Find your friends

Another example of cosplay's growing mainstream appeal

Find your friends
Screenshot: Apple

Way back in 2005, I attended my first Star Wars Celebration in Indianapolis. It was a life-changing event for me because I'd never encountered other fans outside of a couple of friends from high school. This was a whole new thing, and a glimpse into a much bigger world. While there, I met a filmmaker, Jay Thompson, who was working on a documentary about the 501st Legion called Heart of an Empire, which would look at the rise of the group and its place in the world.

One of the things that's always stuck out for me about that film is a segment where a couple of news anchors and bystanders were pretty dismissive of the troopers: "they're trying to escape from reality!" one woman says. I've encountered my share of these attitudes over the years while in armor: people who pointedly avoid us, or who say things to us.

Fast-forward twenty years, and cosplay is a far more mainstream thing, and one of the things that I wanted to write about in my book, Cosplay: A History, was why and how that changed. (It’s on sale at Amazon for 47% off, if you want a good deal!)

The short answer? Nerd stuff has only gotten more popular, and the activity of cosplay has been featured in some high-profile productions like The Big Bang Theory (although I maintain that those characters wouldn't have been buying their costumes – they'd absolutely go down the rabbit hole of screen accuracy), as a plot point in the Ms. Marvel series on Disney+, and it's showed up in movies and TV shows like Ted 2, Fanboys, Supernatural, Castle, The Rookie, and plenty of others in recent years.

We can add a new one to that list: a spectacular commercial from Apple for its iPhone 15. This commercial, "Find Your Friends," highlights one of the phone's new features, and follows a Mandalorian cosplayer as he goes from his house to a convention, and meets up with his fellow Mandos – obviously having trouble finding the exact ones in the crowd of other helmeted characters.

It's a fun, well-shot commercial, with some great scenes of our hero as he makes his way across the city. Clearly, Apple's angling for the flood of Star Wars Day attention that May the 4th always gets, as well as the sky-high popularity that The Mandalorian has brought to the franchise.

What I find neat about this is that it's a good indicator that cosplay as an activity is recognizable enough for a major tech company like Apple to use it as the central focus in one of their ads. Thinking a little more deeply about it, they're tapping into a fan scene that's dominated characters that up until a couple of years ago, were pretty obscure. Boba Fett has always been popular, but the Mandalorians were sort of deep-cut lore until they started popping up a bit more in The Clone Wars and Rebels before getting top billing in The Mandalorian.

Part of this recognition also comes with the growth of the larger convention industry. San Diego Comic-Con is a household name for featuring movie announcements and trailer reveals, with other conventions populating every corner of the country year-round. Today's con scene is a far cry from the first conventions that were held in the 1930s and 1940s by small networks of fans.

Taken together, you have an environment where deep-cut lore and dedicated fans come together in a way that's far more recognizable to the general public than ever before. Someone watching will likely understand what all of the elements in the commercial are, and rather than dismissing the cosplayers as sad, lonely adults or people trying to escape from reality, see them as people having fun with their friends and fellow fans.

Above all of that, this isn't a commercial that features an pale imitation of cosplay that's been slapped together by Apple's marketing department. The costumes here look and feel authentic, because they brought in cosplayers and prop makers to make them. After I saw the commercial, I noticed that a fellow 501st member, prop-maker, and acquaintance John Rodriguez had been brought on to help with the production. He told me that he and a fellow maker, Ramsey Chandadet "built the 10 principal character's armors: five main Mandos and five backup dancers who were featured in the end of the commercial."

This is another way that cosplay has gone big: the community at large has the infrastructure to do more than just build things for our own amusement. Members of the cosplay world have years of experience making and building props, costumes, and sets for themselves, and at a level of quality and professionalism that we've been hired as extras for productions like The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi, for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and commercials such as this.

Rodriguez noted that this type of visibility helps to showcase the increasing sophistication of the cosplay field. The commercial, he says “definitely puts the level of costuming into perspective for people that think it's just cardboard and foam and hot glue. Some people put their hearts and souls into these kits and it shows. also it being Apple, there will be more eyes on it that might not usually see these types of things.”

Star Wars inspired Mandalorian fans, then Mandalorian fans inspired Star Wars
How cosplay cleared the way for Clone Wars and The Mandalorian

When you zoom out and look at this from a 10,000 foot view, you see a revolution in the way that we relate to storytelling and in how we find ways to amuse ourselves and play. Those topics have long been somewhat taboo in American culture. The genre fiction that fuels that fandom has long been dismissed as juvenile or trash and fans have certainly derided for their enthusiasm for the minutia of franchise lore or for dressing up to go to a con on the weekend. That's no longer entirely accurate and it's yet another indicator that these shows are cool, that showing one's appreciation for the stories and characters isn't something to be ashamed of or to hide.

That, I think, is the biggest takeaway from all of this. Cosplay has always been a fantastic and creative vocation, but the rest of the public are beginning to recognize it.

Have a good rest of the day. I’ve been in armor for the morning and will be again later today.