Brian Clausse, Commanding Officer of the 501st Legion

photo by lisa baetz

Check out the 501st Legion at

The Force is strong this year. With the December 18 release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it's a big year for Sith and Jedi alike. And what better way to kick off the new film than to talk to the Sith Lord himself? Darth Vader didn't return our calls, but SN&R did catch up with Brian Clausse, the Commanding Officer for the Central California Garrison of the 501st Legion. The Legion has been around since 1997, is dedicated to creating film-quality Star Wars costumes and does myriad events like the Rose Parade, Star Wars Reads Day, Mythbusters, Weird Al concerts and charity work. We chatted with Clausse about how long making costumes can take, why he's excited about The Force Awakens and whether anyone in his group has the guts to play as Jar Jar Binks.

Who shot first?

Oh, Han.

Favorite Star Wars character?

There's so many of them, it's just crazy. … The reason I'm involved with the 501st is I will always like the villain characters; the Stormtroopers and Darth Vader and all of them. One of my favorite characters has always been the Stormtroopers, but lately, or not lately but more recently, I've kind of taken on a liking to Darth Vader a lot more since a couple of years ago I finished my Darth Vader costume and I've been trooping as Darth Vader. So, becoming him for the short period of time that I have, [I've ] gotten pretty close to him.

Do you see yourself as Darth Vader-like?

I don't know. … You know, we'd all like to be the big bad guy that gets his own way all the time. No, I wouldn't say I was really anything like him in real life. But it's just fun to kind of separate yourself and become somebody else for a few minutes in the day.

Who else do you troop as?

I'm a Stormtrooper, Darth Vader and a Snowtrooper commander. And I'm also working on a Kylo Ren for the new premiere.

How long do costumes take to put together? They’re all handmade?

Right, yeah, we make all of our costumes ourselves, of course, with the help of our fellow Legion members. … The Stormtrooper costume, my first one, it took me six months, about, because I was learning as I was going. But anybody can probably put one together—it depends how long they have to work on it each day—but within a few months you could get something together. … I was able to get my Vader together probably within another six months, which is fairly quick. A lot of guys take a year, or even more, to get theirs together.

Who would win in a fight: a Wookie or a Tusken Raider?

I'm going to have to go with the Wookie.

Does anyone in the group have a Jar Jar Binks costume? I imagine he’s not popular.

Not anybody in our group, at least that I know of. But we do have one of our members that we're always teasing that he should be because, you know, he's so wild and crazy and animated. So maybe someday.

Special editions, or the original cuts?

Wow, you know, that's a tough one. I kind of like a mixture of the two. I recently took a look at the originals and I would have to say I kind of like the original.

What’s most exciting about the new movie?

Just seeing the story continue and being surprised at … where it goes. We've been watching the same Star Wars movies for the last 30-whatever years. So it will be nice to have something fresh and a whole new adventure to go on. So I'm looking forward to that aspect of it. And I'm really looking forward to seeing all the new characters and the armor and everything. it's going to be great, especially for us who enjoy building these costumes.

Why has Star Wars managed to stay so popular?

Again, it's the sense of adventure that it brought back to us when we were younger. And then as we get older we want to continue that, even with our own kids and friends that we've made through the years. We want to continue sharing that adventure, and the characters, and the whole world. It's a place we want to continue to visit.

Which character are you are the most like?

I am probably—well, you know, we all want to be Han, but I think probably what I'm most like, I'm probably a lot like … I'm probably most like Obi Wan, to tell you the truth.

Which movie is your favorite?

I've always said that Empire is my favorite just because [there are] a lot of lessons in that that [I] kind of grew up with. But, the first one, of course, is the iconic look of everything. But, I would say that right now, it always comes back to Empire for me. But we're looking forward to the new one. Maybe the new one will be even better.