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'Star Wars' villains help raise money for Make-A-Wish

By Steve Almasy, CNN
  • Star Wars helmet auction raises more than $50,000 for charity
  • Artists, actors and members of fan club contribute redesigned stormtrooper helmets
  • Auction takes two years to put together as organizer works on project in spare time
  • "Star Wars" creator George Lucas attends auction

(CNN) -- Sometimes villains can be the good guys. Especially when it comes to helping sick children.

An auction of 50 customized stormtrooper helmets at the "Star Wars" Celebration V in Orlando, Florida, raised a little more than $50,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation on Sunday.

Auction organizer Chris Romines, a member of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion, a group of volunteers who dress up as "Star Wars" characters, came up with the idea for the helmet auction about two years ago. For the past 18 months, he dedicated much of the free time he didn't spend dressed up in white plastic to putting together the eclectic group of artists who were given the instructions "Do whatever you want."

The folks who redesigned the helmets were members of the 501st, artists, celebrities and actors -- including Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca the Wookiee), Ray Park (the evil Darth Maul, chief antagonist in "The Phantom Menace") and Daniel Logan (the young Boba Fett in "Attack of the Clones").

Logan's helmet -- a tribute to the Maori tribe of his native New Zealand -- was the most coveted of the event and sold for $3,500. Romines said an unidentified employee of Lucasfilm bought it.

George Lucas, who made news at the convention by announcing the series will be released on Blu-Ray in fall 2011, attended the auction.

One of the other top sellers was a "Lost" helmet painted by animator Amy Vatanakul and signed by Matthew Fox, Josh Holloway, J.J. Abrams, Carleton Cuse and Damon Lindelof. It went for $2,500.

Park's helmet sold for $2,300 and Mayhew's went for $1,250.

"We raised money that they desperately need to help kids out. I've been lucky enough; I have four healthy kids and I have two healthy grandkids. If I can help some sick kids out just by managing a project, that's easy. Certainly easier than what they are going through," Romines said by phone from Orlando.

The hardest part for him was coordinating the artists.

"It was like herding cats," he said. Some of them pushed their deadlines to the last day, but "you have to give them time to work."

We may be geeks, but we're geeks with a heart.
--Chris Romines

All the original 50 helmets were sold, he said, but one additional helmet was to be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a later auction. That helmet has been autographed by many of the actors and contributors to the "Star Wars" series, he said, and could sell for at least $15,000.

A spokesman for the Make-A-Wish Foundation said the 501st has been a great organization to work with for many years.

"It's been wonderful for us and we're honored that they did this auction with us in mind," Brent Goodrich said. "They're terrific and what they do really enhances our events."

Romines was one very happy stormtrooper Monday morning.

The 43-year-old from Southern California was finally getting a chance to relax, albeit in a hotel room on an overcast day. He said it was great to know that his group had helped one of its favorite charities.

The 501st does fundraisers throughout the United States, more than 500 a year in Southern California. If someone needs a bunch of stormtroopers or other characters at a charity event, they ask the 501st.

He admits it's a little geeky.

"We may be geeks, but we're geeks with a heart," he said.

Check out the Geek Out series for more about fan culture and geeky, niche topics

Romines, who works in the internet technologies department for Orange County, went to his commanders two years ago with the idea for the helmet auction. Once Lucasfilm OK'd the project, Romines moved forward. The auction could not have happened without eFx Collectibles, which made and donated the helmets, Romines said. They even shipped the helmets directly to the artists.

Meeting deadlines became a headache, Romines said, but everyone eventually came through.

The other difficult part was turning down people who wanted to take part in the helmet redesigns. Romines said he probably could have included another 50 to 60 helmets, but there just weren't enough helmets or time.

So perhaps in a few years there will be another auction. Romines said that's something to think about sometime in the future. For now it's time to head home, play with the grandkids and occasionally don the white plastic to help out the Make-A-Wish kids.