Chewbacchus science-fiction Mardi Gras parade rolls today

Look for extraterrestrial costumes and hand-made bicycle floats in the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus Mardi Gras parade in Central City at 5.

The Vulcan starship crew member slinked from behind the stage curtain, bumping and grinding her way seductively down the runway to the hoots of the crowd — and belying the logical reserve of her species. Logical reserve had no place in the “Set Your Phasers on Stunning” fashion-show-style costume contest that took place recently at the Big Top, Three Ring Circus Arts Education Center.
chewbacchus fashion show.jpgCharlie Brown, grand moff of the Death Star Steppers, struts his stuff in the finals of the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus costume contest.

Death Star troopers danced to a Mardi Gras rhythm, a shaggy wookiee vogued atop his disco platform shoes, a silvery spaceman from “Doctor Who” shook his glinting booty and Darth Vader paused long enough to telepathically strangle the emcee before exiting the stage with a swoop of his black cape.

The comically cosmic costume contest was a preview of today’s first-ever Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus science-fiction-flavored Carnival parade.

The concept of the Krewe of Chewbacchus was launched — where else — at the Saturn Bar on St. Claude Avenue. The story goes something like this. During Carnival 2010, a New Orleans newcomer asked Kirah Haubrich, co-owner of the Big Top, why there weren’t more “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and other sci-fi costumes in the Mardi Gras mix? She had no answer.

An idea flashed through Haubrich’s mind like a photon torpedo. What if there were a Carnival krewe dedicated to all things extraterrestrial? You could call it … Chewbacchus, combining the name of the furry “Star Wars” sidekick with the Roman god of wine.

Brilliant. Supernova brilliant.

The Krewe of Chewbacchus Mardi Gras fashion show Look back on the February 26, 2011 Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus fashion show “Set your Phasers to Stunning,” as spokesman Ryan Ballard explains the concept behind the new New Orleans science fiction - themed Mardi Gras parade. Chewbacchus, Ballard explains, is a combination of the furry Star Wars sidekick and the Roman god of wine.
But, Haubrich says, she knew she’d never get the idea into orbit on her own. When she ran into Ryan Ballard in the neon glow of the Saturn, she proffered her nebulous plan. Ballard, an energetic puppeteer and artist, skilled in the production of props and rolling bicycle contraptions, was, in Haubrich’s view, the perfect person to take command of the krewe to be. Haubrich serves as krewe co-captain.

“As soon as the word Chewbacchus was spoken, I was like, ‘Oh, I see it. I know exactly how we’re going to do this,’ ” Ballard said of his tractor-beamlike attraction to the project. The Chewbacchus parade would be a costumed march a la the Society of St. Anne, sprinkled with bands and minifloats. It would begin at the Big Top and follow a unique route through Central City, boldly going, as krewe members will tell you, where no Carnival parade has gone before.

Friends were enlisted in the plan. Enthusiasm spread like tribbles. The general consensus was, Ballard said, “Why haven’t we done this before?”

Ballard, 33, who was born in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and moved to New Orleans a decade ago, said he sees no need for strict costume regulations, as long as everyone sticks with some sort of sci-fi theme. There are to be no elves, unless they’re cyborg elves, Ballard explained. And if you want to dress up as a unicorn, be sure to strap on booster rockets. For the next six months, Ballard said, his workshop became a space ship and robot minifloat factory.

The Bacchanaliens, as krewe members call themselves, first displayed their cardboard R2-D2 rickshaw float and their X-wing fighter bicycle float at the Wizard World New Orleans Comic Con science fiction and fantasy convention at the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center in January, where they paraded amid the crowd. Though there were plenty of science-fiction costumers wandering the convention, most, Ballard pointed out, probably would never have dreamed of wearing their space gear out in public — until they saw the enlistment sheet at the Chewbacchus booth anyway. “So many people have signed up who never considered wearing their costumes out,” he said.

On the night of the recent costume contest, there were about 300 krewe members on the Chewbacchus roster. Counting late-comers and bands, Ballard expects 400 marchers.

A ripple of disappointment spread through the Force earlier this week, however, when Ballard announced that Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca in the original “Star Wars” movie trilogy, had canceled his appearance in the parade. Months ago, Ballard said, Mayhew — who lives in Texas — had agreed to reign as king and be towed in a handmade float, but last week he withdrew for personal reasons. Lil’ Doogie, a puppet operated by puppeteers Odoms and Rami, will serve as Chewie’s royal replacement. Despite Mayhew’s absence, Chewbacchus will not be bereft of Hollywood star power. The queen of Chewbacchus, New Orleans actress and artist Cynthia Scott, played Cpl. Dietrich, the first victim in the 1986 “Aliens” movie.

Based on audience applause, the alluring Vulcan vixen won the “Set Your Phasers to Stunning” costume contest. The Death Star steppers came in second.

Ballard says that the endless appeal of science fiction may be a reaction to the endless onrush of scientific advancement. Day by day, we understand everything a little bit better. “There’s something about science fiction that gives us back the mystery in the universe.”

Map and more information here.

Watch as Times-Picayune critics discuss the new krewe and other Mardi Gras week weekend entertainment options in the Times-Picks video here.

Arts writer Doug MacCash can be reached at or 504.826.3481. Follow him on Twitter.