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bowers schirle

John Schirle of the Decatur Public Library Children's Department welcomes Blake Bowers and his large storm trooper cutout. Herald & Review/Lisa Morrison

DECATUR - He stopped traffic even before he was out of the vehicle.

As the 73-inch-tall cardboard cutout of a Star Wars clone trooper was unloaded from a vehicle by its owner, 13-year-old Blake Bowers, a Decatur Public Library patron stopped to watch the process. She wasn't alone; others in the library foyer and beyond turned heads to watch the character's progress toward the library's second floor.

Blake is a self-described Star Wars devotee. His bedroom decorations center around the movies and their characters, and he remembers wearing a clone trooper's costume for Halloween at age 7.

He said the cutout, a gift from his father, Scott Bowers, also had been used when he participated in Project Next Generation at the library.

Though Blake will not be able to attend, he's loaning it to the library for its Saturday event, which will include games and activities and visits from a costumed Darth Vader and some costumed clone troopers. Vader and the troopers are members of the Midwest Garrison of the 501st Legion.

"We're not re-enactors," said Vader, who is by day Chip Childress of Champaign. "It's just like adding atmosphere to the event."

As Vader, Childress said he disguises his voice, so it sounds more like what people are used to hearing in the movies, and, he added, "I have the 'breathing' going on all the time too."

The costume he wears, like all others of the 501st Legion, is considered movie-quality. "Costumes can't be of the Halloween variety. They have to be approved to movie-quality standards, to look like we stepped out of the movie."

While the legion has nearly reached its 15th anniversary, Childress said he joined nine years ago. In the Midwest Garrison, there are approximately 15 members in downstate Illinois, he said. The volunteers suggest if there is to be a stipend for their appearance that it be donated to charity; they are not reimbursed, he said.

The event including the Midwest Garrison is another of the continuing family events that have been part of the summer reading program, according to Eleanor Wood, young adult librarian. The idea was to make the special events something in which the whole family can participate.

"We've had fantastic crowds," she added, "even on July 2."

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