At 9am on January 1, 2007, two large and stunning floats covered in flowers, leaves, seeds, and spice crept up Orange Grove Blvd. in Pasadena, CA for the 118th Tournament of Roses parade. At Del Mar Blvd. they seamlessly integrated with over 400 marchers carrying a great love of Star Wars in their hearts and either a musical instrument or a burdensome costume on their backs. As the company approached the intersection of Colorado Blvd. each escorting Imperial Officer offered a salute to the Maker himself, George Lucas, as he applauded them from the grand stand.
To bring such a spectacle to Pasadena, to be seen on camera by approximately 35 million people for a mere four minutes, took eleven months of planning and huge efforts by the staff at Lucasfilm. But behind the scenes it was much more than a brief kick-off to the 30th anniversary celebration of Star Wars this year. It was a gathering of men and women from around the world who where brought together over a common interest in the saga. Although hailing from 22 different countries and 36 states, different backgrounds, languages, and traditions, these people demonstrated exemplary respect, love and admiration for one another. Their good will spilled over and touched everyone around them.
I was extremely privileged to be able to move around behind the behind-the-scenes crew for the Star Wars Spectacular and was in range of a lot of that warm, fuzzy fallout. My first adventure was back-to-back shifts working on the floats. Many of the volunteers who signed in to work were identifiable as part of the Star Wars contingent by their various themed T-shirts and hats. Jon Paulson, a member of the Rebel Legion, designed an iron-on that many of us wore.
Each person was assigned a task that may have included filling vials, cutting roses and Gerber daisies to put in those vials, painting with cinnamon and nutmeg, gluing split peas, black rice, onion seed, crushed nuts, pumpkin seeds, red beans, or seed pods and tacking down moss, twigs, leaves, dried flowers, lichen, and sponge mushrooms. My particular assignment was to climb up two stories of scaffolding with no railing to tie sappy long-leaf pine and polleny cedar onto Endor tree "branches" covered in a prickly green vine. My hands where soon nicked and bleeding and I was sneezing so I climbed down from the treetops and took to pounding potatoes into the moss ground cover.
The payoff for working the 3am shift was being present for the final presentation of the floats to the judges. The floats were moved out of their warehouses, the music was turned on, the waterfalls were started and the characters were put in place. The judges were obviously impressed with our efforts since the Lucasfilm floats were awarded the Tournament Special Trophy: Exceptional Merit in Multiple Classifications.
My second adventure after all-night float festooning was to witness the dress rehearsal of the marchers. The Grambling State Tiger Marching Band and the 501st and some Rebel Legion members found themselves on the football field of a local high school in the presence of George Lucas for some photographs. There they presented Lucas with a stormtrooper helmet signed by all 200 marching troopers. Lucas was gracious and patient as photo after photo was taken with the subjects staring directly into the morning sun. Then they marched round and round the field in front of their sponsor until all felt they were ready to tackle the parade.
Parade morning breakfast started at 3:30am. By 5:30am we were loaded on 13 buses headed towards Del Mar Blvd. During the time we walked toward the floats waiting on Orange Grove there was such exuberance in the chill air that it materialized in spontaneous chant and song by the 501st and ardent rhythms from Grambling. Twi'lek dancers huddled to keep warm and Lucasfilm staff in Imperial Officer garb paced to work out nervous energy. In the stands, as the Spectacular marched on, fans went wild and the non-initiated showed great appreciation. Over six miles later marchers where guzzling In-N-Out burgers and soda.
At dinner that night there was all kinds of buzz. The 501st presented Mary Frankin and Steve Sansweet with red 501st Letterman jackets, inducted U.S. Army Reserve Drill Master Col. Anthony Toledo as an honorary 501st member and presented a plaque to Dr. Larry Pannell, band director at Grambling. The riders from Bus 8 performed a song they had written during the drive to the parade, the New Zealand Outpost performed a traditional haka, and a group of talented Grambling singers gave a short concert. Everywhere troopers and musicians where trading t-shirts and patches or taking pictures of their mascots (a funkified Gammorean Guard, a teddy bear, a large-size Stormtrooper figure). C-3PO and R2-D2 arrived at one point for photo ops and even a bride and groom from the ballroom next door came in for pictures. When dinner was over there was a convergence in the lobby bar for last minute socializing where Mary Franklin was presented with a gorgeous and enormous vase of flowers from the German Garrison. (Earlier the Germans had presented Steve Sansweet with a full-size Stormtrooper helmet painted like the American flag.)
No one ever wants these kinds of things to end and that's where souvenirs come in. There were very few Star Wars specific collectibles for the parade, a few Lucasfilm gifts to participants and several fan made items for trade and personal use.
|The Grand Marshal pin with George Lucas was sold online and at various souvenir stands during parade events.|
|Every float had a pin and the Star Wars Spectacular pin quickly sold out.|
|The Star Wars pins were also available as a boxed set.|
|The Star Wars spectacular patch was provided by Lucasfilm to participants to wear during the parade. Only 500 of these patches exist.|
|The Rose Parade program is still available online at RoseBowlStore.com and has a full page description of the Star Wars Spectacular and a salute to the 501st from Lucasfilm.|
|The LA Times gave away calendars with a picture of George on the back.|
|The Rose magazine was a giveaway, but very hard to find. It has a 6 page feature on the 501st marching in the parade.|
|For those on the Rose Parade snail mail list, the Tournament Times has several pages on George Lucas and the floats.|
|A special version of Hasbro's 501st Stormtrooper was given to the 501st and Grambling State Band as a thank you from Lucasfilm. There are four total versions of this action figure: SDCC exclusive, non-SDCC figure, Rose sticker on SDCC figure and Rose sticker on non-SDCC figure!|
|Several 501st groups made their own T-Shirts, which were not sold, to commemorate the event.|
|This shirt was designed by Michael Bender for the Southern California Garrison.|
|These shirts were just another creative expression of Star Wars fandom.|
|This pin was made by the German Garrison to commemorate their participation.|
This event will stick in my mind for a very long time. Even though I was not a direct participant, I was full of happiness for them because I knew they were living a dream and that they were stretching out every second of joy they could before departing for home. It's that kind of bonding and sharing that makes Star Wars stay forever in our hearts, even when we are not with our comrades in fandom. Luckily, this year we can now turn our anticipation to Celebration IV which promises to be THE Star Wars event of the last 30 years. See y'all there!