A year ago, Jakks Pacific released a massive toy for part of their Force Awakens line: a 48-inch stormtrooper. It’s a neat action figure, with a motion-activated sensor that allows it to repeat a couple canned lines.
While it was neat to have a mini-trooper around the house, one roughly the size of my son. It was only a matter of time until I decided to gut this gizmo, and turn it into a costume for my favorite little Star Wars fan.
I wasn’t the first to have this idea. When the toy was released, several costumers saw its potential. It took some leg-work to turn the toy into an outfit, but last fall, several builders made their own conversions.
As you might have guessed, I’m part of this community. I build Stormtrooper and similar costumes as a hobby, wearing them to conventions, charitable events, and even once with Snoop Dogg. My son’s been around the armor before, and earlier this year, we started watching the films. Many of my friends in the 501st Legion have included their children in the group before: they’re well-suited for dressing up as Jawas or Ewoks. Tiny troopers are pretty cool, though.
My son had the idea to turn our Jakks Pacific toy into a Halloween costume. It had been sitting in a corner of our house for months, and cutting it apart wasn’t something that was going to result in tears and tiny fists.
The toy is practically ready-made for a child-sized costume. All the armor pieces are there, in the right shape and already assembled. The first step was to dismantle the toy. It was held together by a number of screws in the back. With a long screwdriver, I was able to extract most of them and pry the two halves apart.
One arm was fully sealed together, but the other split into two pieces. I extracted the gun and pried apart the elbow joint. The head popped off, and I was left with a front, a back, a pair of arms, and hands.
The next step was cutting loose individual segments. While I came prepared to take this apart with a reciprocating saw, it turned out that I didn’t need it: a pair of heavy shears allowed me to liberate each part. I started with the arms, separating out the shoulder and upper arm, forearm and the hand plates. Next, I cut apart the shins, knees and thighs, trimming off the black plastic between each armored piece.
The body presented a bit more of a challenge: it was all one piece. I ended up cutting each side in half, separating the hips away from the chest at the seam line, which would allow my son to turn if needed.
From there, I began to use a Dremel (and a replacement one when I killed my first) to carve and smooth the sides. For the most part, the toy was hollow plastic, with some reinforcements on the inside. While the bits of plastic support were easily removed with the shears and Dremel, the process took time and patience. Any pieces of internal plastic remaining would make the suit uncomfortable to wear, so I spent a couple hours hunting for the last few rough spots.
After a week’s worth of work, all of the parts were carved out, and the costume was ready to be tested. I didn’t want to permanently attach any part in case I needed to make adjustments. My son was a good sport: he stood as I put on each layer, using masking tape to hold them in place.
Off the bat, there were some issues. The arms and legs were too long, and he couldn’t bend, let alone walk. The chest and hips were slightly too short, and there were “ouchies” in various places.
The armor went back downstairs, where I began to make adjustments. I separated the shoulders and upper arms, cutting down the upper arms so that they would sit under the shoulder as much as possible. I hacked several inches off the tops of the thighs and the bottom of the shins, shortening the length. I kept the details at the bottoms of the shins and reattached them to the new bottom with velcro. To cover his middle, I took a piece of scrap plastic and glued it on the inside, where it could rest comfortably under the chest.
Now, I could begin to assemble the costume so it could be worn. A couple of strips of Velcro held the two halves of the chest together, and a pair of velcro tabs on the hips did the same with a plastic cover to hide them. Strips of plastic on the insides of the thighs and shins closed up those parts.
The costume was now wearable, but something was bothering me: there were holes where the screws had held the suit together. They were eyesores that took away from the seamless design of a professional costume. I made a quick run to a nearby auto parts store, where I found a tin of Bondo — an automotive body filler. It’s a two part mix that hardens like a rock. Dabs of that went into each hole on the backs of the chest, arms, legs, knees, and hips. Once sanded down, the Bondo was smooth, but the wrong color.
The First Order Stormtroopers in The Force Awakens are glossy white, while the original plastic of the toy is a flat white. To cover all of my modifications, I sprayed the entire armor with a couple of layers of paint: a gray primer, followed by gloss white. (This helped me get rid of a half-dozen, half-empty spray cans that had been sitting in my basement.)
Once the white dried, I took a brush and some glossy black spray paint to add on some of the details: black marks on the chest, belt, and arms, using a toy that I’d picked up as a guide.
The original helmet was far too small, so I ended up ordering a two-part Halloween mask, which would complete the armored part of the costume. I even found a smaller version of the tub that I use for my own armor, and mocked it up to match with a couple of stickers. Another trip to the store, and we had a black long-sleeve shirt, pants, and gloves, as well as some white shoes to go under the costume. Some glue and some elastic strapping completed the getup for the hand plates and knees.
The suit was complete, and it was time to try it on for another test-fit.
Now, the real trick of Halloween will be to get him to wear it for more than a couple of minutes. In either case, all of that work and effort was worth it for his reaction.