JOLIET – The costumed 501st and Rebel legions descended upon the Joliet Area Historical Museum and started their regal march on Ottawa Street to the Joliet Public Library Saturday morning.
Star Wars villain Darth Vader and his Sith predecessor Darth Bane led 501st Legion stormtroopers in a parade with music by American Legion Band as people watched from the dark side of tree shade on the hot day.
Right behind the stormtroopers, the Rebel Legion populated by Tusken Raiders waved to the crowd along the sidewalks.
Soon after the parade, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, kicked off Joliet Public Library’s 5th Annual Star Wars Day in the city.
“Today, I’m an Imperial Senator on a mission to Joliet and Alderaan,” Foster said, urging fans to enjoy the experience.
Thousands of people from multiple generations of Star Wars fans, geeks and enthusiasts packed the museum and library Saturday to celebrate all things associated with the George Lucas franchise.
The event was a joint cooperation between the legions, museum and library. It’s among the largest unofficial Star Wars gatherings in the country, youth services librarian Roger Burns said
“This is a huge event,” said Roger Burns, youth services librarian for the library. “We hope it engages the kids.”
The two facilities hosted children’s games, including the Trash Compactor Dive, Death Star Bowling and the Wampa Attack.
Visitors could buy Star Wars memorabilia and themed merchandise while presentations, like a lightsaber dueling demo, sparked the interest of people of all ages and locations.
“We’re just huge fans of Star Wars,” Joliet resident Analisa Trujillo said when asked why she brought her family to the celebration for the fictional universe. “It’s amazing to have this for our community. When I think of this city, we’re very divided. But this brings us all together.”
Trujillo’s 7-year-old son Giovanni Trujillo clutched a toy lightsaber in an attack pose as he took photos with a costumed Stormtrooper.
“This is just a really awesome day because so many people came over here to see the Empire and Jedi Rebels,” Giovanni said, adding that he was looking forward to a photo-op with “Lord Vader” as the day moved on.
This was the second year Joliet resident Chris Browder attended the event with his wife and son, Shane Browder.
“I’m a longtime Star Wars fan,” Browder said. “This day has been planned since last year. I want to get Shane into it as much as I was.”
The Star Wars bonanza also attracted several people from outside the Joliet area.
Tony Diaz traveled from Lyons because his 6-year-old son, Andy, is a big fan of the franchise.
“A friend of ours notified us about this, so we decided to come,” Diaz said. “Since the original movies came out, I forgot about the characters. But Andy knows all of them and I’m starting to remember now when he points them out.”
The two legions that started the parade are global costuming organizations aimed to promote the Star Wars franchise and raise money for charities.
Jody McQuarters from the 501st Legion said a main goal of the event was to draw attention to the library and get kids more involved with reading.
“So many these days are lost in laptops, games and iPads,” McQuarters said. “So we take some time to put on our costumes and get together for a good cause.”
Chicago-based graphic and visual artist Steve Palenica has been drawing all the illustrations for Star Wars Day the past three years free of charge because the kids he was signing autographs for and taking photos with reminded him of himself at that age.
“If I can get kids to move away from the computers and start reading with my illustrations, that’s what it’s really all about,” Palenica said.