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Why I love building Star Wars troopers

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Plastic spaceman

I remember the first moment I wanted to make a stormtrooper outfit: I was riding home after seeing A New Hope for the first time in theaters. The idea consumed me for several years, until shortly after high school, when I bought my first one with a bit of money I saved from a summer job.

I’ve since joined the 501st Legion (a worldwide costuming group) and constructed several other trooper costumes: another (film-accurate) stormtrooper from The Empire Strikes Back, one from The Clone Wars animated show, a Phase One Clone Trooper from prequel film Attack of the Clones. For those costumes, I drew on copious stock images, video footage, and the expertise of other builders.

Just before Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hit theaters, I was spending long nights in my basement workshop, racing to finish up a new costume: a Shore Trooper. It was my most challenging project.

You can now see Rogue One on Blu-ray. Shore Troopers appear toward the end, during the film’s final battle on the planet Scarif, where they’re tasked with patrolling the shores around an Imperial facility. They look a little like the Scout Troopers from Return of the Jedi, but painted tan and decorated with an assortment of colors.

I didn’t have the benefit of the Blu-ray when I began this project. I barely had any source material to guide me. Instead I relied on the trailer and some photos snapped of the costume at conventions and trade shows.

Months before the film’s release, I sourced parts like the boots, pants, and helmet from other costumers. I bought a fan-sculpted kit made out of ABS, which I spent weeks trimming, fitting, gluing, and painting. I wasn’t alone. Hundreds of other costumers were cobbling together their own costumes, trading pictures and asking for advice or guidance across several private Facebook groups and forums.

By the time I picked up my helmet in December, the costume was ready. I wore it to the theater with my local 501st chapter, where I got some odd stares standing next to the more traditional stormtroopers. But, as people came out of the theater, I could see eyes light up in recognition. They’d seen a small piece of the movie before they went in.

What I’ve found most rewarding about suiting up in costume before a crowd is how people react, especially when one’s armor is scuffed and battered. Stormtroopers are cannon fodder on-screen, but when you see a stormtrooper offscreen, suddenly they’re individuals. The experience invites fans to imagine that each trooper each has their own story to tell.

Sadly, Rogue One is probably the only film in which we’ll see these Shore Troopers, given that the Imperial base on Scarif was destroyed at the end of the film. That said, you’ll probably see them popping up at your local convention — they’re just too cool not to wear.