Star Wars extravaganza features volunteer villains

By day, they are your mechanics and security guards. They make maps and work for cable companies. But on weekends, the members of Garrison Carida represent the Galactic Empire and its brutal regime.

Garrison Carida is a volunteer organization that brings Star Wars characters to life in the Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware area. Members portray characters on the Dark Side, but as the organization’s motto says, these volunteers are “Bad Guys Doing Good Things.”  Members dress up as stormtroopers, Darth Vader, Boba Fett and other villains and attend charity events, visiting children’s hospitals, working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and promoting childhood literacy in libraries, among others. Garrison Carida, a regional division of the Lucasfilm-endorsed costuming organization 501st Legion, often holds events in the Pittsburgh area, including visits to the Childrens Hospital of Pittsburgh and Mt. Lebanon Library’s August 11 Star Wars Extravaganza.

The extravaganza will last all day with Star Wars snacks, activities, games and crafts but the characters will be there from 1 to 3 p.m.

One Pittsburgh-area volunteer, Mark Santucci, first became interested in Garrison Carida four years ago as a collector of Star Wars costumes. Once the North Hills resident learned about the organization’s positive contributions to the community, he decided to start dressing up and attending. “It was the icing on the cake,” Santucci says.

All volunteers supply their own costumes, and while the volunteers often get more event requests than they can fulfill, Garrison Carida is a nonprofit and never charges communities for its work. “All expenses are out of pocket,” says Tim Wimbush, Garrison Carida’s public relations officer. “We have volunteers that travel two to four hours to take part in events from time to time.”

Santucci has spent years putting together the costumes he wears as a volunteer. “I dress up as Boba Fett, a Tusken raider, a TIE fighter and a character named Garindan,” he says. “My Boba Fett costume took about five years and $5000 to make.”

At events like the Mt. Lebanon Star Wars Extravaganza, volunteers encourage children to take advantage of the books and modern resources at public libraries. “It’s about getting kids back into the library and off the PlayStation,” says Wimbush.

“Some kids get scared because you’re an evil character, some don’t,” says Santucci. “We sometimes have more little girls approach us than little boys. You never know what you’re getting into.”

While Santucci has been a Star Wars fan since he was small, the real draw of volunteering comes from being involved in the community. The organization holds toy drives for sick children, visits young Star Wars fans in hospitals and takes part in charity relays and walk-a-thons. “You hear people say, ‘I wish I could do more,’” says Santucci. “I have that satisfaction, that feeling that I’m doing more.”