In the ensuing years, fervor for the franchise has only grown with the addition of the prequel trilogy, The Force Awakens, and Rogue One. Nowhere is this phenomena more evident than in my adoptive hometown of Joliet, IL, where they annually play host to a city-wide Star Wars Day.
Each June, several square blocks of the downtown epicenter are completely closed off to traffic, while a street fest in the name of George Lucas' creations take place. There's live, Cantina band music in the air, intergalactic-themed food, and every bit of Star Wars merchandise for sale that you can think of. All that said, the best part of the whole event is the parade, where hundreds of professional and amateur Star Wars cosplayers march about the city-scape with a marching band blaring out the Imperial March. It's truly quite the sight!
Once the parade has reached it's terminus, in the lawn of the hosting Joliet Public Library, the characters stick around in the grass for a "meet and greet" and photo opportunities. My wife has an unhealthy fascination with wookies, especially everyone's favorite "extra furry bear," Chewbacca. Thus, as soon as the parade was over, we immediately began to hunt down Kasyyyk-native, so that she could get a coveted snapshot with her favorite character. It was during this process that I made an important, exciting, and completely unexpected discovery - most of the characters were handing out their own, personalized trading cards!
Of course, Star Wars and trading cards have been comfortable bedfellows for years - in fact, there were at least ten different stands set up at this event with vintage SW cards for sale - but, these oddballs were something entirely unseen to me before. Above, you can see the ultimate cinematic baddie, Darth Vader, as portrayed by Kris Kajewski, of the Galactic Empire-themed troupe "The 501st Legion."
This worldwide club "is an all-volunteer organization formed for the express purpose of bringing together costume enthusiasts under a collective identity within which to operate. The Legion seeks to promote interest in Star Wars through the building and wearing of quality costumes, and to facilitate the use of these costumes for Star Wars-related events as well as contributions to the local community through costumed charity and volunteer work..."
Joliet employed the services of their "Midwest Garrison" for their annual festivities:
This group is kind of a big deal and had their own, custom trading cards whipped up to hand out to passing children and Instagramming adults at events such as this one and for autograph opportunities (as you can see on the AT-AT Driver card above). After all, when you take this gig as seriously as these guys do, why wouldn't you? The cards are professionally done and, in terms of quality, have the feel of a MultiAd minor league, team issued set.
Though I love Star Wars and I love trading cards, I've never blended these two passions. However, I can tell you that, after making this discovery, you better believe that I was running around trying to gather up as many of these oddities as I possibly could:
Here's a bunch more from the 501st Legion, including a lone wolf from their Wisconsin Garrison.
The Legion wasn't the only group of pro cosplayers who were hired for the event though. Also present were the bounty hunters known as the Madlorian Mercs, who obviously hail to the mysterious Boba Fett as their inspiration:
According to their official website, "The Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club is an international STAR WARS™ costuming organization dedicated to celebrating the STAR WARS™ universe through the creation, display, and wearing of quality character costumes that represent the Mandalorian characters and culture from the STAR WARS™ sagas."
Forget the "Merc with the Mouth," these mercs are total badasses. Look - Casius Ontius even has a flamethrower!
All in all, I was giddy as a schoolboy as I collected all of these character cards. It added an extra layer of fun to the event (as if a Star Wars parade really NEEDS an extra layer) that came entirely out of left field. Oh and while he didn't have his own card (womp, womp), during my travails, we did eventually get my wife her desired picture with a wookie. He was finally tracked down in the nearby Joliet Area Historical Museum - another base of operations for the event.
Star Wars - The Force Awakens cards! Like I said, Star Wars and trading cards go back about as far in time as the franchise itself does. With that in mind, these cards centered around the start of the new third trilogy, the design comes straight out of 1977, based on the set released in conjunction with A New Hope.
These re-imaginings, in the vein of Archives or Heritage, were originally distributed through Topps' popular Digital Card Trader App and, since I don't really pay attention to non-sports releases, I was unaware of them having made it to the physical realm. While they didn't capture my fascination quite like the cards of the 501st Legion or the Mandalorian Mercs, I was informed that they too were free for the taking, so I grabbed an assortment and made my way back to the wookie line.
I was while flipping through my new mini stack, as my wife and I waited in line, that I was clued into the fact that there was "a disturbance in the force:"
Rey seemed like nothing out of the ordinary; but, when my eyes moved over the photo used on the latter card, I recognized the setting to be within the very museum in which I was standing.... what gives? Certainly Lucasfilm and Topps weren't taking special photos in the lobby of the Joliet Area Historical Museum for use in their latest trading card products.
I immediately flipped the card over, in search of answers.
Aaaaaaaaand then it all made sense. These Force Awakens cards were ALL made especially and professionally for the Star Wars Day event. In hand, they neither felt nor looked different than any Star Wars product you might buy off of the rack at your local Target - high quality work, sponsored by NuMark Credit Union.
Again, I was giddy for finding a second stash of oddball cards at this local event. As you can see from the dates on the bottom, apparently they've been doing these cards for a few years now and I never knew about them, previously. It was an especially unique touch that the backs featured statistics and information about the festivities occurring around me - look how much Star Wars Day has grown since it started way back in 2010!
Not all of the card backs featured statistics or information though - in fact, some were just downright "puzzling":
*Ba dum tiss* That's because they were puzzle backs! Unfortunately, I was unable to complete the full tile with the cards in hand, but it appears as though the full picture is a poster, of sorts, for the 2015 edition of Star Wars Day.
I got it over that pretty quickly, however, as my cardboard-related discoveries were somehow STILL not quite finished. I noticed that throughout the event, several different Star Wars artists were set up at different corners and buildings taking part in the celebration. While cool, I'm not really an "autograph" guy, as I hate waiting in line and making small talk. But, my interest was piqued when I noticed something at each of their stations. In order for them to sign autographs for the adoring masses, the Joliet Public Library (who hosted all of these shenanigans), had even more oddball trading cards printed up - these bad boys prominently featured the artists work:
Okay - now that's pretty awesome. These aren't true art or sketch cards, as they use high quality scans of each piece to print on traditional cardboard, but I'll be damned if they don't look stellar anyway. Of those I came across, my personal favorite was this caricatured interpretation of Darth Vader's tirade near the end of Rogue One.
As you can plainly see, on the backside we get a picture of the creative force behind each piece of art, said artist's favorite Star Wars character, as well as a description of how said piece was produced. In this case Mr. Tampa inked Darth out on paper, by hand, before later coloring him on the computer. If you like his work, more can be found at his Etsy shop here.
You'll notice that neither the Vader nor the vicious General Grievous interpretations are autographed and that's because I didn't wait in line to acquire them. Instead, I simply found them strewn about the event confines, likely blown away by the wind or dropped by someone uninterested in their existence anyway. For instance, I came across this Grievous at the local coffee shop when the wife and I stopped for refreshments; he was left, forgotten and lonely on one of the chairs inside.
As it turns out, Jamie Snell is a rather accomplished artist. Apparently, he's produced art used by Topps as part of their The Clone Wars product from 2008, as well as for use in other fandoms' trading card sets like Indiana Jones Masterpieces, Lord of the Rings Masterpieces and Heroes Season 2 Sketch Cards. Maybe I should have waited around to get his John Hancock...
Lastly, we have this straight up rendition of everyone's favorite duo - Han Solo and Chewbacca. In order to obtain this card, I darn near got myself run over by a horde of pedestrians when I suddenly stopped in the middle of the busy sidewalk to stoop down and pick up this abandoned piece of art. I'll tell you what, I don't care what's going on around me, I'm not going to walk past a card on the ground, that's just ripe for the taking. Hell, I usually don't even walk past pennies, so...
Plus, it has Chewbacca on it; thus, it brought a smile to my wife's face when I immediately handed it over to her to add to her blossoming card collection (mostly Garbage Pail Kids). See - it was totally worth almost getting trampled by a heard of Stormtroopers.
Mikey Babinski is another guy who's done a hefty amount of work in the professional realm, illustrating comic books for DC (Wonder Woman, Shazam), Marvel (Amazing Spiderman, Deadpool), and Image, among others. Furthermore, he too has an impressive resume of sketch cards in major products, as well - his work can be found in Star Wars, Walking Dead, Adventure Time and The Hobbit products. According to his Facebook page, he's whipped up over 1,100 such sketch cards!
Joliet really brought out some big guns for the autograph signings!
It was shortly after discovering the existence of the art cards that our time at Star Wars Day 2017 was coming to a close. We had a birthday party to get to later that afternoon and it was a half an hour drive back to our home from Joliet. So, with another year of memories made, a picture with a wookie, several bruises from the immense, jostling crowd, a thick stack of oddball trading cards, and contented grins we made our way back to our vehicle and made our way back home.
Now, as I said, while a consider myself a fairly big Star Wars fan and licensed trading card nut, I don't really blend the two worlds with my collections. However, I do know for a fact that there is a handful of Star Wars card collectors on the blogosphere. Thus, as giddy as I was making these finds, if you see anything you like in the above post, I'd be willing to part with any of the cards (except for the Chewy/Han sketch) - just leave a comment below.
Has anyone else ever attended an event such as this? Personally, I've never heard of anything like this anywhere outside of Joliet, but my experience is severely limited.
All in all, if you know of one, you should definitely go to it. I think I can safely say that this whole experience was "out of this world!"