What does Stormtrooper mean in the military

The largest association of Star Wars fans is the 501st Legion. She obeys Darth Vader and visits children in the hospital.

If the soldiers of world history have one thing in common, it is their ability to wait. They waited at the gates of Troy, they waited at Stalingrad and at the Kloten-Bülach arsenal. And even if they are out of this world, those three men who go through the upcoming mission again on this Friday evening in an adjoining room of the Zurich cinema Arena have to wait:

At 8:15 p.m. be ready in front of cinema 5.

Wait for the orchestra to play the Star Wars music.

Go down the stairs.

Stand next to the stage.

Leave the cinema. Short break.

Guarding the elevator that takes visitors to the after-party.

Be available for selfies with people.

The stairs will turn out to be the biggest stumbling block of the mission. It is now 6 p.m., there are still two hours left.

Actually, the Stormtroopers of the 501st Legion only accept orders directly from Darth Vader. But he has apparently transferred the authority for tonight to the event manager of the Zurich Film Festival. In any case, nobody complains when she resolutely announces that there will be food only after the mission. The tradition of keeping good soldiers short is upheld here.

Stormtroopers are the soldiers of the evil empire in Star Wars. Depending on what is in the script, they are astonishingly efficient in the fight against the rebels or with their blaster they miss a Jedi knight from a distance of two meters.

They owe their iconic position among Star Wars fans not to their fighting ability, but to their white armor, which the three men brought with them in wheeled suitcases and huge sports bags. Matthias Stalder, the 30-year-old business IT specialist and platoon leader in the Swiss military, has always been a fan of the Stormtrooper. If you watch him put on the 17 pieces of his uniform, you wonder why there are no squires in Star Wars. Parts such as bracers, shin guards, armor and breastplate must be put on in a given order, because in full gear, Stormtroopers can neither bend down nor sit down. "It feels like a full-body ski boot."

Nathan Worathepnitinan, who has other fantasy costumes hanging in the box at home, mends his thigh piece. Contrary to what the Star Wars lexicon says, the Stormtrooper's most important weapon is not the blaster, but the hot melt gun. Stormtrooper armor is a bit like an ailing grandmother: Her ailments require constant attention. A complete set of armor can cost over 2000 francs. The conversations in the room revolve around how to keep them ready for use with superglue and Velcro.

The veteran among the three is 47 year old Pascal Biondi, who climbs into the lighter storm trooper armor of a biker scout. Its outstanding feature is that it can be used to sit down. Pascal is the commander of the Swiss Garrison, the Swiss garrison of the 501st Legion. For him it all started with a motorcycle helmet.

After seeing his first Star Wars film in 1980, he dreamed of wearing the Stormtrooper helmet on his motorcycle. But such a helmet was nowhere to be bought, and the wish was forgotten. Years later - Pascal had long since sold his motorcycle - he found a helmet on the Internet as part of a whole suit of armor and grabbed it. And so it happened that on December 27, 1998, the first storm troopers were sighted in Switzerland. With his colleague Marc Baier, who had also ordered armor, Pascal moved through the Tivoli shopping center in Spreitenbach. "I thought I was crazy, it looked so real."

Shortly thereafter, the two founded the Swiss representation of the 501st Legion, which had been launched the year before in the USA as the empire's fan club. “Vader's Faust”, as the followers of the dark side also call themselves, consisted of just under thirty fans at the time. The branch in Switzerland was the first in Europe. Today the 501st Legion has over 8,000 members worldwide. Not just Stormtroopers, but also other bad guys like bounty hunters, Imperial officers, royal guards and of course a few dozen Darth Vaders. They visit children in hospitals, stop at toy stores, and travel to fan meetings. On this evening, three storm troopers will perform at a concert of the Zurich Film Festival on the subject of science fiction. Most of the money raised is donated to charity.

At ten past eight the storm troopers put on their helmets and the magical transformation that Pascal experienced 17 years ago in Tivoli takes place: They look exactly like in the film. Exactly, because the 501st Legion's most important admission requirement is a costume that matches the one in the film down to the last detail. There is a reference database with pictures and descriptions on the Legion's website. Twelve types of storm troopers are available. Matthias, for example, is a stormtrooper hero from “A New Hope”, whose helmet has six small openings in the area of ​​the nose, not to be confused with the largely identical stormtrooper stunt from the same film with eight holes.

Such guidelines may be considered finicky, but they made a decisive contribution to the success of the 501st Legion. The organization offered to help Lucasfilm, and after an initial skeptical reaction, the filmmakers realized how useful these perfectly organized fans were, whose rules included, for example, never to drink alcohol in a Star Wars costume. They started using them at film premieres and other occasions, some even got jobs at Lucasfilm. Then what every fan dreams of happened: The 501st Legion appeared in Star Wars books and films. Today they even exist as action figures.

The appearance of the three storm troopers at the concert is short. When the music starts playing, they strive for the stage. What begins as a jagged march turns into an unsafe pounding at the first stage. The view from the helmet is severely restricted, the stairs are not illuminated. At least the legionnaires can comfort themselves with the fact that the poor visibility caused problems for their colleagues in the film. In one scene, a stormtrooper courageously enters a room and the next moment bumps his head on the sliding door. But after the three of them have arrived down next to the stage and blow the Star Wars fanfares in the neck, they attract everyone's attention. “In moments like this you stand there and think: Hopefully it will never stop,” describes Pascal.

Their irresistible effect is also evident after the concert, when visitors line up for photos with the fusiliers of space. A young man escapes: "How cool is that!" A mother needs a selfie because "my son will turn green with envy". The stormtroopers willingly pose as a group, put their bracer on someone else's shoulder and choke a neck there. The joy of fraternizing with evil is great.

Darth Vader lives in Neuchâtel in a shared apartment. His name is Joël Rittiner, he is 26 years old and is studying computer science. In his most recent appearance on a Saturday morning in the toy department of Manor on Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse, his main task is to stand around between plush bears and plastic lightsabers. He is accompanied by storm troopers, imperial officers and a small creature with shining eyes under a hood.

Playing Darth Vader is a feat. The costume weighs 22 kilos. The second Vader of the Swiss Garrison mainly does office work for the Legion due to hip problems. There are also some freelance Darth Vaders who do not belong to the 501st Legion, but their costumes are often of inferior quality.

But why aren't the noble Jedi knights the attraction here? After all, Voldermort doesn't advertise Harry Potter either, and Snow White's Evil Witch Fan Club has yet to be founded.

There are deep psychological analyzes of why the biggest Star Wars fan club represents the bad guys. Joël has his own explanation: it's the helmets! The helmets have the advantage that you don't need your face to look exactly like in the film. "I've seen a lot of Luke Skywalkers in perfect costumes, but their faces always said, I'm not Luke." Stormtrooper and Darth Vader don't have this problem. In addition, the bad guys are better kept in mind. «Who do you remember from 'The Dark Knight'?" asks Joël, «to Batman or to the Joker? - Just!"

Joël had Vader's leather suit tailor-made in Argentina; the chest panel was milled from a single piece of aluminum in the USA. The illusion that the real Darth Vader is standing in front of you shouldn't be tarnished by anything. That's why Joël would never take off the three-kilo helmet as long as people can see it.

And so nothing stands in the way of the parents' wish to photograph their children with one of the greatest mass murderers in film history.

If Darth Vader's star should ever sink, Joël is already prepared. He has bought the mask of the villain Kylo Ren from the new episode, who is only known from the supporting films. The fabric for his cloak was nowhere to be found. For good reason: It was made especially for the film. Joël quickly joined a fan group that placed an order with a British textile company to weave the fabric.

Star Wars also brought happiness to Joël personally. He met his girlfriend Luisa Behrendt at a fan meeting. Luisa is a literary student and came to Star Wars because of her interest in fan fiction, fan-written sequels to existing fantasy or science fiction stories. Even before she met Joël, she attended a storm trooper event as a Vader groupie in a T-shirt with a printed Vader helmet and a heart. She did not yet know how fateful these symbols would be. She liked the atmosphere and the people so much that she soon appeared as the maid of Queen Amidala, the mother of Luke Skywalker. In this role she met Joël. She recently got herself into the costume of Queen Amidala, the wife of Darth Vader, before he moved to the dark side of the Force. Despite certain parallels between reality and fiction, Luisa knows where she stands: "I'm with Joël, not Darth Vader."

Luisa cannot become a member of the 501st Legion. "I'm one of the good guys." Nevertheless, the Legion likes to play as Queen Amidala. "I'm the part for the little girls who are afraid of the men in armor." Luisa is in the process of building up a rebel fan group in Switzerland, which is not that easy. “Nobody wants to be a Jedi. They say, 'Jedi are boring. They are the good ones and always have to behave. ›»

Joël is lucky that his girlfriend shares a passion for Star Wars. "If only one participates, sooner or later problems will arise," he is convinced.

Oli Wyss also noticed this, who is Darth Vader in the Manor as a stormtrooper (type Hero, eight holes in the nose area). Because, in addition to his involvement with the 501st Legion, he also takes part in medieval meetings in the summer, time with his girlfriend was slowly becoming scarce. So he asked her if she would like to join in too. “We watched the first three films and I said to her: 'Whenever you see a character you like, you shout: Stop!'” Her choice fell on a Jawa, one of the junk dealers in a brown robe. And so she too is standing in front of the frame with the Star Wars Lego on this Saturday morning, her head under a hood, only two light eyes visible from her face.

Like every member of the 501st Legion, Oli has to listen to mocking remarks at times. Joël has even whispered to someone in passing: "You idiot, you have nothing better to do?" It is the envy of people who fulfill their childhood dreams.

RETO U. SCHNEIDER is deputy. Editor-in-chief of NZZ-Folio.

Photos: JULIAN SALINAS, Basel.

This article comes from the NZZ Folio magazine from December 2015 on the subject of "Star Wars". You can order this issue or subscribe to the NZZ Folio.