In the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras on Feb. 25, the streets of New Orleans are filled with a series of extravagant parades organized by local krewes.
Saturday night's parade was a glittering, glowing procession of Wookiees, Trekkies, and other self-proclaimed sci-fi geeks and super-nerds: the tenth annual parade of the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus.
The krewe's name is, as you might guess, an irreverent mashup of Chewbacca, the shaggy 8-foot Wookiee from Star Wars, and Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.
"That is a huge part of the krewe: mashups, puns and stacking together things that you love," said one of the krewe's captains, Brooke Ethridge, better known as Overlord Padme Almandine.
Richard Riggs, aka Overlord Strangelover, added: "The mission of the krewe is 'Saving the galaxy one drunken nerd at a time.'"
The week before the parade rolled, the revelers were in the frantic final stages of preparation, sanding, sawing, and sewing in a huge workshop space.
Laura van Aken was hard at work adding extra fur to her costume, or "wookifying" it, as she put it. "We are Chewbacchus, so gotta have a Chewie in there," she said.
Her costume combined elements of Chewbacca with characters from the cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
"It's truly just a free-for-all," van Aken said. "You can do whatever you can dream up, costume-wise. Just make it happen, show up, and strut your stuff!"
When the krewe was formed 10 years ago, it focused on classic sci-fi – Star Trek and Star Wars. But over the years, the boundaries loosened, in a big way.
"We say now, all nerddoms," Ethridge explained. "So anything that you want to nerd about is welcome in the Chewbacchus parade."
Which means there's a sub-krewe in the Chewbacchus parade for just about anybody. Among them:
- The Aerial Space Squad, whose members perform acrobatics high along the route on a pole and hoops;
- The Krewe of the Living Dead, or KOLD;
- Krewe du Chu, the Pokémon Mardi Gras Krewe;
- Queer Eye for the Sci-Fi, for "LGBTQ+ cosplayers and their allies";
- The Leijorettes, Princess Leia look-alikes, some 100-strong, doing dance routines to Star Wars music;
- The STOMP Troopers, for young people with autism;
- The All Wonder Woman Walking Krewe, whose members assume many forms, including Marie Antoinette Wonder Woman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Wonder Woman;
- and the AfroFuturist Krewe, whose theme this year was a tribute to rapper Missy Elliott.
"Being an ultimate trailblazer, everything about her is futuristic," explained AfroFuturist Krewe member Michele Seymour.
"I don't see myself in Star Wars," added fellow krewe member Pearl Ricks, "and the whole idea of AfroFuturism is to create a world that is beyond what we already have."
One of the newest sub-krewes is the Women of Wakanda: those fierce warriors from the 2018 mega-hit film, Black Panther. Member Sonita Singh, who marched on Saturday in a glow-in-the-dark bustier and loincloth, described the thrill of the parade: "Beautiful, powerful, sovereign black women coming down the streets, screaming 'Wakanda forever!' Chills. I get chills just thinking about it."
The Krewe of Chewbacchus is a walking krewe, which means there are no people riding on huge floats pulled by trucks and tractors.
Instead, they parade with "contraptions" — wildly elaborate hand-made structures that are pushed or pedaled on tricycles, shopping carts, rickshaws, or whatever can roll.
The krewe has constructed an alien in a gigantic spaceship, hovering over a scale model of New Orleans.
An old favorite: BAR2D2. There's a keg inside.
And of course, there's the krewe's idol: Chewbacchus, a six-armed Wookiee made of Styrofoam. This year, he was sculpted in full roar, perched on top of the starship Millennium Falcon.
"Chewbacchus is the Sacred Drunken Wookie who we worship," said Overlord Strangelover, Richard Riggs. "He is our godhead."
Another distinctive feature of this krewe is that all of the throws they toss to the crowds are made by hand. No cheap, plastic Mardi Gras beads for this bunch; instead, they take great pride in creating miniature works of art that have become coveted collectors' items. Among the many offerings this year: Wakanda earrings, tiny Yoda finger puppets, delicately painted bandolier blocks, and sparkly, bejeweled ray guns.
"There's this exchange and this moment that's extremely personal that you don't get when you're just throwing beads off of a float," said Aryanna Gamble, Overlord Space Goddess Snackagawea.
"Outside of New Orleans, there's this perception that Mardi Gras is booze and Bourbon Street and boobs," Gamble said. "The reality that all of us know is that Mardi Gras is made in dens and living rooms and garages across the city. It's for all of us, and it's made by us. It's a community builder."