Chris Berban, squad leader for the Central Texas 501st Legion was one of a handful of Star Wars re-enactors including an Imperial Officer, Storm, Sand, Snow, and Clone Troopers on site for ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition taping in Smithville on Sunday.
Berban and members of the Legion, also known as Vader’s Fist, have come from all over Central Texas including Austin, San Antonio, and Houston to donate their time. The 501st Legion is a Lucas Films approved organization that coordinates visits with sick children and adults in hospitals, as well as charitable and fundraising events. All of the Legion’s members are employed full time and come from many different industries, including but not limited to technology, public service (police officers), and corporate businesses. Each member designs and creates their own costume replica and typically, as they will in Smithville, makes a Storm Trooper mask for the family and autographs the inside. Upon first glance, one wonders what Storm Troopers are doing at such an event.
Berban explained that family patriarch Chris Zdroj and his eight-year-old twin sons have long been fans of the Star Wars saga. Zdroj had movie memorabilia that he had been collecting since he was a young boy in the 1970s, which was all lost when the family’s home burned in September 2011. Berban explained that his squad is known as Elite Troopers with hearts of gold. This was proven true when Berban said that members of his squad had taken pieces of their own Star Wars memorabilia and will be donating it to the Zdroj family to start over with.
When Storm Trooper, Stephen Bellard from Houston was asked why he volunteers to be part of these types of events he replied, “It just makes me feel good.”
Berban shared a personal story noting that he lost his father at an early age. His family was the recipient of community support and donations and that memory has stuck with him through adulthood. Berban said he “sees opportunities like this to pay it forward”. He says the squad members are often happy their suits include masks, “because it helps hide the tears”.