Star Wars cosplayers have made their way to Millersville. Photo courtesy of Mike Hinton
Not too long ago, on a college campus not too far away, three remarkable individuals – Quinn Benner, Owen Giblin, and Saffron “Saffy” Hinton – embarked on an adventure like no other, to take on the mantle of some of the most renowned figures in science fiction. In the earlier weeks of the semester, students, faculty, and residents of the small town of Millersville were intrigued by the site of Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Stormtrooper, and a protocol droid standing idly in a parking lot by the Student Memorial Center. Driving by, snapping a photograph at the bizarre sight, they wonder – who are these mysterious figures, why are they here, and where did they come from?
The group’s story began truly a long time ago, on the campus of our very own university. Mike Hinton, an avid Star Wars fan and MU student in the late 1980s, developed an interest in the ever growing world of cosplay. Nearly two decades later, his then three-year-old daughter, Saffy, alongside her older sister, Zoey, also joined the cosplay culture.
When discussing their early beginnings, Mike said, “my daughters started out at a young age, dressing up as Jawas. They would show up to hospitals, perform at places like the Hershey Theatre, helping families with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and spread awareness about the illness and the cause of it.”
Miss Hinton added, “I was anonymous, so they had no idea who I was … it taught me to focus on helping others, with no personal gain involved.”
Their work in entertaining young patients later allowed them to cross paths with future classmate, Quinn Benner. At 15 years old, Benner fought for his life, battling brain cancer. On that fateful day, he never expected a squad of Stromtroopers (Mr. Hinton among them) to come pounding on his door to greet him. Fascinated and inspired by the cause, Benner quickly joined their ranks, cosplaying as various galactic soldiers. Starting out through a local group in eastern Pennsylvania, known as Garrison Carida, Benner and the Hintons traveled across the country, putting smiles on fans’ faces everywhere. Giblin and the younger Hinton met through Discord early this semester, and alongside Benner, took part in the activities that have since made them well-known throughout the community.
With the young group now a trio of college students, their work has been brought to the campus, allowing more opportunities to entertain and help others. In addition to visiting patients and strolling through the streets of Millersville, the group also partake in volunteer work, attending baseball games, holiday parades, and educational events such as Odyssey of the Mind and Comic Book Day.
Such endeavors can be a hefty investment – Benner’s biker scout armor, for instance, cost approximately $2,000 to build, however this is also on the higher end of expenditures. These suits, whether it be robes, armor, or the shell of a protocol droid, often involve not just money, but also time. Costumes can take months, or even years to build, with Hinton’s Triple Zero costume taking her father nearly 14 months to construct, and being nearly as difficult just to put on.
Even though the young jedi do not make a cent off their work, the impact of their efforts on fans, especially children, proves much more valuable.
“I only started out maybe two years ago, buying Obi-Wan costumes off Amazon,” said Giblin, “now I’m doing so much, meeting cool people of all backgrounds. School of course is stressful, and work can be grueling, but what’s great is at the end of the day, you get to be part of something bigger. You let go, you get to be a different person.”
Benner added, “cosplaying has allowed me to help others like myself. I travel to Chicago, to Philadelphia, and make others happy for awhile.” He then recalled his time at a convention in Chicago in 2019, where he met a 7-year-old girl, who was, like Benner at a younger age, fighting brain cancer, “I had the opportunity to meet someone who was struggling like me, with the same obstacles as I was, and I could do something to help her through that. It was definitely the best day of my life.”
Of course, the students would not know where they would be without the help of Mike Hinton. A seasoned Star Wars cosplayer and costume builder, this Millersville alum’s assistance in constructing armor, driving the group around, and getting them into costume has made their adventures possible. He is especially helpful in physically getting the group into the costumes, especially in the case of his daughter, who cannot get into the Triple Zero uniform on her own.
Cosplaying “sessions” are often impromptu, but require little planning, besides the preparation itself. They coordinate over messaging, bring their costumes, get set up in a parking lot or at home, and then walk around campus. Their route, while still in development, often consists of them walking by the SMC, near the pirate statue and welcome center, where they can stop to take photos with passerby or create content for social media, However, one never knows when it is exactly time to get into uniform.
“I lug around this giant case, ready to go at a moment’s notice. I bring costumes, water, paper towels … you never know when it’s time to suit up.” says Benner.
The group is always excited for when any opportunities arise, planned or unplanned, whether it be a more formal event, such as the Millersville Community Parade, or as simple as walking by the Student Memorial Center to record TikToks or allow photo ops. Upon her acceptance to Millersville University, Saffy Hinton walked around in her Triple Zero suit, holding up her acceptance letter. This would be the first of many exciting spectacles for Star Wars fans and non-fans alike.
When it comes to recruiting new members, the group is very open. Even buying Halloween costumes can be a helpful start in getting into the cosplay circuit, Gibin suggests. While no official club exists on campus just yet, the group is anxious to include others, whether it be in their own small group, or through the local garrison.
A bright future awaits the cosplayers of Star Wars – an untitled fan film is in the works, and the Hintons have recently been approached for a possible appearance in a LucasFilm documentary.
When discussing these opportunities, Benner commented, “I got into a whole new world I never thought I’d be a part of. Next thing I know I’m meeting celebrities. I’m in a music video, travelling the country doing what I love, and doing so many cool new things. It’s like being a part of a secret society.”
Also thanks to Mike Hinton, the group has been able to expand their social media presence, acquiring nearly 1,000 views and 8,000 followers on Giblin’s and the Hintons’ respective TikTok (@owiekenobi and @hintoncosplayMU) accounts. This presence allows the young cosplayers to connect with events, and anticipate what adventures they will go on next, whether it be on or off campus.
Being members of a global organization numbering 15,000 individuals can be daunting, and have high expectations. Costumes must be movie quality, if not better, and they must remain suited up and in character at all times, especially at formal events. On the other hand, cosplaying as the world’s most beloved sci-fi characters allows them opportunities abound, ranging from onscreen appearances to meeting celebrities and fans of various interests and backgrounds. Benner, Giblin, and Hinton themselves come from very diverse lifestyles and have starkly different beliefs. This, however, does not discourage them from forming lifelong friendships and creating memories, which last a lifetime.
“You never fail to encounter all kinds of people – so many different religious and political beliefs, ages, gender, and experiences,” explains Mr. Hinton, “but we all come together to do something we all love and share in common.”
As Benner says, “It doesn’t matter who you are once you put on the helmet.”