A Way You Will Never Be: “Star Wars” Edition

“This all kind of started because of a sarcastic comment that Peggy made on Facebook last fall,” Greg says of his wife, a privacy attorney with her own firm in Atlanta.

“Someone had just gotten a Jawa costume approved by the Georgia Garrison of the 501st, and it turned out we had a relative lot of Jawas. And someone else asked, ‘Well, how do we stack up against the other states, the other countries?’ And it turned out we were fourth in the world, far behind Germany, where there’s a garrison for the entire country.’

“Peggy said, ‘I really should be working, but I’m sitting here thinking it wouldn’t be that hard to mass-produce 60 Jawas and beat Germany,’” Greg says.

“We ended up making 130 Jawas, but some of those were for children that can’t join the 501st, and we didn’t realize the Alabama guys were trying to get in on the thing too. We finally had to draw the line, because we couldn’t do this for the entire Southeast. We spent the next three months making Jawas with lots of volunteer effort. Peggy did the robes; I did the masks and bandoliers.”

They used a thousand yards of monks cloth, which had to be custom-dyed in an extra washer Greg daisy-chained in their laundry room. “The masks we built on a black costume hockey mask,” he says. “And they need glowing LED eyes, and in Atlanta they need fans, so you don’t die. I designed everything around a five-volt system with a 5,000 milliamp rechargeable battery that hangs behind the wearer’s head on elastic. Everything’s covered with fabric. It’s kind of a complicated process. I’m preparing a document to put online so people can build these things in bulk, because we’re getting a lot more requests for Jawas, and we’re really kind of dead.

“But when you’ve got a hundred Jawas, you really need a sandcrawler. It just kind of follows,” Greg says.

Greg, a Research faculty member at Georgia Tech, and Peggy have two sons. Nine years ago Peggy took Daniel, then 11, to Dragon Con, “the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction & fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, arts, music, and film in the universe!” Daniel won the Star Wars trivia contest over 200 other contestants, mostly adults. Two years later he was running the contest. He first saw the kilted Stormtroopers of the 501st Legion in the Dragon Con parade that now draws 75,000 fans. The family joined the Legion and got their own costumes.

Their younger son, Stephen, was not as big a fan of Star Wars, and at 12 started taking his chess set to kill time during the four-day convention. He played chess dressed as a Jawa and donated his tips to charity. This year he played 160 games and raised $2,000. He is called, popularly, The Chess Jawa, and is ranked in the top-100 18-year old chess players in the United States, in the top-10 for Georgia high schoolers, “and is number 1 on Tatooine,” Greg says.

But Jawas need a sandcrawler. Peggy looked at used buses online and found a London-style, double-decker bus in Chattanooga with 950,000 miles. It was 13 feet tall and 45 feet long. They had no way to store it, so they bought an airport-style shuttle bus instead, for $3,000. It was 20 years old, gutted, and had electrical problems, but it had only 130,000 miles.

Greg served as “project lead” for volunteer help, including two mechanics and a welder. “We needed a big steel frame to make this look like a sandcrawler, but most of the frame had to come off if we were going to store the bus in our garage,” he says. “A significant amount of the steel frame is pin-and-socket construction, and it comes off and is stored inside the bus. The cladding is an expanded PVC foam that looks kind of like drywall but is a hell of a lot tougher. That all had to be cut into appropriately-sized shapes. We’ve got that funny-shaped nose on the sandcrawler, which makes everything complicated. The panels are stored inside the bus too.

“When we got everything together, we just got big paint rollers on these long poles and painted the whole thing.

“We’ve got regular headlights, and turn signals, and brake lights. The rearview mirrors can be folded back, so they’re deployed for travel, then folded back when we convert to sandcrawler mode. It takes a team of four or five guys an hour-and-a-half, two hours, to assemble the whole thing, but we’re hoping to get faster.”

The bus has a couple of modified windows that a few Jawas can wave from in parades. “We originally were thinking we would have Jawas on top,” Greg says. “But we really don’t know about structural stability of the roof and how much reinforcement we would need.” The driver looks out through one-way film made of perforated vinyl.

“There’s not really any visibility to the sides and back, so for the parade we have three handlers that walk with the sandcrawler, and a set of four two-way radios for safety. It’s somewhat traumatic doing the hard left-hand turn in this thing when the streets are completely lined with people, sitting on the curb. But it went okay. We didn’t kill anybody.”

They have only done the parade at Dragon Con, which just ended.

“We’re thinking four or five parades a year,” Greg says. “Typically close, because right now the bus isn’t in great shape.” He laughed. “Actually, we had some problems getting home from Dragon Con, when the brakes kind of caught fire.” Their next event is at the Atlanta Zoo, where the sandcrawler will sit during trick-or-treating.

Greg, his family, and friends call the sandcrawler Sandy. They call themselves The Great Jawa Horde, “now that The Great Jawa Build is finished.”

“And we beat Germany,” Greg says. “We have the most Jawas in the world now, by a considerable sum.”

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.