HEBRON — At 6’4″, Brian Johnson frequently stuck out as a Stormtrooper in appearances with other 501st “Star Wars” costumers, and there were lots of Stormtroopers, relatively speaking.

After kicking the Dark Side up a notch, he really stands out, looming nearly 7 feet tall in black boots, cape and iconic helmet as the one, the only, Darth Vader.

In Maine.

The 501st Legion has thousands of members worldwide who dress up as Jawas, Sith Lords and every other movie-accurate “Star Wars” villain, devoted fans who’ve made their own costumes and spend weekends at movie openings and comic conventions, among other appearances, often raising money for charity while they do it.

Ten years ago, Johnson, 38, who recently moved from Auburn to Hebron, and his younger brother Alan, from Otisfield, were the only 501st members in Maine, and both Stormtroopers. 

“When I first started trooping with the 501st, there were a lot of events that Darth Vader was at (out of state), and when I’d go there, I had to stand farther away from him because more often than not, I was taller than Vader, which is, you know, wrong,” said Johnson, a systems administrator at St. Mary’s.

Someone told him he should give being the chief villain a try, and the idea stuck.

“There’s a lot of stuff we do that’s in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, more southern New England states,” he said. “Stuff in Maine, there were only Stormtroopers showing up and a lot of times there were only two of us. I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we had our own Darth Vader up here?'”

In 2011, he and his mom, Kay’t, got sewing.

“We made the cape ourselves. I did make as much myself as I could, or with my mother’s help,” he said. “My mom is big into ‘Star Wars,’ too.”

It took a few months to pull together. What he couldn’t craft, he grabbed online or from other members.

His children were into the costume change. Initially.

“When I got into it, I ended up scaring a couple of them,” he said.

“When you’re Vader, you’ve got to be aware of your posture, standing up tall, and have this presence that you’re in charge. You put your fists against your hips. If you’re holding your lightsaber, you kind of stick to one hand to show he’s a bit more powerful, he doesn’t need two hands to wield it.”

The hitch when it comes to being Vader: There can only be one.

Except at conventions, when it’s a character free-for-all, the 501st sticks to its movie-accurate ways. At most appearances there can only be one costumed Darth Vader, one Boba Fett, etc. In other states, he’s not sure how all the Darths decide who goes where.

In Maine, the state is his for the taking.

It’s led to some cool experiences, he said. In June 2011, Johnson was an extra in the first “Ted” movie with Mark Wahlberg, standing at the head of a long line dressed as Vader as Walhberg’s character waits outside a movie theater to see “Phantom Menace.” 

This past summer, he appeared on stage with “Weird Al” Yankovic at a concert on the Maine State Pier with dancing Stormtroopers (his brother among them) and a Jawa.

“Meeting Weird Al was really cool. That’s a unique experience of its own, just being able to meet him, shake his hand, talk to him,” said Johnson. “But then being able to be up stage with him. It’s kind of cool to be behind the mask because I had this permanent smile on my face.”

Johnson already has tickets to see the “Force Awakens” on opening night, sans costume, with his family.

His take on the new movie: Cautiously excited, with less caution as it draws near.

J.J. Abrams is a solid director and Johnson liked his “Star Trek” reboot. He also likes that word has it Abrams relied more on physical sets than green screen.

“I’m trying to stay tempered, but I’m slipping. I so want it to be good,” said Johnson. “I’m hoping the new movies don’t go the prequel route.”

Read: Blech.

“I think (Abrams) might be able to carry this torch,” he said. With Han, Luke and Leia in Episode VII, “we’ve got people we know and love and can relate to. We’ve grown up with them and they’re coming back — that’s definitely a good feeling.”

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: