it or do you still hear that magnificent voice in your head?

So the JPL media office contacted me that he would be doing an event at JPL and I had been picked to ask him a question in advance, since he wanted all questions pre-screened. So I asked him about how to do more casual outreach to reach the general audience without formal events like talks. It led to a bit of an interesting discussion. It was pretty neat. And the voice in person is just as awesome as you’d expect!

You’ve done so much professionally and personally. What is still on your career bucket list?

Well one thing I never expected to get to do is become a Rover Planner, as I thought that was mostly for robotics/computer science people. But I’ve now begun down that path, and over the next few years I’m working towards becoming one for Opportunity. So I guess there’s only crazy things left. Director of JPL? Astronaut? I don’t know! All I know is whatever I do, I’m going to have fun along the way.

What is on your geek bucket list?

I want to head to Ireland and hike Skellig Michael in my Resistance Rey outfit!

Let’s close with a few key Star Wars questions:

Is R2 the droid you were looking for?

Absolutely!

Besides R2, obviously, who is your favorite droid?

I think next I’d pick Chopper. I love the snark. K-2SO is almost tied on that front.

If you could visit any Star Wars planet, which would it be?

Definitely Ach-To. So pretty! And Porgs!

The Han Solo spin-off. Terrible idea or should we give it a chance?

I think we should give it a chance. I trust the people working on it to make it great!

And finally … Porgs. Yes or no?

Yes!!!!

 

English professor uses her dark side for good as Imperial Officer with 501st Legion

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.

Lindsay Ludvigsen in costume as Commander Ludvigsen of the Galactic Empire.
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.

Lindsay and other members of the 501st at the Orange Public Library’s Comic Con event.
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.

Lindsay and Stormtroopers, of the 501st Legion, participate in the Love Fullerton event.
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!

Lindsay has always been drawn to the Dark Side of the Force and is a fan of Imperial Officers, like Krennic.
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!

Lindsay interacts with a child at a preschool event, alongside David, a TIE fighter pilot, and a member of the Rebel Legion dressed as Rey.
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.

Commander Ludvigsen and Darth Vader put their dark sides to good use at a charity event for foster children.
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.

Lindsay poses with a prehistoric friend at the Buena Park Library’s comic day.
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!

Lindsay indulges her love for Harry Potter at the Orange Public Library’s Comic Con.
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?

Slytherin, always.

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, lavendervroman@gmail.com.