By Whitney South, Best of London. 05.15.18
They say courage can be found in the most unlikely places — and for one young patient at Children’s Hospital, that meant finding strength in some unlikely characters.
Known as two of the biggest baddies in a galaxy far, far away, it was Star Wars icons Darth Vader and Kylo Ren who stepped up to the plate, helping one of their biggest fans find his voice.
But more than just a moment of inspiration for a boy in need, it was a major turning point for a group of local cosplayers known as Echo Three.
Started by Jay Bartlett and Amber Stallard just over a year ago, the group has quickly grown to over 50 members. But more than just a reason to dress up, the crew has recently taken on a mission to make a difference in the lives of kids receiving medical care in the Forest City.
And it all started during the 2018 Corus Radiothon.
“There was this boy there who was terrified to go on the radio, and he wanted Vader and Kylo Ren to give him strength,” Bartlett explained. “He grabbed our hands and we took him over to the mic — and it really changed everything. We really started to see things in a different light.”
That moment set the stage for what Echo Three knew they wanted their future to be.
“It wasn’t just about silly events anymore but using our ability to dress up as Star Wars characters to really help inspire the kids,” said Stallard. “When you see the looks on their faces, you know you’re making a difference, even if it’s just being there for a hug, or to give them someone to lean on.”
It’s the kind of inspiration Bartlett has personally found in the movie franchise since he first met his own Darth Vader at Simpsons department store, decades ago.
“To be able to actually shake Vader’s hand —who was nine feet tall if he was a foot to me back then — had a really big impact on me,” he said. “That’s exactly the kind of awe-inspiring experience we want to offer these kids.”
Now, the group has joined forces with award-winning London filmmaker and Kickstarter guru Rob McCallum for Galaxy of Hope: An Unofficial and Unauthorized Star Wars Documentary.
The story? Follow along on the journey of super fan Bartlett and Echo Three, as they set out to create the ultimate toy and memorabilia auction — seeking out and gathering Star Wars swag from across North America in hopes of raising as much as $100,000 for Children’s Hospital, by next year.
In addition, the film will explore all things Star Wars, and feature a series of interviews breaking down the global phenomenon of the fandom, the obsession of collecting, the legal challenges of running a Star Wars fan group, and the incredible breadth and depth of the franchise's worldwide appeal.
Hardly strangers to such a lofty challenge, Bartlett and McCallum have previously garnered international acclaim as the duo behind Nintendo Quest, the 2015 road-film documentary which saw Bartlett race to collect 678 Nintendo Entertainment System games in just 30 days.
While the auction will carry on regardless of whether or not the film is funded, the group hopes documenting the process will help inspire others to reach out and lend a hand.
“We really do operate like a family,” said Stallard. “We want people to see that it’s not an easy job, but it’s our passion — it’s why we do what we do.”
For more information, or to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, click here.
Photos by Whitney South