'FORCE'-FUL FANS

'Star Wars' aficionados put heart and soul into costumed creations

2013-06-30T00:15:00Z 2013-07-01T06:03:10Z 'Star Wars' aficionados put heart and soul into costumed creationsStory By MARY PICKETT Photos By LloyD Blunk lblunk@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Dave Myers is a “Star Wars” fan down to his telephone number.

The last four digits — 1138 — pay homage to “THX 1138,” a science fiction film that “Star Wars” director George Lucas made when he was a college student.

Born well after the first “Star Wars” film came out in 1977, Myers, 29, began watching the movies about clashes between inhabitants of fictional galaxies when he “was a wee lad in Pampers.”

The grimy, lived-in look of the movies spoke to Myers even when he was a child.

By the time he was 13, Myers was making light sabers and playing scenes from the movies with friends.

His interest eventually led to creating an outfit based on a “Star Wars” character and joining others to bring the galactic fantasy to earthly events.

Myers, an automotive technician, hopes that he and other “Star Wars” fans dressed in costume can come to Relay for Life on July 12-13 at West High.

After graduating from high school in Washington state, Myers joined the U.S. Navy and served as an internal communications electrician on the USS Russell, a guided-missile destroyer carrying Tomahawk missiles.

After the Navy, he moved back to Washington.

He and his wife, Heather, came to Billings for her work. The couple pulled into town in June 2010, just before the Father’s Day tornado unleashed floods that closed several local streets.

The movie series has such a massive, sprawling narrative, it’s no wonder that fans have splintered into as many factions as there are “Star Wars” characters.

Myers has focused on Mandalorians, fierce fighters who came from the planet Mandalore and have a culture based on honor.

“Mandalorians are space Vikings,” Myers said. “They are the biggest and baddest.”

When Myers was still living in Washington, he heard about the Mandalorian Mercs, an international organization of Mandalorian fans.

Getting to know other “Star Wars” fans inspired him to make a Mandalorian outfit that took hundreds of dollars and months to complete.

To make the distinctive helmet with a T-shaped visor, he started with a premade Mandalorian helmet that he reinforced, painted and added a leather lining and interior voice amplifier to give his voice a crackle when he speaks to earthlings.

For body armor, he heated PVC sheets in his home oven and molded them to his body. Underneath, he wears a decommissioned U.S. Air Force flight suit that he found in an Army Navy store. A cape hangs off his right shoulder.

To complete the outfit, he wears a $30 pair of slip-on Payless boots and Vietnam-era army surplus gaiters to tuck in his pants and carries a plastic rifle and pistol.

“I’m a big nerd,” he said about his devotion to making the outfit as true to the movie version as possible.

Myers isn’t the only person in the area who likes to dress up in “Star Wars” garb.

Billings electrician John Toepp, 43, is a convincing Darth Vader, although he’s not quite the “Star Wars” fan that Myers is.

“I can’t quote lines from the movies,” Toepp said.

But he has had fun playing one of the major characters in the series.

It all started when he needed a Halloween costume and dressed up as Darth Vader.

The first costume was poor quality, but he made it better and better each year until now it looks as good or better than what is seen in the movies.

The $3,000 costume even has a voice moderator that helps him replicate James Earl Jones’ deep, breathy voiceover.

At 6 feet, 5 inches tall, Toepp is close in height to Dave Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in the early films.

Toepp has dressed up for local fundraisers, including School District 2’s Saturday Live.

From inside his helmet, he can see and hear people’s excitement about seeing the dark knight in person. Parents hoist smaller children so they can see him eye to eye.

“It’s a crowd drawer,” Toepp said.

Toepp has fun being a celebrity for an afternoon and then reverting back to his regular self.

Myers also enjoys the attention he attracts as a Mandalorian.

When he wears his gear, it’s “like you are a rock star as famous as Mick Jagger,” he said.

At the same time, he has no illusions about what people are interested in.

“It’s not who’s behind the mask, it’s the mask,” he said.

Myers thinks “Star Wars” became so popular when it came out 1977 because during that post-Vietnam era, movie fans liked anti-heroes.

The series also was an upbeat adventure that made people feel good.

People continue to like the movies because, “they give people something more exciting than the world we live in,” Myers said. “Who wouldn’t want a light saber?”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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