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Nerd Out With Mardi Gras' Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And in these weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, the streets of New Orleans are filled with a series of extravagant parades organized by local crews. Tonight's parade will be a glittering, glowing procession of Wookiees, Trekkies and other self-proclaimed sci-fi geeks and super nerds. It's the 10th annual parade of the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus. NPR's Melissa Block went to check out their final preparations.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: The revelers are in the frantic last stages sanding, sawing and sewing a huge workshop space. They'll take to the streets of New Orleans tonight adorned with glitter, luminous fabric and lots of fur - Wookiee fur, that is.

LAURA VAN AKEN: We are Chewbacchus - so got to have that Chewie in there.

BLOCK: I find Laura Van Aken hard at work adding extra fur to her costume - or Wookiee-fying it as she puts it. She'll be a mashup of Chewbacca, the shaggy 8-foot-tall Wookiee from "Star Wars..."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETER MAYHEW: (As Chewbacca, vocalizing).

BLOCK: ...Remixed with characters from the cult classic "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

BROOKE ETHERIDGE: That is a huge part of the crew - mashups, puns and stacking together things that you love.

BLOCK: That's one of the three overlords of the Krewe of Chewbacchus.

ETHERIDGE: I'm Brooke Etheridge, Overlord Padme Almandine.

RICHARD RIGGS: I'm Richard Riggs, Overlord Strangelover.

ARYANNA GAMBLE: Aryanna Gamble, Overlord Space Goddess Snackagawea.

BLOCK: And they say, while the crew started with sci-fi, "Star Wars" and "Star Trek..."

ETHERIDGE: We say now all nerd-doms. So anything that you want to nerd about is welcome in the Chewbacchus parade.

BLOCK: Which means there's a sub-krewe in the parade for just about anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All Wonder Woman Walking Krewe.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Aerial Space Squad.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Krewe of the Living Dead. We go by KOLD.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Kru du Chu - we are the Pokemon Mardi Gras krewe.

BLOCK: And so much more - The Leijorettes, Princess Leia lookalikes, 100-strong - The STOMP Troopers, young people with autism, and the Women of Wakanda, those fierce warriors from "Black Panther. Among them, Sonita Singh will be parading tonight in a glow-in-the-dark bustier and loincloth.

SONITA SINGH: Beautiful, powerful, sovereign black women coming down the streets screaming Wakanda forever - chills - I get chills just thinking about it.

BLOCK: This parade marches with wildly elaborate, handmade contraptions propelled by bikes or shopping carts or whatever roles - no combustion engines, though, no people riding on top of floats. They've constructed an alien in a gigantic spaceship hovering over a scale model of New Orleans, an old favorite Bar 2-D-2 - there's a keg inside - and the krewe's idol, Chewbacchus, a six-armed Wookiee made of Styrofoam. As Overlord Strangelover shows me, Chewie is in full roar riding on top of the starship Millennium Falcon.

RIGGS: Chewbacchus is the sacred drunken Wookiee who we worship. Yes. He is our godhead.

BLOCK: No cheap, plastic Mardi Gras beads for this krewe - all of the throws they toss to the crowds are made by hand, and they're miniature works of art - Wakanda earrings, mini Yoda figurines, delicately painted bandolier blocks and doubloons. These trinkets have become coveted collector's items, says Overlord Space Goddess Snackagawea.

GAMBLE: There's this exchange in this moment that's extremely personal that you don't get when you're just throwing beads off of a float.

BLOCK: The sub-krewe Queer Eye For the Sci-Fi will be handing out bejeweled ray guns. Krewe Captain Chris Garnett has come to the workshop in full regalia.

CHRIS GARNETT: I'm a sparkly Mandalorian with rhinestones.

BLOCK: Garnett is decked out in a glittery breastplate, pink leggings and helmet with a feather boa. In his other life, he's a doctor.

GARNETT: I think this is good medicine. You know, a lot of us think that a little bit of distraction when the news is so serious is a good thing.

BLOCK: The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus rolls fabulously tonight in New Orleans starting at 7 local time - Melissa Block, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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