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Palm Coast Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 8 months ago

Palm Coast welder and 'Star Wars' fanatic Keith DeDeo 'becomes' the Mandalorian

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DeDeo spent a year creating the costume, unveiling it at MegaCon in Orlando in May 2019.
by: Guest Writer

by: Brent Woronoff

It took Palm Coast resident Keith DeDeo a year to craft his Mandalorian costume. When he wears it at fan events and charity functions, he becomes the Star Wars character.

“It’s not hard to act like the character once you’re dressed up,” he says. “People will come up to you. I pretty much keep quiet. The cool thing is with the costume on you’re pretty much the character.”

DeDeo, a welder and heavy equipment operator at St. Augustine Marine Center, fabricated the costume from PVC Sintra board during his spare time. He heated the plates, shaped them, sanded them, painted them and weathered them to look like Mandalorian armor.

He made use of any spare or broken parts he could find: a piece of blower, a broken toilet, spray bottles.

“There are a lot of weird parts in there,” he said, pointing to the costume that he had neatly packed in a large plastic storage container.

“I’ll scavenge pieces if I can. Skewers from an edible arrangement, pieces of blinds, glue tips, whatever I could find to make it look right. The blasters I carry are water guns that I repainted and added stuff to. I’m working on one for a long rifle. It’s just a generic Nerf gun.”

The first time he wore the costume was at MegaCon at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center in May 2019, months before “The Mandalorian” TV series premiered on Disney+.

DeDeo, 49, made the costume in homage to his favorite Star Wars character, bounty hunter Boba Fett, whom he first saw on screen in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.”

DeDeo points to the Millennium Falcon model on a shelf in his Star Wars room. Photo by Brent Woronoff

“It was one of the first movies I saw. We just didn’t do a lot of movies,” he said. “Right after it was released, I got a bunch of toys and the Ewok Village, and that started it all.”

He’s been collecting Star Wars action figures, models and memorabilia ever since and has devoted an entire room in his house to his vast collection.

Cosplay became a part of DeDeo’s Star Wars passion about 10 years ago after he attended a Star Wars Celebration at the orange County Civic Center with his wife and daughter.

“I saw everyone walking around in a costume, and I said, 'The next time I come to one of these I’m having a costume,'” he said.

At the next event, he dressed up as an Endor rebel commando out of “Return of the Jedi,” an outfit that took him six months to piece together. He also dressed his daughter as Princess Leia and his wife, Stacy, as Mara Jade, a character in the books who married Luke Skywalker.

“After that I was like, ‘Game on,’” he said.

Keith DeDeo holds up the head of his Tuscan Raider costume. Photo by Brent Woronoff

He dressed up as a Tuscan Raider and as a Scarif Stormtrooper at Celebration in 2017 while Stacy dressed up as Rogue One heroine Jyn Erso.

Keith and Stacy met when they were students at Flagler Palm Coast High School. After graduation they began dating. They’ve been together since 1990.

“She knew what she was getting into because when she first met me I had toys on the walls and shelves in my bedroom,” he said. “She’s not as into it as I am. Most of the time she’ll just walk around with me because I can’t always see out of the costumes I wear.”

As his Mandalorian character he carries a microphone and has an amplifier on his back. His props include a pair of Star Wars handcuffs he puts on people for photos.

He doesn’t often get to walk around much. When he dressed up as the Tuscan Raider he stood in one spot for three hours as people continuously walked up to him and posed for pictures.

When he unveiled his Mandalorian costume at MegaCon, he met a group of other Mandalorians from the Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club. He wound up hanging out with them most of the day.

“She’s not as into it as I am. Most of the time she’ll just walk around with me because I can’t always see out of the costumes I wear.”

KEITH DeDEO, speaking about his wife, Stacey

The Mandalorian Mercs are a worldwide organization founded in 2007. When DeDeo made his costume, he didn’t know anything about the club. He found their website and the guidelines for becoming a member. The costumes have to be movie ready.

He sent in pictures. They sent him back a list of details he had to fix, and on his second try he was accepted into the club.

He got to attend two “invasions” before the COVID-19 lockdown in March. Invasions are requests for the Mercs to show up at community events, charity functions or even birthdays.

The Mandalorian Mercs are the only Star Wars costume club with its own charity – Little Warrior International, which raises money for underprivileged and sick children.

DeDeo has done some smaller events since the lockdown. And his calendar is beginning to fill up again. A toy show in Jacksonville, a cosplay contest for charity and shooting scenes with his Northeast Florida Mercs “clan” for a fan film.

“I just love putting (the costume) on,” he said. “It took me long enough to make, I might as well use it when I can.”

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