Folks who have grown up with movies featuring ultra-photo-realistic computer-generated imagery can be rather jaded about it and have a hard time understanding the incredible impact Star Wars had thirty-six years ago. At the time I was an industrial design student and I was keenly interested in the preproduction work on the vehicles and costumes. That intense interest kept going for quite awhile, to the point that when Halloween 1978 rolled around it seemed only natural that we should base our costumes on something from “a long time ago in a galaxy far away”.
Right off there was good news and there was bad news. The good news was Lori’s outfit was going to be easy, a simple white gown that could be stitched up from an old sheet. Between that and her hair being long enough to work into Princess Leia’s trademark cinnamon bun braids she was set. For me it wasn’t so easy though; living when and where we did mean few resources for making Imperial Storm trooper armor, however problem-solving has always been a strength so I set out with confidence basing my efforts on a Don Post Storm trooper helmet and a Kenner Toys blaster.
What I came up would hold up well enough for a dark Halloween night. Our plan was to dress up then drive around to our friends’ homes, dropping off packets of sweets in a Bizarro-world treat-or-trick manner. I obtained some thin sheets of white styrene plastic and cut them into shapes roughly the outline of the armor, then attached them to an old corduroy disco jumpsuit dyed black. Old white socks over my sneakers completed the look, so promptly at 7:00 PM we set out on our mission.
I learned a lot that night; things a costume designer shouldn’t do. Probably the most important lesson had to do with trying things on before curtain time . While the armor all fit together well enough visually there were some real comfort problems. I failed to make cut-outs in the plastic sheets above and below the back of my knee and moving at any pace faster than a shuffle meant getting my “knee-pit” pinched by the edges of the styrene.
I also discovered why the storm of blaster fire the troopers unleashed on the heroes failed to score any hits. You can’t see jack out of a storm-trooper helmet, much less aim a weapon. It could have been my beakish nose preventing a proper fit but the eyepiece lens on the helmet lined up with my eyebrows instead of my eyes proper. I even had problems walking, and Lori had to occasionally call out course corrections to me as we would move from truck to home.
None of that interfered much with our goal that evening, which was to have fun. The son of one friend was thrilled to see us show up in costume as he had dressed as Darth Vader earlier that evening; as we were preparing to leave he ran up to the truck,(in costume again) and said “Get back on the job!” in a tone as deep as a nine-year old’s voice can reach. Another child-of-friend was more of a purist and insisted that I had to be Luke and not a real storm trooper because I took my helmet off – and only Luke took his helmet off in the movie. A third friend took photos, maintaining that a very pregnant Leia was a sight that had to be saved for the ages…but the most memorable part of the evening came about when we went to see our friends Lance and Laura Nelson.
Lance and Laura lived in Wymont Terrace, multilevel apartments that were grouped 6 to a stairwell. I ran up the stairwell and pounded on the door – and when Lance opened it I sprang into the middle of the room. A move that would have been ever so much more dramatic if the Kenner blaster’s sound effects would have come from anything other than the little buzzing electric motor that was built into it. Anemic audio aside, Lance and Laura were delighted and when they could slow down laughing they told me to go see Scott and Becky Davis, who lived in the apartment at the same level but three stair wells further down the building.
Never one to pass up a good laugh I donned my helmet again and dashed out the door, down the stairs and started counting stairwells as I passed them to get me to Scott and Becky’s apartment. When I found the right set of steps I dashed up stairs and once again pounded on the door, leaping inside with blaster blazing when the door opened….
…into the apartment of two people that I had never met before in my life. The built in myopia of the storm trooper helmet had defeated me again and I had lost count of the stairwells as I ran past them in the dark. I looked at the very bewildered couple and said “Do you know who this is?” and when they replied in the negative I yelled “GOOD” then ran out the door, down the stairs and into the night, eventually meeting up with Lance, Laura, and Lori at Scott & Becky’s apartment where we called it a night and ate what was left of the treats we’d brought along.