Nerdlocker Exclusive – Topher Bradfield of Book People on Jedi Training Camp


Something really cool has happened for Star Wars fans in Austin, Tx. Particularly young Star Wars fans and older fans that have kids. So, pretend you are eight years old again and your imagination is more real than the real world. Then imagine that you not only get to go live in that imaginary world but actually BE a Jedi-in-Training in that imaginary world. Sounds pretty cool even to me, and I haven’t been eight years old in a really really long time.

This is essentially what is happening with the BookPeople children’s outreach program here in Austin, Tx, at their Jedi Training Camp.

It’s a children’s literary camp (ages 6-14) that immerses the campers in the Star Wars universe during the period of the Clone Wars and is in fact based on The Clone Wars series of Star Wars books. And it’s spearheaded by a man named Topher Bradfield. Last year I had the privilege to be an actor on Topher’s previous project, Camp Half-Blood. Camp Half-Blood, as you might have guessed from the name, was based on The Percy Jackson books (The Lightning Thief being the first in the series). This concept can be a little difficult to explain so let me tell you a bit about my experience.

Epic fight at Camp Half-Blood 2011

In the summer of 2011 I was asked to be an actor for this one-week camp and to play the daughter of Hercules. The premise was that my character had been “captured” by the bad guys who were out to collect the powers of the demigods (the half-god half-human children of the Olympian gods) to use for their own nefarious ends. The camp was held in a state park campground so there was lots of exploring going on. Each day the kids had quests to go on and actors would sort of pop up and act out a scene having to do with the quest and would help provide clues to the campers. In one of my scenes I got into a brawl with my captors and escaped (being the daughter of Hercules I had a bit of his super strength). Later on that day a group of campers found me sitting by the river. They asked me questions about who I was (because they did not yet know, and of course I answered them in riddles… it was all very Greek) and I gave them a clue to their quest.

There was also another set of actors at the camp, they called themselves Camp Jupiter. They weren’t bad guys but they were at odds with Camp Half-Blood. Without getting into too much detail I’ll just say that the story arc for the camp ultimately had to do with teamwork. On the last day there was a giant battle with Camp Half- Blood actors, Camp Jupiter actors and the bad guys (all of the actors had martial arts experience and stunt training so you know the fighting was pretty epic). In order to defeat the bad guys the two camps had to team up, and that was where I came in. I ran into the battle and made them join forces. Of course they defeated the bad guys and the kids LOVED it! After the battle was won they all dropped down to one knee in front of me when it was revealed to them who I really was (turns out I was really Hercules in disguise!). Lemme tell you, it was pretty amazing. And the whole point of it was to get kids interested in reading. A noble and worthy goal if ever there was one.

So Topher and BookPeople are at it again, this time with The Clone Wars. They’ve got some of the same actors I worked with and have also teamed up with The 501st: Vadar’s Fist, The Rebel Legion and The Mandalorian Mercenaries to create a camp that immerses kids in the Star Wars universe, imparts to them the wisdom of the Jedi code, and stimulates their imaginations beyond just what they read in the books. And the whole thing is endorsed by Lucasfilm.

I recently caught up with Topher so that I could share more about Jedi Training Camp with the Nerdlocker audience.

Jedi Master Caff Chiron with cast member of Jedi Training Camp

NerdLocker (NL): I know BookPeople sponsored Camp Half-Blood for several years and the Jedi Training camp is essentially an extension of that idea into a different literary universe, that of The Clone Wars book series.  How did the original idea for these camps come about?

Topher Bradfield (TB): During the summer of 2005 I was given an ARC (advanced reader copy) of The Lightning Thief, written by Rick Riordan. For those of you that may be unfamiliar with what an ARC is, it’s a bound copy of a book that gets distributed to bookstores and some librarians so we can read the book and (the publishers hope) really get behind it before it hits the shelves.

I ended up loving the story. The main character, Percy Jackson, was both ADHD and dyslexic and discovers that his dad is one of the ancient Greek Gods who are still alive in our world. Turns out all Greek demigods have ADHD and Dyslexia as conditions of their lives going all the way back to Perseus and Heracles. While focusing on a single task might be difficult, demigods have a unique ability to handle say, six or seven things coming at them at once. It’s a battle reflex. While a demigod’s brain may not be wired for the modern printed word they have no problem understanding ancient Greek. I thought this was such a wonderful touch, turning a challenge into a life-giving strength. Since Zeus, the big-guy, has forbidden the gods from interacting directly in the lives of their offspring we find that Percy comes from a single-parent family. Without going into too much about the book I’ll say it’s a really fun modern retelling of some of your favorite Greek myths.

I’d take the book with me to schools. I do book talks for kids in local classrooms around Austin, TX. The idea for me was to capture the hearts, minds, and most importantly the imaginations of children who weren’t sure if reading a book was for them. The at-risk reader population was my target audience, but I found that performing the first chapter of The Lightning Thief for classrooms seemed to grab hold of most kids no matter what they felt about reading. From that time to now, there hasn’t been another book, for me, that has had more traction amongst the third- to sixth-grade population in getting them to read as there has been with The Lightning Thief – it’s pretty magical watching their faces light up. They sit still for the entire first chapter because the story is so exciting, because it speaks to them. Once the audience for The Lightning Thief had grown I began doing readings at the store on Friday nights. The kids would show up at say 6:00 p.m. and stay until after the store closed at 11:00 p.m. I’d read them the entire book and they were hungry for more.

When ARC for the second book, The Sea of Monsters, arrived we packed the kids section for a reading. I believe I read The Sea of Monsters to that crowd in February of 2006. At the end of that reading I remember asking the kids if they thought going to Camp Half-Blood would be cool. They, of course, looked at me like I’d sprouted a second head and said, “Well, yeah… duh!” That got the wheels spinning. I developed the initial stages of the BookPeople Literary Camp program at that point and went to the CEO of BookPeople with the idea. He was kind enough to give me the chance to screw it up – which I will always be thankful for! By June of 2006 we had our first Camp Half-Blood with 52 demigods (campers). We have a gathering before the start of camp where the kids discover who their god/goddess parent is. Rick Riordan came down with his wife Becky and they stayed with those kids on their wedding anniversary for four hours so they could experience the Gods and Goddesses (camp councilors) claiming their children – talk about a dedicated family!

That first camp was a rousing success, more by accident than design, I think. We were all kind of winging it at that point. The basic premise going in was if the nine-year-old Topher wouldn’t have liked it we weren’t going to have it in the camp. Some happy parents told me that the better part of my nature was still that nine-year-old boy. Insert joke here. But, I stuck with it and I’m glad I did!

NL: Would it be accurate to describe Camp Half-Blood and the Jedi Training camp as live action role-playing camps for kids, or would you describe it differently? If so, how would you describe it to someone who is unfamiliar with the concept?

TB: My association with LARP and the folks who do this kind of thing were pretty minimal. I knew about LARPing through jokes told around the table at my local coffee shop, or later through movies like Role Models. It was a silly thing to be made fun of, where Stormtoopers could cast magical spells at faeries or Klingons and then pretend to have a pint with a Knight of the Crimson Order at the local park on weekends. I didn’t understand what it was about or hadn’t developed an informed opinion on LARPing. Folks just tended to focus on the ridiculous aspects of what they saw online or in movies and I was one of those folks.

I really struggled with the LARPing label for a few years, because I felt that it demeaned what it was I was trying to accomplish for my campers. While I still don’t call us a LARPing camp we do share many elements with LARPing. I’ve met several astoundingly talented individuals over the years that were or are LARPers. My view of live action role-playing has evolved. It was a label and lifestyle that existed long before my Literary Camp Programming and will certainly outlast it.

At our camps we start with a storyline that runs parallel to the stories in the books. We don’t try to recreate scenes from the books because so many of our readers have imagined the books with such complete detail that I can’t compete. I decided early on to create our own unique storyline with the approval of the authors. This does a couple of things. The campers don’t have to worry about who gets to play the main characters – most folks want to be Percy, Annabeth, Obi-Wan, Anakin or that type of thing. Instead they show up as themselves, but themselves as demigods or, in the case of our Clone Wars camp as Jedi Initiates and Younglings. The camps have a unique atmosphere all their own but still make sense within the parameters of their favorite stories.

The camp story is told over the course of the week our campers are with us. We usually have eight weeks of Literary Camps during the summer; each week is different and builds on the week preceding it. Each week has it’s own beginning, middle and end so there is a sense of completion. Our actors are given roles and come to us with theatre backgrounds or as trained stunt fighters and martial arts instructors. They understand the beginning, middle, and end to each week’s story so that they can feel free to improvise within our story as needed. The campers are trained in combat, in much the same way they would be in the books by trained combat instructors and weapons specialists. Whether it’s archery, sword and shield, spear and shield or chariots, it’s the real deal (technique-wise)!

Every bit of training they receive is in furtherance of the storyline. We create props and set designs to suit our storytelling needs. For the Star Wars Jedi Training Camp it looked like an impromptu Republic military encampment with a Jedi Training facility. There were big storage crates with the Republic and Jedi symbols stenciled on to them, gonk droids, costumed Jedi, Mando mercenaries and clone troopers everywhere. It was really cool. We use about 80 acres of land out at the State Park, but we focus most of our set dressing around the one area that serves as the focus of our daily activities. The kids imaginations fill in the rest of the space and that’s where the real magic happens. By the end of the week the villains have been stopped and the world has been saved!

NL: What is the age range of the initiates and how many of them attended the February camp?  Will there be another chance for initiates to attend the Jedi Training camp this summer?

TB: The age range for the Star Wars: Clone Wars – Jedi Training Camp was a bit broader than we were used to. It was for ages 6 – 14. This was due, in part, to the broad appeal Star Wars has across all ages, genders and ethnicities. The camps take about a year to plan for a full week. The Star Wars camp we had in February took place over a long three-day weekend. As for when will we have another chance to do it again? We have to wait on Lucasfilm Licensing approval before we do anything. I can’t just assume we’re good to go for another camp. I want to do this by the book; after all it’s not my property. I’m hoping for summer 2013 where we can really stretch into a full week of Star Wars adventure coolness.

NL: Can you explain what a typical day at your Jedi Training camp is like, starting with the arrival of the campers?

TB: The initiates arrive at the entrance to the park where my Jedi character is waiting along with a Clonetrooper. I stretch out with the Force a little, sensing that the Force is strong with the Initiates and Younglings in the shuttle (car). I then have my Clonetrooper clear them for landing down at the training facility. When the Initiates and Younglings arrive at the training facility, the place is crawling with Jedi and Clonetroopers, Twi’leks, Pantoran traders, a small group of pompous and very funny Correllians and droids. There is a lot of bustle. The campers are put into their Clans (group) and they meet their Jedi Masters. Each of these Masters has a back-story and a reason for being on Thule (the setting for our camp). After the introductions are made, I fill them all in on the state of the Republic, recent battles, why we ended up on Thule, who our villains appear to be and what resources we have at our disposal. This is usually when the villains show up, surprise us, and throw us for a loop before the Clonetroopers and the Jedi Masters intervene. This is the villain monolog moment peppered with combat sequences, hand-to-hand fights and some sort of nefarious technology being used to keep us all at a distance. The kids feel like they are a part of this initial fight, but only the trained actor/fighters actually engage one another.

With the story stage set we move the Clans into their Jedi Training rotations, which include lightsaber training, deployment and group combat strategies, Meditation, and Jedi History. On day two we introduce Force-pushing to the kids with our actors performing well timed falls. After snack, the rotations continue until lunch. After lunch two of the Clans join me on a special mission. This is where most of the acting and fighting sequences take place. This is where the Initiates and Younglings really feel like they can make decisions and make a difference. We usually have an objective of some sort – retrieve an item or some Intel, sabotage a villain’s plan or directly engage the bad-guys. This is also when the story takes big leaps forward as the fight tells a story and what each side is fighting to protect becomes clearer through their interactions with one another. We always start off with the diplomatic approach and then usually resort to “aggressive negotiations” if that fails. The campers use the skills they were taught that day to save themselves from certain doom. It’s a challenge moving 13 – 20 campers through the forest in any sort of timely fashion. I’m so lucky I have the staff I have.

After the mission we have free time for games, art, music, additional saber training, or any other type of meditative or combat training they wish to continue. The Masters give demos on each of the forms of Jedi combat. It’s really impressive to watch these folks. The camp characters work their way through the camp during this time, pushing the story, helping to deepen the intrigue and flesh out the environment. After free time we get together and discuss what happened that day and how we should all handle what comes next. This is where the Initiates and Younglings take over and let their storytelling and problem solving abilities figure things out. I act as a guide to nudge them toward a plot point now and then, helping to make connections between people and events, but it’s really fascinating to hear them come up with some astoundingly creative ways to solve our villain problem. It’s not just talk. If we can ever use their ideas and safely put them into action for the camp, we’ll do it the next day! After the wrap-up they go home! This is a very basic outline of what a typical day would look like.

Derelict droids at Jedi Training Camp

NL: In what ways do you make the experience more real for the initiates (like with costumes and props, etc)?

TB: The one thing, the best tool we have at our disposal is the imaginations of our campers. In addition to this we use costumes, the folks from the 501st, the Rebel Legion, and the Mando Mercs are the biggest part of this, but we also make our own. I built my first Clonetrooper kit for this camp using an animated kit from KW Designs – it was a long process but very rewarding. We use lots of set design, lighting, makeup, special effects, sound, props, and tons of storytelling.

NL: Do the Initiates and Younglings get to wear costumes?

TB: We encourage our Initiates and Younglings to show up in costume. Many did. Anyone working or volunteering at the camp WAS in costume. It was mandatory.

NL: On the home page of the Jedi Training Camp website it goes into the story about the Separatist coalition blockading many of the worlds on which the Jedi can find the crystals needed to build their lightsabers. Does the Jedi Training Camp center around this storyline?

TB: For the most part it sticks to that storyline, but how that storyline is expressed in characters, setting and scenarios changed a lot from its inception. We added loads of characters and small plot lines that ended up being huge crowd pleasers that weren’t a part of the initial planning stages. Great actors make a difference!

NL: Are the missions and the story arcs simply inspired by the universe created by the books or do you use specific plot lines and characters from the series?

TB: Since we have never sought to recreate an event or characters already written about for the reasons mentioned above, we go out of our way to create low profile stories and events that don’t impact the timeline of the Star Wars Universe. That is to say none of our characters are of any consequence to the stories everybody knows and loves. We are exceedingly cautious in this endeavor.

NL: What character, or type of character, do you play at the camp?

TB: I play a grizzled old human Jedi Master named Caff Chiron. He’s got a very specific skill set that wasn’t widely used by the time the Clone Wars take place. He’s mostly harmless… Loads of fun.

NL: How many actors are there at the camp and how do they interact with the campers?

TB: Depending on the camp, there could be anywhere from five to thirty-five. Star Wars had about thirty-five actors in costume. Since they spend time around the kids we have to do criminal background checks and have references for everyone. The involvement of any given actor with the campers depends on the character they are playing. The main villains see the campers every day. Heroic helpers may see the kids every day or every couple of days. Different actors are there to push the story along in different ways. Even our stunt coordinators/fighters have to tell a story in their choreographed fights. We keep some actors around to charmingly frustrate the campers and they love it! These actors play roles that are purposefully argumentative, abrasive and insulting in very appropriate ways. They have become “expected” characters, something that would be missed if they weren’t on site. Mr. D (Dionysus) out at Camp Half-Blood is a perfect example of this. He calls the campers by names that sound close to their own, and is constantly threatening to turn everyone into dolphins or stink bugs. The campers actually look forward to it.

NL: Under the Jedi Training section of the website it discusses the Pillars of Jedi Studies: Self Discipline, which includes Lightsaber training and meditation; and Knowledge, which includes Strategy and Field operations. How do you teach these skills to the Initiates?

TB: Bringing in the right people, passionate people, is where it all starts. Find people who love and respect the Star Wars Universe and have the skill set you’re looking for. Lightsaber training was created by two of our martial arts trainers at camp. They had to be able to distill the essence of safe and responsible lightsaber use while making it fun and believable. They did an outstanding job! We hired an outside combat instructor to come in and get everyone on the same page and establish a best practices regime for this camp in particular. We all looked more cohesive when fighting while still being able to adhere to our individual forms. All the campers began with Form One and Two. By the end of the week the Masters could make recommendations to other forms the Initiates and Younglings would be suited to.

Meditation was handled in very small doses. The campers wanted to be active, so discussions and practice of meditative skills was kept brief. Lots of Jedi philosophy discussed during these sessions. Some of the Clones out at camp were also active duty military personnel. These guys handled the deployment and field strategy while in character and in suits of Clonetrooper gear. Just… cool.

NL: I would imagine that lightsaber training is the highlight of the camp (at least it would be for me). What do the initiates use as lightsabers and what kind of lightsaber training do they receive?

TB: Yes, I think the universal favorite was lightsaber training. For most all of our camps we use the old school standard ½-inch PVC pipe wrapped in foam insulation and covered in duct tape. The color of the duct tape determined the color of the light saber. In addition to this, we had a very amazing lightsaber manufacturer (they want to remain nameless) create machined metal sabers with ½-inch polycarbonate tubing for those that wanted to buy one. All of our at-risk readers, on a reading scholarship got one of those babies. We had to wrap the polycarbonate tubing in foam for safety reasons, but the Initiates and Younglings could just take it off when they got home.

We had two Instructors who worked diligently to create the forms so that the campers could absorb the movements and katas easily. Remember, we only had the campers for three days, so we had to work smart and not waste time. Star Wars lightsaber combat has a particular look and feel to it. You find yourself doing things with a lightsaber that would get you killed if you were using a sword, but it’s all about safety and the look of the Star Wars Universe we were after. There are seven basic forms and a couple of variants on a few of those seven. We didn’t have time to teach all seven forms and there is no written standard of executing the moves in these forms – they haven’t been formalized in any way beyond basic descriptions and what we see in the movies.

Any group that teaches this stuff has a different interpretation of what those moves should look like and that’s pretty cool. What is pretty standard is the recognition of your peers for a move well executed. There are some great teaching/hobby saber groups out there and we were fortunate to work with a few of them while preparing for the camp. The Initiates and Younglings went through stances, footwork and falling. Then moved on to saber placement and basic strikes and blocks while learning the names for each. By the end of day three they could work through a two-person velocity and complete a kata while using a Force push. It was very cool.

NL: While at Camp Half-Blood it seemed to me that most of the younger campers really let themselves get carried away into the realm of their imagination but occasionally some of the older kids maybe needed a little more convincing. Do you find that most all the campers go into all of these Jedi Training activities with an active imagination and enthusiasm? Or is there maybe a moment where they don’t quite believe what is going on? Was there ever a particular camper that was especially skeptical about the world you were trying to create?

TB: When we first started out, in 2006, I noticed the kids would get this look in their eye. It wasn’t there all the time, but every once in a while we’d be doing something and their imaginations would take over and you could tell our Pedi cab chariots had suddenly transformed into gleaming bronze chariots. I came to relish those moments. My hope was that we could provide a series of these moments for our campers. If I could accomplish this I would consider the camps a success by any measure. We go out of our way to immerse the campers in their favorite book, but everyone has a different response to what we create for them. Some older campers don’t respond the way they did when they were nine, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t having fun – it just may not register on their face the way it used to.

Having said this, every year there are kids who have problems giving themselves over to the story. There is an age where many folks have sadly grown out of what it is we do. While it’s unfortunate, it’s completely normal. We never actively try to convince anyone of anything out at camp. We just set the table with a juicy story and hope the campers show up to participate. No one (no adult) ever says, this is real! All the campers know better and we would only be insulting their intelligence by asking them to believe in that way. Instead we gently encourage them to become a part of the story. There are always campers who go around telling the other campers, “You know none of this is real, right?” I used to pull those campers aside and ask them if they were having fun and if there was anything I could do to make their experience more exciting, in an effort to maintain the illusion for the younger campers. Then, I witnessed some of the other campers squashing that behavior as it occurred. It wasn’t done mean-spiritedly but it was a very strong response and it seemed to work.

For some of these campers I realized they were most vocal about what was real and what wasn’t when the situation was pitched – during a battle for instance, after an ambush, after seeing a monster in the forest, or hearing an unusual noise that we had engineered. It felt more like they were trying to reassure themselves out loud and then hoped for a reassuring response from the other campers. We try not to go too scary, it’s not a haunted house situation, but every few days we want something that takes our campers out of their comfort zone to throw a delightful kink in the storyline. I don’t want them anticipating too much. If they can always guess correctly at what we’re doing, we’re not doing it right. Since our campers are very intelligent we have to work hard to stay ahead of them.

I do find it interesting that some of our most vocal campers, the ones who don’t appear as if they are as “into it,” keep coming back year after year. The camps may not be for everyone – we certainly don’t expect them to be. Some of this is due to the unusual nature of our programming. Beyond our NASP archery program, we don’t do anything traditionally associated with a summer camp and I’d like to keep it that way.

NL: On the website you say you are bringing The Clone Wars series to life “while making meaningful connections between history, mythology, literature, art, science, sports, language and rampant creativity.”  How do you make those connections?

TB: Our storyline for the camp has elements directly associated with what is happening in our world. If you keep up with current events you’ll see that we try to stay abreast of what’s happening around us and then write it into the storyline, thematically. This may not be apparent from the description on the website but once you’re experiencing the story out at camp you can see it. We don’t force opinion on anyone we just present the story and all its thematic elements and let the group come to a conclusion. The Star Wars Universe was created with humanity’s mythologies in mind; I think that’s a big part of the reason why Star Wars resonates with so many people. I use elements from classic literature, mythology, music, science and art in our storylines. We train the kids to use scientific observation (which most understand when they come to us), create situations where they have to use lateral problem-solving skills and their knowledge of what’s happening in the real world to win the day. We take a whole learning approach to the camp storyline and it’s eventual resolution for our campers. We aren’t didactic in our methods; it’s not obvious. Instead, we make it an adventure!

NL: How is Lucasfilm involved and how did their involvement come about?

TB: About two years ago Jeffery Merhige, the YMCA Camp Director for Camp Kern, in Ohio, contacted me. He noticed our Literary Camp program and was intrigued by our success with Camp Half-Blood. We got to talking and it came out that he had worked closely with Lucasfilm to develop a Clone Wars camp theme package that could be rolled out for camps in the American Camp Association roster of approved camps. It was a really neat idea to bring a Star Wars flavor to a traditional camp setting. I immediately noticed where it could be tweaked to fit our way of doing things. It turns out that Jeffery and I shared a common love of providing a unique setting for our campers to enjoy.

Since Jeffrey wanted to start a Camp Half-Blood program at his camp and I wanted to start our own version of a Clone Wars camp we made introductions for each other. I was introduced to Tracy Cannobbio over at Lucasfilm and she was the one who approved us for our first year. I’m very thankful to both Tracy and Jeffrey for this shot.

NL: Do you get the parents involved in any way?

TB: Not too often. This isn’t always the case, but having parents around tends to take the campers out of the moment. Parents have always been there for vital fundraisers and a few volunteer opportunities, but they aren’t usually involved in the camp beyond that.

I’m going to do a call out now to illustrate how important parents can be to our camp program. I have one camper parent in particular Ben Obregon, an architect specializing in sustainable design, who has donated all his time to design a new super green facility that we will raise funds for and then donate to the park. The Texas State Park system isn’t really funded by the state like it is in many other parts of the country. They have to raise their own money with admission fees and memberships to survive. The state park we have such a great working relationship with struggles to maintain the aging buildings they already have. Our new design, while bigger, will need far less maintenance to take care of the property. We thought it would be a great way to expand the Literary Camp program so we can reach more at-risk readers and help a wonderful state park to get a much needed facility to offer up to the public. I really love fostering win/win situations in life and this is one of them. The design of the new building is simple and beautiful and will serve the park, the public and the camps for years to come. We are very excited about this up-‘n’-coming project! If you want to help, stay tuned to for more news this fall.

NL: Who are The 501st and The Rebel Legion and what role do they play in the camp?

TB: First off, the role of The 501st and The Rebel Legion was huge in the production of the camp. I am indebted to all of these men and women for their help in promoting children’s literacy.

The 501st (Vader’s Fist) is the world’s largest Lucasfilm-approved costuming organization. These amazing folks spend their hard earned money to create film and television accurate costumes based on characters from the Star Wars Universe. They then put those costumes on and spend hours at children’s hospitals, cancer wards, Make-a-Wish Foundation events and any number of other organizations who give their time and compassionate service to help others. The members of the 501st make a difference in the lives of the people who see them, especially children. If you’ve seen an amazing looking Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Stormtrooper, Clone trooper (the order 66 version), or other “villains” from the Star Wars Universe in a parade in your town or local charity event there’s a good chance they are from the 501st. These folks don’t get paid to do this! I am so impressed the more I get to know these nerdy do-gooders!

The Rebel Legion is the sister group, also Lucasfilm approved, who get dressed up as the good folk and troop some of the same charity events as the folks in the 501st.

The Mandalorian Mercenaries group needs a shout-out here as well. They are also Lucasfilm approved and they get dressed up as the most amazing original Mando Mercenaries. These folks are given more leeway in creating an original character, but the costuming approval guidelines are still tough. It shows too. There was a whole group of Mandalorian Mercenaries dogging us during the camp. Check all these groups out online.

If you’re thinking of joining one of these groups be ready to put in a lot of time and energy into getting that costume just right. The requirements for joining the group are stringent and they should be! If they accept your submission, be ready to get out into the world and do some good. My life is more rewarding now for having spent some time with them all. I’d like to give big thanks to the local 501st garrison, Star Garrison, for their involvement and support.

NL: What is your favorite part of Jedi Training camp?

TB: That’s an easy one! Bringing Star Wars to life for my Initiates and Younglings. Watching them silently mouth things like, “No way!” or, “Awesome!” when they encounter a new character or event and say things like, “That was like being in a movie!” The respect and admiration that develops between campers and counselors and amongst the campers themselves is so gratifying. Watching a camper with their nose buried in a book at the end of camp is amazing too. Each camper leaves with a book or book(s) depending on publisher involvement.

My staff is the best in the world. Any chance we get to spend time together is always so wonderful. They help with every facet of camp and it’s because of their blood, sweat and tears that the worlds we recreate spring to life.

I love my job and consider myself lucky beyond all reckoning!


Thanks for all that info, Topher. If anyone has kids that are interested in this camp for Summer 2013 keep an eye on the Book People website!

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I grew up on Kung Fu theater movie weekends, a lot of Top Ramen Noodles, G.I. Joe's, Evil Knivels Stunt Cycle and Stretch Armstrong. My Movie reviews and Artist Interviews have been a regular around Follow me on Twitter @arainbolt. or email me

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