Founder's Ops Manual
I've been asked many times for my advice on the Legion. I don't claim to know everything, and the Legion certainly evolves and there are many differences in terms of situation, context, and cultural regions. But I do feel I have some insight to offer anyone who has issues within the Legion. In my years since the Legion's inception in 1997, I've seen the same problems over and over. I've also applied my priniciples in ways that still stand today as parts of the Legion's charter (which I created and helped to cultivate over the years) and its basic structure. So whether you're a buck private trooper or a Squad Leader or Garrison Commander or Detachment Leader or all by yourself as an Outpost Leader, take some notes. Or if, God help us, you're the current Legion CO - well, let's grab a beer and have a LONG talk, shall we?
Some Topics of Interest and my take on them
- Codex Fundator - My philosophy can be boiled down to five simple credos of two words each. I have listed them below with a brief explanation of each idea.
- Have Fun - this is the first and foremost principle of the 501st Legion. Don't get distracted too much by our professional standards or our disciplinary procedures or our code of conduct or any of the glamor of what we've achieved. If any of that takes away from this single principle then you're doing something wrong and need to stop and take inventory. If you are a leader and your members are not having fun - ask yourself why and ask first whether or not it's because of you. No amount of organizational duties should keep you from pushing THIS single agenda because let's face it: dressing up as a plastic space man is not a serious business. If you're not having fun doing this then something's gone upside-down and needs to be fixed.
- Make Friends - This goes hand-in-hand with principle number one and would be number one if it weren't for the fact that 'fun' is the spirit of this club. I started this club in hopes of having friends I could hang with at any convention in the world. I remember going into my first comic book convention and just feeling lost. I wasn't a trekkie, I didn't have a gaming group, I didn't know any of the other fans. So my thinking was that a Legion member could go into any convention anywhere in the world and instantly have a gang to hang out with if he/she met the local Legion group. Most important of all, try to make friends in your own area. Do things with your fellow members totally outside of costuming and/or Star Wars. Try it and you'll find you have a lot more in common with them than just that. Help them move, do a movie night, get to know them. If you're the leader of the group then pick up the phone and call your members instead of just emailing them - get to know them! And dating is great too - I met my wife in the Legion and more and more we're making opportunities for both genders so there is a thriving community here. Don't squander it. These are your people, they 'get' you and your passion for Star Wars (and other things). If you can't make a friend here then why bother?
- Help Others - I've been asked before whether I intended for the 501st to be so active in charity work. The answer, quite simply, is 'nope'. I never had in mind that we'd be doing so much charity work, it just didn't occur to me at the very beginning. We hadn't thought past how to make a workable model for costuming. But it quickly caught on that my original aim for members to suppor their local communities would give rise to charity and I quickly embraced and encouraged it. So this is a big part of what we do. Always try to find something positive to do with your talents. Trooping at charity events is a very rewarding experience. But you can 'give' in other ways. Members should be helping other members excel - hold an armor party and help a member with their costumes, host a welcome party for new members, get involved in leadership to help organize our club and make it better, or maybe you can offer something from your job such as your skills or resources that can help the club. Whatever you can do, big or little, giving back to the club and to your community is a big part of being Legion.
- Be Excellent - We got here because of our costumes. So to this end I encourage everyone to practice excellence in their costuming standards. But don't let it get crazy. I detail below my thoughts on costuming standards. I love to see us actively developing the costuming hobby but I also know it should be done reasonably and with the ideas stated above coming first - that's why they're ideas #1-#3 and this is idea #4. If you're at a 'fun' event and want to slap stickers on your costume to be goofy then that's not a crime. If you want to poke fun at our hobby by lampooning it I'll be the first to join in a good laugh. But if it's a canon event (and by canon I mean the term I coined in the original charter to designate events where the organizer wants professional just-like-the-movie costumes) then of course require the costumes to be clean and like the movies.
- Be Professional - This is the lowest on my priority list but it's still a priority. We expect our members to behave themselves in the context of whatever venue they're costuming. If you're doing a gig for a company or for Lucasfilm then you're expected to follow instructions exactly. No apologies for disciplinary actions leveled against members who stray from the instructions because by doing so you've jeopardized the club's ability to do future cool gigs. Perfect example is Disney's Star Wars Weekends. For years now the big mouse has put its faith in us to come and join the parade and for years Legion fans have been allowed an experience we only dreamed of when we started this club. So if the 501st organizer for the event (either the Florida Garrison CO or someone he/she has appointed as 'in charge') says to do something then don't make the mistake of thinking you can get away with the same things you can get away with at Dragoncon. Show up on time, do what you're told, and be professional. Period. Now speaking of Dragoncon, by the same token if you're at a 'fun' event and can get away with being irreverent without making us look like asses then by all means have fun. Lucasfilm has acknowledged in the past that we're fun-loving and hasn't had a problem with it so we shouldn't either. I believe in the disciplinary procedures of our club, but only for the sake of extreme cases of violating our standards to the detriment to our fellow members and the club as a whole. Be professional, but remember where and when this is necessary. It isn't the case every where.
- Costuming Standards - This comes up all the time. Some folks want to raise standards of the costumes to improve accuracy. Some want to keep them simple to make it easier to be a member. Some want to dispose of standards altogether. I have to say: I am *NOT* a costume purist. The 501st Legion was founded to bring people together to have a community and be a part of something. It's also to have fun and spread the joy of Star Wars. To that end, Star Wars costumes should be "good enough". If that sounds vague, then the litmus test I point to is this: would a Star Wars fan at an event notice something wrong with your costume? Is your costume "good enough" that fans would think you *are* the character? If so, then that's fine. I don't really care if your grommets are off by 1/32" or if your gloves are a half inch too short or if your cape isn't the exact matieral they used in the movies. Now some would say there is a place for "elite" costumes that fit the exact specs of the original. Not a problem! Excellence should be rewarded and we have artisans who are raising the level - that's good. Accommodations should be made for these fans without making the regular members feel second-rate. Terms like "elite" to me seem snobby - we can come up with positive labels that don't denote superiority, but do reward excellence. I leave these to the detachments. And I leave it to the good judgment of the leaders when to require this level of excellence at an event. Only rarely, at events where absolute perfection is requested and required, would I think a leader would require anyone to have anything more than a regular costume that fits reasonable standards.
My philosophy is this: geekdom is one of the last populations where it's still acceptable to openly discriminate and make fun of its members. Only recently has pop culture recognized that geeks and their movies/comics/books/etc are not only acceptable and equal but appealing. But it's still a small fraction of the world's population that embraces geekdom and even smaller still brave enough to dress out in costumes. Do we really want a forced reduction of an already tiny fraction of the population? I want MORE people to join and with their strength be able to do more as a club. It is not compromise to keep standards reasonable.
- Squads When any organization grows, there have to be stress points installed to keep it flexible enough to keep it from becoming unwieldy or collapsing under its own weight. In 1998 I realized as quickly as we were growing, there would be no way to keep the group together with the distances separating our members unless we sub-divided. The roads back to Rome were getting too long to expect absolute loyalty. A local chapter would allow members to solve the two problems of how to let members focus their work on something local they could take pride in AND stay with the group so we could accomplish something bigger. So the concept of Garrisons began.
Now Squads were the next evolutionary step in the sub-division scheme. Within any Garrison, it became apparent that large geographical hurdles were keeping troopers from consistently getting together and forming the bonds they needed to feel like a team. Also, in any group that hits a certain size (a critical mass that is hard to quantify), conflicts arise and there is a need to 'build good fences' to make good neighbors. Squads solved this problem, by allowing very local groups (in terms of a city or a region of a state) to pool their resources and make a bigger impact on their local area. The idea, again is to be two-fold: allow pride in one's own local accomplishments while still answering to a larger group that offers more strength in numbers.
The success of the Legion has had its drawbacks. In the cases of many Squads, or prospective Squads, the feeling isn't so much to focus one's efforts for your local community as it has been to find a way to alienate a Garrison CO you don't care much about and form your own cabal of friends. This concept is absurd and patently wrong. While allowing a smaller group the chance to erect good fences in the name of better relations, it should not be an excuse to build walls. My opinion is very clear on this: no Squad should be formed to escape the local Garrison. Your Garrison CO is still YOUR BOSS and you still answer to him/her. A Squad should be formed only to help boost the Legion in a local area and add to the value of the Garrison. It is not about circling wagons in the hope of avoiding accountability. This has been one of the biggest problems in the Legion in recent years. I am hoping this message connects with someone.
The Trooper Code