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Davis Journal

Villains for a good cause – the 501st Legion in Utah

Feb 15, 2024 09:35AM ● By Braden Nelsen
Darth Vader, guards a ‘ghostly’ Grogu at a recent Alpine Garrison event. Photos by Michelle Paul, courtesy of the Alpine Garrison

Darth Vader, guards a ‘ghostly’ Grogu at a recent Alpine Garrison event. Photos by Michelle Paul, courtesy of the Alpine Garrison

DAVIS COUNTY—In recent years, cosplay, or dressing as characters from pop culture, has become increasingly popular. The convention, “FanX” in Salt Lake has rapidly become one of the most popular pop culture conventions in the nation, and the costumes seen there are increasingly impressive. There’s one group, however, that takes their costuming more seriously than most and goes above and beyond to do the most good with their talents as possible.

Started in 1997 by “Star Wars” superfans, Albin Johnson and Tom Crews, who had recently recreated their own, screen-accurate stormtrooper costumes. The popularity spread rapidly, and today, members of the 501st Legion can be found all around the globe, in local chapters or “Garrisons,” including one named the “Alpine Garrison,” located right here in Utah. Denney Fifield, Executive Officer of the Alpine Garrison (for the next month), is a Davis local and shared some interesting insight into the organization.

“The 501st is well organized,” Fifield said, as he explained not only the leadership of the group but also the strict standards applied to all costumes. “It’s got to be accurate to that movie.” How accurate? Denney, for example, portrays Darth Vader, but not just any Vader, but the version of the character specific to “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”. While many may not pick up on the subtle differences, Fifield says those in the 501st definitely would, and it’s that dedication that sets them apart from others in the community.

Representatives from the group are often invited by big-name organizations around the state, including the Utah Jazz, the Salt Lake Bees, and the Utah Symphony Orchestra, but it’s often the smaller, lower-profile events that Fifield says many group members will remember forever. The 501st is organized as a non-profit, and much of the work they do is appearing at and supporting organizations and events that may not have gotten attention otherwise. 

Visiting hospitals, special needs awareness events, and schools, attendees line up to see these characters, “They’re absolutely gobsmacked,” Fifield said. “And that doesn’t just go for kids!” Fifield went on to describe an elderly gentleman in a walker who was able to check off a bucket list item by meeting Darth Vader. “Everyone in the legion has the same kind of story,” he said, telling how what they do is more than just dress incostume. 

Fifield and members of the Alpine Garrison were even asked to be the honor guard at the funeral of a young man who loved “Star Wars.” Describing the event as both emotional and an honor, Fifield said, “I was really grateful I had a mask on.” Fifield and others like him in the 501st said that events like that bring into focus why what they do is so important. “That’s why we do it – we are giving families a bit of light in an otherwise difficult life.”

After hearing about the outstanding service and good that the 501st does, many people may be chomping at the bit to get involved but may feel intimidated by the strict costume standards. Fortunately, says Fifield, “There’s a lot of ways you can get involved.” These include donations that are collected for other charities, spotters for those wearing masks with limited vision, and even what the 501st calls, “cadets,” who can help out costumed characters while getting coaching on putting together their own costumes.

The Alpine Garrison of the 501st Legion offers a unique way to put passion for “Star Wars” to good use in the community. Next time Davis County residents see a stormtrooper, or Darth Vader himself walking around a charitable event, they might know now that, even though they’re villains, they’re “trooping” for a great cause. For more information, or to get involved, please visit