The white Chevy Equinox was the first car to pull into The Gateway parking lot with the White family at 7 p.m. Sunday night.
“We’re just big ‘Star Wars’ fans,” said Tom White in the driver’s seat with his wife, Penny, sitting next to him. They live in Commack. In the back seat were the couple’s 21-year-old twins, Thomas and Sarah. “But I’m the worst.” Sure enough, White placed a mini-Stormtrooper on the pavement in back of their car. It even talked. The original 1977 “Star Wars” was playing at The Gateway Drive-In, and they came to the right place. Looming in intimidating attire was a Scout Trooper, Darth Vader, two Stormtroopers, a Sand Trooper and a Shadow Trooper.
“We’re from the 501st Legion Empire City Garrison,” said Chris Feehan, commanding officer, a Scout Trooper. “We have 65 members in our garrison,” Feehan explained of the New York Chapter members that live in New York City, including the five boroughs, Long Island and the Hudson Valley.
These Gateway participants were all from Long Island.
“We’d done a couple of drive-in theaters last year,” Feehan said. “When we heard about the ‘Star Wars’ shows here, we reached out.”
Feehan, the garrison’s commanding officer, is from Mineola. Bill Schreiber, who hails from Bayport, is their public relations officer.
“Our mission is to build, construct and wear movie-accurate costumes and use them for goodwill,” Feehan said.
They are all volunteers. And really, really big “Star Wars” fans themselves. (Like, hundreds of times of movie watching, bro.)
Feehan said they usually appear at 150 events a year, but the pandemic cut that down to less than half. Stony Brook University Hospital appearances had been six or eight a year. (Feehan plays several “Star Wars” characters.)
What do their own kids think?
“I’ve gone to my daughter’s junior high school and cut hair for St. Baldrick’s dressed like this,” Schreiber said, laughing in his Stormtrooper costume.
Feehan works as a development assistant at the Cerebral Palsy Foundation in Nassau County, but Schreiber, a senior information technology analyst, said the volunteers range in backgrounds from a former Marine, policeman and even an FBI agent. “We build the costumes ourselves from kits,” Feehan said of the imposing gear. (Members help each other out.) “They have to be movie-accurate.”
Members are responsible for supplying their own costumes from the 501st Legion-approved costume library.
As for the Gateway reaction, “We had 45 cars Sunday night,” said Paul Allan, Gateway’s executive artistic director, of patrons who came. “Everyone was loving seeing the characters. I was talking to Joanne Famigletti [house manager] at the ticket booth. Darth Vader was standing there with two Stormtroopers and it really ramped up the experience.
It made the whole movie at The Gateway more intense because you want to be transported.”
Allan said The Gateway was offering the original trilogy over three consecutive Sundays to May 2. Then there would be a break. For the last three Sundays of the season, The Gateway would film the most recent “Star Wars” films.
If you missed the first “Star Wars” film at The Gateway, don’t worry. The 501st Legion Empire City Garrison will return to add their realism for the remaining “Star Wars” films.