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Nerd Out With Mardi Gras' Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus


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..."


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.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
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