Trooping for smiles

Jason Ferguson

Laurance Messier wants you to know that no, he’s not hot under that costume. Quite the opposite, in fact—he’s downright comfortable.
You may not know who Messier is, but chances are, you have seen him—or at least, you’ve seen him in costume. Messier is the person under the Star Wars Stormtrooper costume that can be seen riding his Harley Davidson around town, particularly during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and Custer Cruisin.
And, he said, of all the reactions and questions he receives, whether or not he is hot in the armor is the number one question he gets.
“Ten times an hour,” he says with a laugh. “I’m perfectly fine. Even on a hot day I’m fine.”
That’s because not only does Messier wear a moisture wicking shirt underneath the armor, he has customized his helmet with six battery-powered fans to circulate air in his helmet. That is in addition to the Bluetooth headphones and microphones he has also installed in the helmet.
Messier is originally from California, where he worked for the Walt Disney Corporation for five years in production model and design work. He left that profession in 2005 to run his own martial arts business, but also in the early 2000s worked as a trail guide for Rockin’ R Trail Rides. It was then that he fell in love with the Black Hills. When he retired he wanted to come to the Black Hills, and moved to Spearfish in 2016. Five years later he moved to Custer, and during the Covid-19 pandemic he got into “Trooping,” and built his first armor.
“I’ve always been a Star Wars fan. I saw the first one when I was 9 years old,” he said. “When it came back around I thought, ‘hey, I’m an adult making money I can do whatever I want with it.”
He began to build his armor, and started out wearing a Black Series Stormtrooper helmet to develop the skills of riding with reduced visibility. Messier points out he has 33 years of riding experience and has never been in an accident.
Messier began wearing the full “A New Hope” Stormtrooper armory while riding his 2005 Fatboy, which he said took some effort but was doable after he fabricated a leather abdomen and cod piece that allowed him to sit down. He also added a chin strap to the helmet so it stays securely on his head.
In 2021, he started wearing the “Rogue One” Stormtrooper armor and helmet while riding, which he said is far superior to the previous armor. It is made of epoxy resin, which make is much more robust than the styrene New Hope armor. Secondly, the cod piece and abdomen pieces are separate on the new armor, which allows him to sit down with no additional effort or amendments. He added polarized sunglass lenses to the helmet, which has increased the visibility ten-fold compared to the dark green welder’s mask used in the Black Series and New Hope helmets, and he also has dark green lenses for his new helmet to meet 501st Legion standards.
What is the 501st Legion?
According to its website, the 501st Legion is an international organization dedicated to celebrating Star Wars through the creation and use of quality costumes that portray villainous, ambiguous or non—partisan characters from the Star Wars universe. The Legion promotes interest in Star Wars and facilitates the use of these costumes for Star Wars-related events as well as contributes to the local community through costumed charity and volunteer work.
Messier is part of the Central Garrison of the 501st, which is a more localized collection of states in the region. More specifically, Messier is a member of the 621st Detention Squad, which localizes the group even more to South Dakota. Think of it as a military-type structure, with platoons, squads, etc. Messier had to apply to be in the Legion, with the leadership of the garrison deciding whether or not his armor makes the grade—which it did.
And, let’s not forget his “blasters.” He had five of those he wears with his costume, and builds them as well. And yes, he’s heard those Stormtrooper jokes plenty, as well. Stormtroopers are well known for being less than a good shot in the movies.
So why a Stormtrooper? Messier said he loves the iconography of the Stormtrooper.
“It’s bright, it’s white, you recognize the silhouette right away,” he said. “You see it and know what it is, no matter how old you are.”
Messier adds that there would be more responsibility for dressing up as say, Darth Vader or the now wildly popular Din Djarin of “The Mandalorian” fame.
“If I’m a Stormtrooper I’m an enlisted guy who has a little bit of authority and I can just have fun,” he said.
Messier said only about 10 percent of people who have no idea who he is because they haven’t seen or are unfamiliar with Star Wars. Outside of that people know who he is instantly, and the reactions are overwhelmingly positive.
“It brings joy. It’s what I like to do,” he said. “There are a lot of crappy things going on in the world. I’d rather brighten people’s day than start an altercation with them.”
One of Messier’s favorite spots to great people is at the Needles Eye, where he will stand near a tunnel for a few hours and greet people as they come through. Bikers and automobile drivers alike smile and wave, and some even quote a movie line to him.
“I’ll get the ‘these aren’t the droids you’re looking for,’ line” Messier said. “I get that all the time too. I say, ‘move along,’ and that makes them smile because they know the movie. It’s pretty fun.”
The Needles Eye duty takes more sacrifice than one might expect, as well. He stops drinking liquid before he goes to bed, and in the morning has one shot of espresso and a swallow of juice and a small breakfast. Once the armor goes on getting out of it is too much of an ordeal for a bathroom break. He also notes wearing the armor provides him motivation for staying fit.
“Nobody wants to see a chubby Stormtrooper,” he said with a laugh.
Messier said he never rides in the armor at night, and said he has never had law enforcement ask him to stop—unless it’s to get a photo with him. It’s just another addition to the fun aspect of the “Trooping.”
“I do it for (other people) and my entertainment,” he said.
Many people tell him he has brightened their day. That in turn, he said, brightens his.
“That’s what’s really cool about it,” he said.

User login