The shoebox-sized, Star Wars-themed parade. (Photo: April Siese)
Han Solo, made of Legos, held a raucous bachelor party in a float being pulled by a decorative leash. An anthropomorphic dinosaur thrashed little beige army men attached to its teeth by intertwined chicken wire.
Welcome to the inaugural Shoeboxus parade, held on May 4th in New Orleans. Although most parades in the city take place in February during Mardi Gras, the off-season date was no accident. This day has come to be known as Star Wars Day, and Shoeboxus was organized by Chewbacchus, the science-fiction themed Mardi Gras krewe (the organized groups who put on parades during New Orleans’ carnival season).
Spaceman (his chosen name) displays his wings during Shoeboxus. (Photo: April Siese)
Often the landscape of Mardi Gras is dotted with larger parades helmed by the moneyed and reigned over by the famous; they are slick, professional affairs, with strict rules and big fees. Shoeboxus brings spectators back to their elementary school days when celebrating Mardi Gras meant making your own miniaturized float á la an empty shoebox, a bit of paint and paste, and lots and lots of beads.
“Part of the ethos of Chewbacchus is to both celebrate and mock the things we love. It’s this earnest love of science fiction but we also know that we’re a bunch of silly nerds and we do this crazy, homemade parade,” says co-founder Ryan Ballard. “We don’t take it seriously whatsoever.”
A Coast Guard shoebox float rolls during Shoeboxus. (Photo: April Siese)
Parading on a made-up holiday like Star Wars Day seemed a fitting choice for a group like Chewbacchus, who vaunts the image of a fictional character from a galaxy far, far away as its mascot. Many floats riffed on the general theme: “Lighten Up!” A mini-float of protesting sci-fi characters decried the “tyrannical” Ballard, calling him a false god and riffing on Hillary Clinton’s passing email scandal with a nerdy twist. Larger contraptions like decorated tricycles and the ultimate nerd keg Bar2-D2 anchored the tail end of the parade.
A Krewe member films the parade via a GoPro attached to a Millennium Falcon. (Photo: April Siese)
In a city of excesses, Chewbacchus is not the first krewe to mock the overkill and exclusivity of the traditional Mardi Gras krewes by way of shoebox floats. A rival krewe, called ‘titRex, has been parading with satirical shoeboxes since 2009. The krewe is said to ask for pricey dues and cap membership to only a select few. It’s the exact inverse of Chewbacchus’ free-wheeling festive spirit, especially given the fact that Shoeboxus participation was extended to the public. It certainly made for a diversity of floats and effort. One woman was seen at the tail end of the parade pulling a white, wheel-less skateboard with an empty, frosting-coated cake box glued on top in hopes that she hadn’t missed the fun.
Painbot! (Photo: April Siese)
“Church of the Sacred Drunken Wookie.” (Photo: April Siese)
Times-Picayune art critic Doug MacCash says the animosity echoes a more hostile New Orleans wary of its newcomers; even those simply new to Mardi Gras. “Everyone is irritated right now and it’s kind of this flashpoint,” McCash said about the dueling krewes. Speculation ranges wildly on the cause of the rift: comments range from accusations that Chewbacchus is just riding the coat tails of ‘titRex, as they did when they marched alongside the Box of Wine parade in their formative years, to accusations that ‘titRex takes the whole joke thing way too seriously.
“We figured we’d throw some sunshine on the situation,” says Ballard. “There’s no reason for us all to be enemies.”
Compared to the Mardi Gras day routes of bigger parades that last for hours and drag on for miles, Chewbacchus’ Shoeboxus felt all the more intimate given its 9-block route. As the golden hour fell before the marchers, Chewbacchus set off with dozens of floats and just as many spectators. They returned just as the sun was setting, casting lilac hues on the many light-up floats dotting the sidewalk surrounding Washington Square park. Ballard and Chewbacchus consider Shoeboxus an utter success and plan on doing the parade again next Star Wars Day and for the foreseeable future.
Han Solo bachelor party. (Photo: April Siese)
A Wookie shrine and Star Wars float line up before the Shoeboxus parade. (Photo: April Siese)