They may be loyal, obedient and ready to die for the Emperor Palpatin, but it turns out the elite soldiers of the Galactic Empire shrink in the face of an El Niño-fueled storm.
Sunday afternoon was supposed to feature the appearance of Star Wars characters at San Jose's Christmas in the Park display. But while Santa Claus appeared as expected, most of the Stormtroopers cancelled, apparently out of fear of the morning's downpour. However, under suddenly sunshiny afternoon skies, two keepers of the imperial law did show up to delight fans anxious to pose with them.
Seems that grown-up visitors were more thrilled about snuggling up to the empire's fearsome enforcers than tots were about getting close to the white-bearded guy in the red fur suit.
"Oooh, I need to geek out and take a picture," said a beaming Helen Garcia, of San Jose, as she rushed to stand between the white-plastic jumpsuits and vaguely antlike masks of a Stormtrooper and Biker Scout.
Stuart Crabb and his daughter Phoebe, 11, of Palo Alto, came for their annual pilgrimage to Christmas in the Park -- which this year features more than 400 trees decorated by schools, Scouts and other groups -- but were thrilled to find the two galactic characters.
"I'm a big Star Wars fan," said Crabb, who said he and other devotees all over the world were dismayed at the recent sale of Lucasfilm to Disney. It may have been good for George Lucas, who raked in $4 billion, but
As a pop culture institution, Star Wars has inspired legions of nerds, and others, to create and don costumes faithful to the movies' characters. The Biker Scout and Stormtrooper, a.k.a. educator Debi Hesselein-Leary, of Santa Clara, and grocery producer worker Scott Caesar, of Cupertino, regularly appear at charity and other events to thrill and mingle with fellow fans.
The two are members of the Northern California Golden Gate Garrison of the 501st Legion, a global imperial costuming group that dresses up as various "bad guy" characters from Star Wars. (No worries: The "good guys" have their own group -- the Rebel Legion).
Several disappointed visitors showed up Sunday hoping to catch sight of more helmet-and-armor squads. But overall, the crowds were thin. While many families braved the steady rain Saturday night to visit Christmas in the Park, Sunday's deluge delayed opening of the rides by two hours, until 1 p.m. "Normally, we'd be busy," said amusement-ride worker Jose Gutierrez, glancing at the idle Frog Hopper. By 3 p.m., he estimated that he had strapped in only about seven eager ridehoppers.
Live performances of local musicians and dancers continued as scheduled.
Damage from the wind and rain closed San Jose's popular downtown ice-skating rink for the day. Sitting just across the street from Christmas in the Park, the rink is expected to reopen at 5 p.m. Monday.
But under clear skies, more visitors were expected to return Sunday evening to the annual holiday exhibit at Cesar Chavez Plaza, between Market and South First Streets, south of West San Fernando Street.
For those hoping to visit Santa, volunteer Julie Mello has a word of advice: Get in line early. Visits end at 9 p.m., but often the elves close the line by 8:15 p.m. because the waits can be very long.
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.