As four-year-old Bailey colored in an activity room in the Pediatric Unit for Dignity Health-California Hospital Medical Center, he was suddenly taken aback by the Force that walked into the room: Darth Vader, accompanied by a Stormtrooper and Biker Scout.
“Do you like baseball?” Vader asked a stunned Bailey, who was coloring a picture of a baseball glove. Bailey, in the hospital for a respiratory ailment and asthma, nodded yes. And then he just looked up at the strange group that came to brighten up his day and stared, still too shy to speak.
The appearance of Vader and his Troopers was courtesy of the 501st Legion, Southern California Garrison, part of an international group known as “The World’s Definitive Imperial Star Wars Costuming Organization,” endorsed and preferred by Lucasfilm Ltd.
The Southern California Garrison is a charity-focused costuming group led by volunteers, who aid in the success of regional charitable events, community-based events, and public appearances while having fun and celebrating the continuation of the Star Wars universe.
Starlight teamed up with the 501st to celebrate May the 4th, a day honoring all things Star Wars. The date is a pun on the phrase, “May the Force be with you.”
In the 12-bed Pediatric Unit, which is for short-term hospital stays, Vader and the Troopers made their rounds, checking in on patients, meeting newborns, including one that was just 12 hours old, and shaking hands with their young and older fans.
For 8-year-old Jayceon, also in the hospital for respiratory issues, it was dream come true. The 501st members came in and played on a Starlight Fun Center with him.
“That’s his bedroom theme,” his mother, Bleu said of Star Wars. “He has the pillows, the bedding, the sheets, the carpet – everything!
“I think it’s a good idea,” she said of Starlight’s Fun Center and its work in bringing special guests to visit young patients. “The kids are in the hospital, where they don’t want to be, and they need things to occupy their mind greatly.”
Clinical Supervisor Valerie Payne said their unit has never had any kind of visit like this.
“We’re a small unit in a small hospital,” she said. “We don’t always get these kinds of visits. This is extra special.”
The proof, she said, was in the smile on Bailey’s face. He left his coloring behind and ventured out into the hallway, his drip in tow, to watch the Biker Scout get his blood pressure taken, as the Stormtrooper and Darth Vader looked on.
Vader held out his hand, “Do you want to go for a walk?” Bailey grabbed on to Lord Vader and walked slowly down the hallway with a big smile on his face.
“He’s really smiling!” Payne said. “His parents aren’t with him – his mother is working – so it’s great to see him smiling and happy.”
After lots of photos and hugs, Vader and his soldiers left the unit to visit another part of Dignity Health’s facility, the Hope Street Family Center, a community program that provides in-home and on-site educational, health wellness, behavioral health, development and social services that support children and families.
As the center’s unsuspecting children played basketball, Darth Vader, Stormtrooper and Biker Scout walked onto the court. The kids flocked to the three. “What’s your name?” one of the younger kids asked Vader. Other kids peppered them with high fives and questions like, “Where’s Boba Fett?” “What does Chewbacca sound like?” “Where’s your lightsaber?”
Where Darth Vader excels in the ways of the Dark Side and the Force, his skills on the court were not as impressive. Still, as he stood at the foul line attempting a basket, the kids chanted “Vader! Vader! Vader!” until he finally sunk one in, and cheers erupted. Later, the kids played Foosball with the Stormtrooper and Biker Scout before the trio headed to the second floor for a little reading and learning some fun skills in the Circus Arts Class.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to see something they wouldn’t see otherwise,” said Sid Oxford, the center’s recreation coordinator. “To see the big smiles and excitement, it’s great!”
This isn’t the first time Starlight and the members of the 501st Legion have partnered. Around the world, several garrisons have raised money and more for Starlight and its partner organizations, including this past holiday season for the #GiveActually campaign.
Starlight would like to thank Darth Vader (Kevin Fox) and his Stormtrooper (Teri Moore) and Biker Scout (Phillip Loicano), as well as Nicole Peterson and our filmmaker Josh Yeo for donating their time to bring the force to Hope Street and Dignity Health-California Hospital Medical Center.
If you would like to help brighten the lives of seriously ill children, you can donate today. Your gift combined with the gift of others helps turn pain, fear and stress into laughter, fun and joy – because a sick kid is still a kid at heart.