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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Star Wars costumes of Halloweens past

Since last night I've been getting my Jedi Knight costume (yah the very one that I wore to the Board of Education meeting two years ago) ready for this evening. Mostly 'cuz I promised some friends that I'd come by and let their own younglings see it. And I thought it'd be fun to wear it around throughout the rest of the night so I've been ironing the kimono, brushing the cloak and polishing my lightsaber.

It's a fine costume. Movie quality at that! And staffers from Lucasfilm have told me that the lightsaber I made is like something they would have made for a real Star Wars film! Yes, I'm very proud to own some real Jedi threads :-)

But you know: we all have to start somewhere. Every journey has a first step. And it's true with being geeky enough of a Star Wars fan as to make a costume - or more than one - inspired by the saga. When I was a younger punk and going out trickster-treating on Halloween, I usually had one of those vinyl "costumes" with the cheap plastic mask. I was Darth Vader and Yoda and a Stormtrooper back in the day but...

...well, when you get older, and bigger, you realize that you deserve something a bit more "boss".

It took me longer than most would have expected, but in October of 1996 I made my very first "serious" Star Wars costume. It was for the Halloween party the Baptist Student Union at Elon was having at Blue Ribbon in Burlington. I'd been wondering all that month what I should wear. And then one day at Spencer's at Four Seasons Town Centre in Greensboro, just over a week before the party, I spotted a two-piece Darth Vader mask (the kind that Don Post Studios used to make).

"And that's when I went mad, Your Honor..."

It started with the mask. Then I decided that I had to have a black cape. And then a lightsaber. And gloves. And... well, you get the idea. I just couldn't stop until I had made myself as Darth Vader-ish as I possibly could. The chest-box, bits of armor and the boxes on the belt were all cannibalized from one piece of a child's Darth Vader costume that the manager at Halloween Express let me have for free (when I bought the cape). There was also a black vinyl cape that I cut holes for the arms and had that under the main cape and also over the armor and tucked in beneath the belt (so as to achieve that "multiple robes" look). I bought a black pair of jeans just for the occasion and thankfully the Darth Vader lightsaber toy had just hit the toy store shelves. Finishing it off, I used Dad's old black motorcycle boots.

Well, "Darth Vader" was a hit! I even wound up winning the "Best Costume" award at the BSU party. And for the rest of the evening I enjoyed strutting around Elon's campus as the Dark Lord of the Sith (something that would kinda be repeated a week before Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out, but that's a story for another time). The one thing that I wish could have been better, though no fault of my own, is that I'm admittedly not as tall as Darth Vader was in the movies! To really pull off a persuasive Vader, you need to be at least six feet tall. Most folks aren't anywhere near David Prowse's height and build. And some people who build extremely good Vader costumes wind up compensating by wearing way padded boots: almost like something you'd find in Gene Simmons' closet. I don't have that sort of stature, and I don't plan on ever making a Vader costume as awesome as some of the fan-made ones that I've seen...

...but on Halloween night 1996, none of that mattered. For one wonderful evening, I was Darth Vader, baby! :-)

So that was what I did with a week to work with. But come the following Halloween, I wanted to spend more effort on the matter. Baptist Student Union was having another Halloween get-together at Blue Ribbon. And emboldened by the previous year's costume, I got a bit daring.

There was no question what I had to do to top Darth Vader. For 1997 it had to be Boba Fett. Including the jetpack.

It took me over a month to build, but in the end I had my Boba Fett costume for Halloween 1997! The helmet is the classic replica that Don Post Studios created. I bought a light-blue jumpsuit from Sears and a gray t-shirt for the "vest". Most of the armor pieces were cut from sheets of aluminum that I bought at Lowe's, then shaped and spray-painted (and I painted Boba's various insignia by hand on them afterward). The codpiece, collar armor and knee armor were cut from placemats found in the kitchen section of Wal-Mart and likewise spray-painted. I bought ammo pouches from an Army surplus store in Greensboro and dyed them a dark enough shade of brown. The gauntlets were made from youth-sized soccer shinguards I found at K-Mart: I just took the hard plastic guards, and epoxied onto each a plastic disposable drinking cup that I cut down the side and added Velcro for easy wearing and removal. The bits on the gauntlets were salvaged from various toys and models (and the "flamethrower" hose is one that I found at my family's old farm). The boots were an old pair that I didn't wear anymore, so I spray-painted them and added cloth "spats" to hide the laces. Mom helped me with the cape.

And the jetpack? Cardboard, for the most part. The "rocket" on top of it was fashioned from three of those cone-shaped air fresheners that you can buy at any grocery store or Target or Wal-Mart. I used two of the bases from the fresheners (I'm telling y'all here and now, that the apartment "Weird" Ed and I had smelled glorious for over a month) to make the tops of the side "cylinders" on the pack. The nozzles were small plastic cups epoxied to balls I found in the sporting goods section of K-Mart, then spray-painted silver and attached to the sides of the pack. The whole thing attached with Velcro and a hidden piece of belt to a strip of armor (also made from placemat) that extended down the back from the collar armor.

Granted, it's possibly the cheapest Boba Fett costume ever assembled. I think the entire thing cost about $200 (and most of that was the price of the helmet). But it looked hella kewl! My friends in Baptist Student Union loved it, and the kids who came into the restaurant couldn't stop oggling it. Then the next day (which was the actual Halloween 1997) I put it on that afternoon and Ed and I walked all over Elon's campus and saw jaws dropping all over the place. The funniest moment came when we went into the student center where a group of prospective students and their parents were being given a tour: I did my best Boba Fett walk, came in, and nodded my helmet toward them. Ehhh... wonder how much enrollment money that lil' stunt cost Elon that day? :-P

Well, that first Boba Fett costume was a knockout! But someday I want to make a much better one: out of vacuu-formed plastic and whatnot. I've met Jeremy Bulloch before: he's the actor who portrayed Boba in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and he and I are the exact same height! So a Boba Fett costume would be all-around sensible to have if I'm gonna dress up as a Star Wars villain.

But in the end, it really isn't how much money and material you can pour into a Star Wars costume, or any costume for that matter. It's the passion you have for a character or a story which really counts. People aren't gonna be impressed by a thousand-dollar getup as much as they are by seeing you having fun with the role and enjoying being something different or odd or both... if even for just one night.

Happy Halloween y'all! :-)


Ashley M said...

Oh Chris, you should at least show a picture of the AWESOME Darth Maul getup of 1999(?)...I'll never forget the grief the ladies in the Bursar's office gave me: "that crazy kid you know came in here looking like a monster with red and black face paint...what is going on???" HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!