If you were to see Shawn Crosby driving around LA, you would be forgiven for thinking that there might be a screw loose.
Not with the car – it’s perfect. Festooned with hand-crafted technology including ion cannons and its own R2-D2 co-pilot, the “Z-wing” is more a spaceship than a car. And yes, it stops traffic. No, you’d more likely look at the unassumingly confident man behind the wheel, adorned in his well-worn 1940’s-era Indiana Jones hat, occasionally communicating into his transponder… and you’d likely think he was totally nuts.
It turns out Shawn is okay with that. In fact, that’s almost the whole point. We spoke with Shawn during his run directing “Little Shop of Horrors” out of Pasadena High School. It becomes clear immediately that this is not someone whom you could ever pigeonhole.
Yes, he’s acted and directed many times in the past. But he’s also built prototype toys for Mattel and Happy Meal toys for McDonalds. He’s designed props for the Star Trek movies. He’s done voiceover work. He was an artist and editor at Griffith Observatory. He calls himself a Thaumaturgist – a “worker of wonders” – and as Shawn puts it, in his quest for pursuing the things he loves, he’s done “a bajillion things.”
The one throughline across his many careers is Shawn’s charity work. It began in high school with reading to the elderly, then performing Kermit the Frog impersonations in hospitals, and now these days visiting gravely-ill children while wearing full Jedi regalia – and yes, driving his car.
All you have to do is hear Shawn talk about the look of pure joy on a child’s face when they see the vehicle, and suddenly it all makes sense. “It was about 1997 when they re-issued Star Wars and I started making costumes. In 1999 I designed my first “carfighter” art car and a number of years later I finally joined the 501st and Rebel Legions, which are Star Wars costuming and charity groups. I’ve been at it ever since.” Their work is remarkable. “It’s a simple thing to go down to the kids’ hospital and say, ‘Hey, we want to bring some Star Wars guys and visit the children,’” Shawn tell us. “And because it’s like showing up as Superman or Batman, they’re always excited to see you.” Moreover, the effect on the children is profound.
Shawn relates an incident he’ll never forget. “We were at the City of Hope’s Pediatric Cancer Survivors Picnic, one we’ve been doing for 17 or 18 years. They wanted some Jedi training, so I’d built foam lightsabers that we could whack each other with and it wouldn’t harm the kids. I’m there and I’m fighting a bunch of kids when one boy runs up, grabs a saber and says to me, ‘Okay, Obi-wan Kenobi, I’m going to kill you!’ He’s yelling at me, bashing me with this foam sword, so I calmly pinned his weapon to the ground and said, in deep, serious tones, ‘Oh, I’m going to fight you … but I’m not going to go easy on you.’ He looked totally surprised. I added, ‘You know how to use a lightsaber, so I’m not going to go easy on you at all.’ The boy looked at the weapon in his hand and said, ‘But I’ve never used one of these before.’ I paused for a moment, then pointed at his arm which, in fact, was missing below the elbow. I said, ‘Well, you have been in a large number of battles and I see that you have some scars from them, so I know that you know how to fight. You’re a survivor, and obviously a good warrior. So I’ll fight you but I’m going to do my best to defeat you.’ He looked at his lightsaber and then looked at his arm … then he got the biggest smile on his face, started laughing and we ‘fought’ for a while. And for the rest of the day, that little guy became my protector.” It was a simple act at a picnic, but it likely changed the trajectory of that young man’s life.
“They’re just happy to be kids if you treat them that way,” Shawn explains. “So many people tip-toe around them and go, ‘Oh my gosh, Billy has leukemia, Billy has cancer, Billy has whatever, let’s be really careful around Billy.’ Sometimes that’s warranted, but sometimes it robs Billy of the chance to be like any other kid. When I get to go to a hospital, go bed-to-bed with my Yoda puppet, it’s a whole new game.”
Shawn knows whereof he speaks. He was born nearly blind. “All my baby pictures have those thick black glasses,” he says. In fact, Shawn wasn’t able to drive until he was in his thirties. In school, Shawn couldn’t even see the blackboards. He suffered verbal and physical abuse, not just from other students, but a few teachers as well – one of whom actually hung Shawn on a coat hook in front of the whole class. But in ninth grade, everything changed. It was during lunch. “I was outside, and it was chilly, so I was wearing my hat,” Shawn remembers. I’m maybe 80 lbs. at this point, and four feet tall. Some kid grabbed my hat and took off down the stairs to the first floor. Somewhat reactively, I vaulted over the second floor railing, landing on this kid’s back. I picked myself up, dusted off my hat, put it back on my head and turned to walk away. That’s when I realized I’d done it in front of a crowd; everybody who was at the student store, coming out of the library, in the halls … it was a very big, focal area. So I became known as this sort of crazy guy. But what that incident really changed for me was that I stopped being concerned with what other people thought. To learn that in high school was an amazing gift. You know, not having to worry and just be myself … that’s why today, I can drive my little Star Wars car around and not care about what people think.”
So it turns out that a car full of craziness is actually a message of individualism, hope, generosity, empowerment, and of course, fun. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world. An incredible wife who participates in the craziness. An adventurous life. Things I had working against me have turned out to be my biggest advantages, and I’m able to use those to help others.”
Such is the power of the Force.