A project that initially began as creating a Mandalorian helmet led Orange Coast College history professor Brent Rudmann to craft an entire suit of armor patterned after “The Mandalorian” television series.
At 47, Rudmann now attends countless events donning that costume and the many other cosplays he has since created.
While he is active in cosplay, the majority of the events he attends are also attended by the 501st Legion’s Southern California garrison, an international non-profit organization with more than 13,000 members who dress in screen-accurate replicas crafted by its members.
To even join the Legion, members’ costumes must qualify as high-quality. The group now has members across six continents with garrisons in 60 countries.
Rudmann said he always loved Star Wars growing up, even if wasn’t initially cosplaying. When “A New Hope” was released Rudmann was just 4, but he said he quickly became a fan of the series.
“Once it turned out to be a big thing, and I’m in elementary school, so of course I had like Star Wars lunch boxes,” Rudmann said.
On campus it’s possible to see Rudmann sporting his cosplays, typically on the impromptu holiday known as May the fourth, a nod to the Star Wars catch phrase “May the force be with you.”
“It's just become this May the fourth weird holiday thing — which I hesitate to call it holiday — but you know this fan thing,” Rudmann said.
As part of the 501st Legion, Rudmann said the day has become more of a week-long celebration and he attends as many events as possible. Usually there are two to four events a week during any given month in Southern California but for May the fourth, Rudmann estimates there are more like 70 events in just the Los Angeles and Orange County area.
“There's just tons of them because everybody thinks that they are being kind of clever now,” Rudmann said.
This year, as long as there are no moratoriums on gathering because of COVID-19, Rudmann said he will continue to attend whatever events he can.
For the 501st Legion, dressing up doesn’t always mean attending fan or charity events. Members of the organization were offered the opportunity to fill in as extras during filming of “The Mandalorian,” dressed as stormtroopers.
Rudmann said he missed out on the opportunity, electing not to cancel any of his classes during the week of filming.
“I sometimes wish I had, you know my students wouldn't have minded,” Rudmann said.
Unlike the other members of the Legion who attended, his armor isn’t cannon to Star Wars lore, something Rudmann finds himself a little bit jealous about.
Rather than just cosplaying, some members of the Star Wars fandom have gone to other extremes such as attempting to establish the religion of Jediism and many wrote in Jedi under the religion category on official census forms.
At one point there was even an official church in Beaumont, Texas titled the Temple of the Jedi Order.
“I may be a huge fan of Star Wars but I’m a huge fan of lots of things — and I'm certainly not going to treat it like religion,” Rudmann said. “That's a whole other level of weird to me.”
Rudmann also plays Overwatch, a game on campus linked with OCC’s official team/club. He enjoys the game simply because of the ability to play multiple games in a short amount of time, he said.
Video games have changed in structure over the years, and the format of today's games have showcased the gaps in development and players skills.
“I think it is the evolution of all this. I think esports are fantastic and I know some of the more traditionally minded people don’t know what that is,” Rudmann said.
He is hopeful that video games will continue to succeed, but also become more connected to campuses.
“We have a class on gaming, and I love that,” Rudmann said of OCC’s History of Video Games class.
The class isn’t a part of the History department but is instead listed under film and television. Rudmann is hopeful that one day the class will be cross listed, as the medium does apply to history.
Rudmann said his start in teaching was really a back-up plan. He first worked in the museum industry, but was scared of whether the career was stable.
“Museums are really volatile. They are based on the success of the economy, donations and the government,” Rudmann said.
The time he started in the industry was probably the worst possible, he added.
“I got caught joining the museum market just before the great recession so that didn’t work out as well as I would have wanted it to,” Rudmann said.
He was already teaching on the side and by 2009 became a full time instructor at OCC. He said he now realizes teaching was what he really wanted from the beginning, giving him the ability to connect with others.
“I’ll be teaching until the day they wheel me out of here in a casket. Man, it’s fun,” Rudmann said.