Tom Marinone Jr. grew up on Star Wars like you and I grew up on breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
“I’ve been hooked ever since A New Hope came out,” he says. That was in 1977, when Marinone was six years old. Now he’s 45. When his midlife crisis came around, he knew one thing for sure: no red Corvette. Instead, as someone who had seen the Star Wars movies “like 10 bazillion times,” he got involved with the 501st Legion — an online community of costumers, cosplayers, and enthusiasts — and built himself a Stormtrooper suit. It was a decision, he says, to go from “being a collector, to being a doer.”
Marinone, a resident of Windsor Locks, Connecticut, has worked for American Airlines for 26 years. His alter ego — registered with the 501st as Stormtrooper TK44821 — makes appearances at fairs and festivals, Cub Scout events, sports games, and, when duty calls, on the local news.
“You don’t just go out and buy this stuff,” he says, explaining that he worked with several friends and companies to source the materials needed to construct a “movie-quality” suit.
When he showed his 15-year-old stepson the finished armor for the first time, “his jaw dropped.” But getting his suit approved by the 501st took a while. Early versions of his suit and the helmet (which Marinone calls the “bucket”) needed several rounds of alterations. He was missing a few straps. He darkened the lenses to the appropriate tint, similar to a welder’s shield. He fixed one thigh plate, which hung an inch too low.
His first public appearance with other Stormtroopers — at Rentschler Field for a Wishes on Wheels charity event in East Hartford — had its learning moments. Marinone advises newbie Stormtroopers to keep an eye out for sidewalk curbs and impending “crotch-pinch,” and to drink lots of water.
But he seems to be having the time of his life, and he recommends that people of all genders and body types look up their local 501st garrison. As long as they’re over 18 years old — and probably under six feet tall. “Any taller,” he admits, “and you’re usually Darth Vader.”