With deep roots in the gaming industry—and even direct experience with Star Wars game launches—the team here at BEN has no shortage of Star Wars fans. But one of our number stands out among the rest: JoEric Mercado.
JoEric is a front-end software engineer at TubeBuddy, BEN’s AI-powered, advanced keyword research arm. He works specifically on TubeBuddy’s browser extension. When he’s not creating new features or handling bug-fixes, he applies his diligence to a more galactic pursuit: assembling highly detailed Star Wars costumes from jedi to stormtrooper. On the weekends, he dons the costumes to volunteer at charities and hospital events.
We caught up with JoEric to hear more about his second life as a Star Wars character and how he made his way from acting to computer engineering at BEN.
Let’s start with the jedi and stormtrooper costumes: they look amazing! How did they come together?
I made both from scratch. I wanted to be screen-accurate, down to things like the exact shades of blues and grays, the exact buttons that they use. For the jedi costume, I found out different fabrics they used on set in 1977 and bought the exact kind in the same colors. I don’t know how to sew so I found a costume maker and presented her with the fabric so she could assemble it with the correct seams and the correct length.
For the stormtrooper costume, I did everything myself except create the vacuum form—there are people online that have the exact molds. But I cut, sanded, glued, painted, and measured it. I went to Joanne Fabrics and bought all the right elastics and straps that they used in 1977.
And now you wear them as a volunteer—can you talk a little bit about what that entails?
I’m a part of three different Star Wars clubs: 501st Legion, Rebel Legion and Saber Guild. We go as Star Wars characters to charity events and hospital visits. We help each other make the costumes. There’s no pay—everything’s out of pocket. The Stormtrooper costume was about $1,000 altogether, and the jedi costume was $900 put together.
These groups have gotten so big—we have about 30,000 members worldwide—that LucasFilms found out about us and they support us. They contact us from time-to-time to do public appearances like commercials and parades. We do anything that requires a Star Wars character outside of Disneyland. The last big thing they asked was for 30 stormtroopers on the Mandalorian TV show. I submitted my name, but it wasn’t chosen because I was too short for a Stormtrooper.
Rats! But you do have an acting background. Can you tell us a little bit about that—how you got started, what kind of movies you did, and ultimately how you made the switch to engineering?
I remember when I was in first grade, we lived in Long Beach, and I wanted to be an actor and learn Kung Fu like Bruce Lee. I got to do both. I taught martial arts and I acted for over a decade. Specifically, I fell into movie stunts since I have a black belt—I was doing roundhouse kicks and falling onto car hoods on movie sets for a while.
But I’ve always loved computers and tinkering with things. I went to college for programming, but I didn’t follow through with it. I continued to act, which financially is not the right way to do it. I tried other jobs too. I did real estate for a while. I worked in theme parks. Ultimately, I love coding. So I became a full-time software engineer.
What is it that initially drew you to TubeBuddy, and ultimately has kept you apart of the BEN team since the two merged?
The biggest thing is the people. It sounds very cliche, but when I was looking for a job, one of the big things for me was finding genuine good people. Working in Hollywood, you meet a lot of fake people. I just hated it. Finding companies that actually had genuine, good people was my biggest thing. When I interviewed for TubeBuddy, I really enjoyed meeting them team. I said, okay, this is the one—and ‘til this day I still believe that.