By: Phillip Lutz, Sports Editor
You may have seen him at University of Michigan football games, cheering and dancing in a custom Michigan themed Stormtrooper suit.
And though he puts a smile on the faces of Michigan fans on game days, the duty of “The Wolverine Trooper” goes far beyond Saturdays.
Jon Leopold, the Wolverine Trooper, is a dedicated worker for the Ford Motor Company at the Romeo engine plant. He lives a normal life at his home in Goodrich, Mich. But Leopold doesn’t spend most of his life at that home.
His car just turned over 100,000 miles. It’s barely three years old.
“In 2016, I did 146 events and that includes games, hospital visits, various charity events, and then last year it was I believe 114 events,” Leopold said, “A little less, but this year will be around the same I am thinking.
“It’s great to see the kid’s reactions. It is still surprising because I have been around so long that there are so many people out there that have never seen me before. There are so many people going to their first game every home game.”
Leopold graced the UM-Dearborn Fieldhouse last week in a visit for
the university’s promotional Youth Night. In full costume, Leopold posed for pictures with fans young and old as the women’s and men’s basketball teams battled the Rochester College.
The Wolverine Trooper gets to live out his true passions for everyone to see: University of Michigan and Star Wars.
He was just a ‘normal’ stormtrooper in 2003, when he first put on the armor. In 2006, he became the Wolverine Trooper.
Leopold said he originally got his armor from a friend who had multiple sets, and he was not using or wearing the Stormtrooper armor. He bought it and had to cut it down to fit his body type. The manual for his suit is over 250 pages long with over 50 pages just on his helmet.
This is not an easy thing to just take out of the box and put on–there are 29 individual pieces.
Leopold is a member of the Great Lakes Garrison of the 501st Legion. The 501st is a worldwide organization that lets members live out their passion of being a part of the Star Wars universe. They do charitable work all around the globe and put smiles on the faces of children and adults wherever they go. The Great Lakes Garrison makes up the whole state of Michigan.
“The 501st does about 150 events in a given year and turns down about that many every year. We raise about $20,000 to $30,000 a year,” Leopold said.
Overall, it’s football that owns Leopold’s heart.
“Football is always great to go to because of the tailgating–having the additional time to interact with fans.” But the best part of it all for Leopold is “the way kids light up when they see me, and a lot of big kids too.”
Leopold attends nearly every home Michigan football game in Ann Arbor.
“I don’t have season tickets–I have never had season tickets. The last two or three years every game I have bought on StubHub and paid a fortune to be in the front row, because I actually need the leg room in the costume.” Leopold said.
“You do not want these armored legs up in your back the entire game.”
Even while paying his own way to the games, Leopold enjoys Saturdays like nothing else.
“It’s great. There are so many times when I am at whatever event–that people say ‘do you remember seeing me?’ at such and such or I saw you at some other sport. It’s a lot of fun–most of the event staff love me and a lot of them know me by my first name so it’s no big deal to them but it’s a lot of fun.”
One of his greatest memories was in the 2004 Rose Bowl when Michigan played the University of Southern California and George Lucas was the Grand Marshall of the parade. Leopold was part of the 2004 Rose Bowl Parade, along with other members of 501st. “It was six days there at the Rose Bowl and four marching practices.” Leopold said, “The first night there George Lucas surprised us. I had a U of M temporary tattoo on my cheek–USC was who they were playing that year.
“I got to shake his [George Lucas] hand and I was going to give him a Go Blue, but he was not looking up–he was looking down at hands.”
George Lucas is a USC fan.
He and his wife are very knowledgeable about all things Star Wars. From the books to the movies, they know it all. His favorite books are Traitor from the New Jedi Order series, most of the Timothy Zahn series, and from the recent books Dark Disciple. He also likes the Karen Travis books as well.
Like most avid Star Wars readers, Leopold has the mindset of the old Legends book series from Star Wars, and finds it difficult to follow along with the new books after Disney restarted the book series.
Leopold and his wife go to the theaters to watch the Star Wars movies as they release. He has seen the Last Jedi eight times–his wife has seen the movie nine times.
The first Star Wars movie he remembers seeing was A New Hope, but could not recall if he saw it in theaters because of his age. Growing up, his favorite Star Wars movie was Return of the Jedi (like most kids). “Because of all the creatures, Jabba’s palace, and the speeder bikes,” Leopold said.
“I am a fan of the prequels (Episodes 1-3). I know a lot of people hate them, but I think they are really well done.” Leopold said, “I don’t mind Jar Jar. I do tease people that Jar Jar killed more people than Boba Fett, or at least battle droids.”
He was also a fan of the latest film releases.
“I enjoyed them all. Rogue One was such a surprise–how great it was.
“I did not go in armor the first night to the Last Jedi–I went as a fan. I tried to get a theater in Ann Arbor to do something for charity and they could not get it approved.” Leopold said, “That was the first time since Attack of the Clones (2002) that I did not suit up for a premiere.”
In the end, Leopold is not looking for fame, fortune or attention. His goal in donning the Michigan armor is to show his love for Star Wars and the University of Michigan openly and proudly.
Leopold likes seeing the smiles on fans big and small that get pictures with him wherever he goes. There are some game days that Leopold is there long after the teams have gone home.
Whether he’s making an appearance at a children’s hospital, enjoying a college football game or catching the latest Star Wars film, Jon Leopold just wants you to smile.