PASADENA, Calif. -- Jorge Candelas spent eight months perfecting the look of his Imperial biker scout uniform.
He watched the Star Wars movies over and over, making sure the plastic armor on his uniform sat at just the right angle. He endured teasing from his father, who calls him his "8-year-old who never grew up."
But on Thursday, the 30-year-old computer engineer from Durango, Mexico, was marching proud.
He joined 200 fellow Star Wars fanatics at a Pasadena high school football field, attempting to march in unison on the commands of a U.S. Army Reserve colonel in preparation for the 118th Rose Parade.
The scene was surreal: The troupe wore blue jeans, cargo shorts and T-shirts but also the elaborate masks of the Imperial forces on their heads. On the sidelines was the Darth Vader understudy, preparing in case the real one got sidelined.
They are all members of the 501st Legion, an international organization of more than 3,000 people devoted to re-creating scenes from the Star Wars movies.
They painstakingly mold, sew and paint costumes to dress up as storm troopers, royal guards and other characters, mostly to realize childhood fantasies - but also to appear at charity events and re-enactments.
Brothers Piero and Giancarlo Bockos flew in from Verona, Italy, after they won judges over with a video of them marching and role-playing at a theme park.
The brothers were worried that in this post-Sept. 11 age, getting their snow trooper and biker scout uniforms - with the white helmets and plastic armor - through customs might be a problem. So they informed airport officials. "We told them, 'We're here for the Rose Parade. We're storm troopers.' They laughed," Piero Bockos said. "Customs wanted to see our helmets. One of them was a fan."
Star Wars isn't as popular in Italy as in the United States, so the brothers said they feel at home in Pasadena among their fellow fanatics.
"The most difficult thing was telling my boss I was traveling to the U.S. to dress in a plastic costume," said Giancarlo Bockos, 30.
When the brothers were told by a reporter that their long hair, tattoos and menacing mustaches didn't make them look like typical Star Wars fans, they said, "Thank you."
A friend from Italy, Luca Masciulo, said being invited to march in the Rose Parade was justice for everyone who laughed at his hobby.
"It's our revenge," said Masciulo, 41.
Tomorrow, the group will march down the 5 1/2 -mile parade route alongside two Star Wars floats, a 176-member band from Grambling State University, eight flag bearers, eight dancers dressed as Twi'leks - a variety of alien - and a Jedi knight drum leader.
Star Wars creator George Lucas is the Rose Parade grand marshal for 2007, which marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars film.
Executives at Lucasfilm, which produced the movies, selected the 200 marchers from among 700 videos submitted, and paid for their travels to Pasadena.
The Rose Parade has brought together Star Wars re-creators from decidedly different walks of life.
Mark Fordham will march as Darth Vader, the villain who dons an imposing all-black outfit. The Provo, Utah, police officer said he's been "Vadering" - changing his voice to sound like the character - for 10 years.
He said outposts in Taiwan, Singapore, the Netherlands and Switzerland will be represented in the march, though he regretted that some members weren't able to make it.
"Venezuela had some visa issues," Fordham said. "Israel's guy was in a bomb shelter because of the problem with Lebanon."
Fordham's Darth Vader backup, Andrew Page, will be driven along the route in a van, ready to replace Fordham if he's injured or becomes dehydrated.
Page, who has Vader's signature heavy breathing as a cell phone ring tone, used to be a sand trooper but was encouraged to try out for Vader because of his height.
It's definitely not the typical Rose Parade fare. But organizers said Star Wars has become so prominent in the culture that they could not resist.
The following is "across my own generation - I'm in my 60s - my kids in their 30s all the way down," said tournament President Paul Holman.
Pasadena police are taking a more serious stance, worrying about security headaches on parade day if throngs of fans bring light sabers, blasters and other Star Wars weapons into the stands (they are forbidden).
Lucas paid the legion a surprise visit Wednesday night at the Universal Sheraton, where Star Wars fans were holding their opening banquet.
"We all went crazy," Candelas said about the arrival of Lucas, whom fans simply call "the Maker."
David Pierson and Adrian G. Uribarri write for the Los Angeles Times.