There are few franchises in existence that have earned a larger or more devoted fan base than Star Wars. Since the first film was launched in 1977, fans of all ages and backgrounds have been captivated by the stories told in a galaxy far, far away. With the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there's a renewed sense of hope and optimism about the property within the fan community.
When eight-year-old Layla Murphy discovered her father's old Star Wars toys, she was instantly enamored with the universe. Proud to be a fan and a part of the community, Layla attended a convention where she met 501st Legion member Jason Tuttle. The 501st Legion is a charitable organization of Star Wars fans who make appearances in costume as a number of Star Wars villains. Tuttle encouraged Layla's enthusiasm, sending her Star Wars stickers and patches.
Unfortunately, not everyone approved of Layla's fandom. Speaking with CNN, Layla's mother Nicolette Molina described the changes her daughter experienced after moving to a new school.
"At this new school, Layla started coming home more quiet and less of herself, and started asking not to wear her shirts or R2-D2 jacket."
The girls in Layla's class were telling her that she shouldn't like Star Wars because it's for boys. The students taunted her, asking if "she was turning into a boy."
However, that's not the end of the story. When Layla's mother reached out to Tuttle about the bullying problem and the recent changes in her daughter's behavior, the local chapter of the 501st Legion (501st Garrison Tyranus) rallied to support the young girl. Gifts and words of encouragement began to pour in from around the world, giving Layla the confidence to embrace her fandom.
The greatest gift of all came in the form of a custom suit of Stormtrooper armor, which Layla wore to a special backstage meeting with one of her favorite musicians: Weird Al Yankovic.
Thanks to the efforts of the 501st, Layla now wears her Star Wars gear, as well as her new armor, with pride. According to their official Facebook page, the young fan's favorite part of wearing the Stormtrooper armor is surprising everyone who thinks there's a little boy underneath the helmet.
The armor that Layla now wears was originally crafted in 2010 for seven-year-old Katie Goldman, whose story shares many disheartening similarities to Layla's. She too was made fun of at school for her love of Star Wars and told it was only for boys. When her story spread, the internet floodgates opened with overwhelming support for the young girl, even inspiring an annual holiday among Star Wars fans called "Wear Star Wars, Share Star Wars Day". Last year, Katie passed the armor to eleven-year-old Allison, another fan dealing with bullying. Clearly, the bullying is a recurring problem, one that deserves serious consideration by Star Wars creators and fans alike.
Star Wars is more than a series of movies to a large portion of the fan base. It's a rallying point for discussion, community, and noble undertakings that can bring optimism to even the most disillusioned fans. Layla's story has a happy ending thanks to that community, but it likely this won't be the last time the 501st is called in to defend a young fan.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the young Han Solo film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars standalone film in 2020.