Earlier this year, I picked up a wonderful book on the making of the first Star Wars movie – The Making Of Star Wars, by JW Rinzler. I was paging through and started looking for where they started doing things with the Storm Troopers in the film.
The first reference I came across was on page 138:
“One item that stood out, however, was the cost associated with the stormtroopers, who ran up a tab of £ 40,000 ($93,000) – and whose final outfits were still not ready a week before location shooting was to begin. ‘Stormtroopers were the nightmare costume’ Mollo explains. ‘We got a model in of suitable size, did a plaster body cast, and Liz Moore modeled the armor onto this figure. Then everybody used to go in and say, “Arm off here, arm off there,” and George changed all the kneecaps. This went on for several weeks. Finally that was all taken away and produced in vacuum-form plastic – but the next question was: how foes it all go together? And I think we had something like four days before shooting, but we just played around until we managed to string it all togetgher in such a way that you could get it on or off the block in about five minutes.’
‘On top of all this, George announced that he was going to take some Stormtroopers on location, and he wanted them in Combat Order. I said “Oh yes George, what’s combat order for Stormtroopers?” and he said “Lots of stuff on the back”. So I went into this Boy Scout shop in London and bought on of these metal backpack racks; then we took plastic seed boxes, stuck two of those together, and put four of those on the rack. Then we put a plastic drainpipe on the top, with a laboratory pipe on the side and everything was sprayed black. [laughs] This was the most amazing kind of film! George asked, “Can we get something that shows their rank?” So we took a motorcycle chest protector and put one of them on their shoulders. George said “That’s great!” We painted one orange and one black and that was it!’ Mollo concludes, happily.” (Rinzler, 138)
Reading over that, it seems that the storm trooper armor creation was very typical of the creation of the movie – very quickly done, with a lot of improvisation, all on a fairly tight budget. The price really surprised me – $93,000 for six suits is a lot of money, especially for a film that is on such a low budget.
It appears that the troopers were created by much the same way as we make them today – vacuum-formed plastic, although there also seems to have been a lot of working out how exactly the suits would be put together, and after the fact, the sand trooper variant was created almost as an afterthought, with fairly commonly found items.
Further on in the book, on page 147, there’s a picture of seven people – the six original storm/sandtroopers, and an unidentified person. None of the men are named. One points his gun at the camera, while the rest hold their helmets at their sides, looking at the camera. One of them is sitting on the Dewback used for the shot, looking over his shoulder at the camera. A side panel explains a little of the costuming here:
“‘We had a black all-in-one leotard for the stormtrooper costumes’ Mollo says, ‘over which the front and back of the body went together; the shoulders fit onto the body, the arms were slid on-the top arm and the bottom arm were attached with black elastic – a belt around the waist had suspender things that the legs were attached to. They wore ordinary domestic rubber gloves, with a bit of latex shoved on the front; the boots were ordinary spring-sided black boots painted white with shoe-dye. Strange to say, it worked'” (Rinzler, 147)
Indeed it did. All components that are still used today, although in some cases with the 501st, we probably use higher quality stuff – boots that are specially made, gloves, etc.
The stormtroopers aren’t really mentioned any more in the book after that point, although there are several behind the scenes images of the actors in costume, and a mention of Mark Hamil’s experiences in armor (wasn’t pleasant).
By and large, the original storm troopers were very expensive prop pieces, played by local Tunisians. It’s a pity that their names aren’t listed – it would be absolutely amazing to try and track the six men down and have them inducted into the 501st as honorary members – after all, we have them to thank for our group.
Another person who should probably be inducted into the legion would be John Mollo, the costuming designer, who took the concept images and created our suits. Mollo entered production on the movie as the department head in January of 1976 – he had been recommended to Lucas, who was looking for someone who was familiar with armor and military costuming. According to Lucas: “I wanted designs that wouldn’t stand out, which would blend in and look like they belonged there.” (111). Very true, and it worked – looking at the storm troopers in the film, and how people interact with them, it’s very clear that these are commonplace soldiers in the Empire, and that they are wearing a very functional protective suit (although naysayers will often cite how often troopers will go down with one shot. Argument for another time…) While Ralph MqQuarrie was the original designer of the look and appearance of the storm troopers, Mollo seems to be the one who brought them to life.
(Rinzler, JW. The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film. Ballentine Books, New York, 2007. 138)