So, I have a confession to make: this project isn’t done yet, and I don’t have final, full kit pictures yet. I’ll explain in a bit, but I do have pictures of something else: the helmet.
I’ve held off on doing the helmet because it’s probably the most important part of the suit, but also because it’s a pain in the ass to put together. It’s finicky and detailed, and I wanted to make sure I did it properly.
So, along with several other Vermonters who are currently building Stormtroopers, we held a build day yesterday under the supervision of one of our members who’s done helmets before.
Previously, I’ve trooped with an MRCE Stormtrooper helmet. That was a pre-made helmet that needed a couple of modifications, but ultimately replaced my FX Helmet.
The original FX helmet is cartoonishly large: it’s got a flat dome, and it’s really not a good helmet. When you know what you’re looking for, they jump right out at you as being not right.
In the image above, the FX helmets are all the ones but me on the far left. They’re broader and a bit larger in size, but the key problems are the huge frown and the flat top. The MRCE helmet has it’s own problems, but it’s more accurate in size.
First, here’s the requirements for an Empire Strikes Back accurate helmet:
For 501st approval:
- Traps (trapezoids on dome of helmet) and tears (area beneath the corners of eye lenses) are grey.
- Rear traps and tears have vertical black lines.
- Lenses are a flat smoke or green sufficiently dark enough to obscure the costumer’s eyes.
- The “ear” bars have three or four bumps and are painted grey, with a black outline. Painting the bumps with rank stripes (highlighted) in black is optional.
- Frown is painted black and does not leave the teeth area. Eight or six total teeth on the frown are cut out.
- Tube stripes are medium blue, should be 13 per side, but can be 9 and 16 per side with the curve bends extending backwards.
- Vocoder (vertically ribbed chin detail) is painted black.
- Aerators/Hovi mix tips (cylinders on either side of the vocoder) are black or painted black.
- Tears, traps, and tube stripes should be decals but can be hand painted, or decals that replicate hand painted.
- Mesh may be used behind the frown to obscure the face of the wearer.
- Note: The helmet is accurate in detail and proportion to official references.
- Many commercially available helmets or those considered disproportionate in size or shape are ineligible.
For level two certification (if applicable):
- Ears shall have three screws used per side, one above and below the ear bar and one at the base of the helmet.
- Traps/tears and tube stripes shall be decals (with the correct ESB details), no hand-painting or decals that replicate hand painted.
- Traps/tears may be either ANH grey or a slightly bluer shade of ANH grey.
- Ear bars shall have four bumps only, not three.
- Correct ‘Hovi mic’ aerator tips.
For level three certification (if applicable):
- Ear bars shall have only two to three bumps painted in black (rank stripes).
- Neck trim shall be of an s-type profile rather than a u-type profile.
So, let’s get started.
The first thing to do is to trim out the excess.I did a little of this, but the major things, like the holes for the eyes and frown, needed to be trimmed out. This was done with Dremel.
We used a wheel with the frown, taking each hole from the back, which allowed each one to be cut without risking the plastic on the outside.
After those were cut open, I used a set of files to square out the holes, and sandpaper to smooth it all out.
The next step was the back cap. Unlike the FX helmet, which comes in three parts (Dome, back and front), this just comes in two, like the ones seen in the film: the face and the back. This had to be trimmed down and smoothed out, although all of these surfaces would be covered up somehow.
The first thing to go on was the brow trim, which is simple automotive trimming that slides right on. It doesn’t even require glue:
With that in place, the face can be positioned: these two parts need to be centered with one another.
With both parts lined up, we had to get them connected. Right at the ears, we drilled a hole, and riveted each side together:
A second rivet on the bottom of the helmet prevents both parts from sliding back and forth.
The next step was to cover that seam with the ears. These are the most frustrating parts: by design, they aren’t supposed to fit flush with the helmet, so there’s a tiny gap. But, they do need to cover that seam. There’s a lot of precision cutting and trimming that needs to be done.
After much complaining about how these were designed, I had them trimmed and sanded to my satisfaction. Each one is then connected to the side of the helmet with three screws: two on the circle, and one on the bottom. We drilled holes for these through the helmet, and used a long bolt and nut to secure it in place.
Next, I took my drill and drilled two holes in the front for the aerators. These were simple resin-cast pieces, with a screw embedded in them. They were secured in place with a washer and nut. After that, I installed a flat strip of plastic for the lens - it’s connected at each ear and wraps around.
The kit came with decals for the helmet - six in all. Two under the eyes, two at the temples and two at the back of the head. The cheeks also have bars, which are applied carefully. Fortunately,these all stick pretty nicely, and they’re designed to replicate the hand-painted look of the originals. With some paint, I painted up the screws, so that they don’t stand out.
Next, the frown needed to be painted. I used tape as a guide. The main difference between the troopers in A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back is that the frown is painted black, as opposed to grey.
The chin is also painted black. From there, I used another strip of automotive stripping, and installed that around the inside edge of the helmet, along with a little glue to hold it in there.
After that dried, I flipped the bucket over. With some blocks of foam, I padded out the sides, so that my ears don’t hit the exposed bolts, and so that the helmet doesn’t rock from side to side. Finally, with a bit of hot glue, I installed the mesh that goes under the frown:
And with that, it’s a completed bucket!
It came out nicely. It’s a little tighter than my previous one, but I can at least wear my glasses under it. It’s also considerably lighter than my MRCE one.
I’ll need to do a little cleanup here and there - the black paint bled under the tape a little, but for the most part, this is ready.
The rest of the armor... is not.
I’d been hoping that I’d be able to throw the rest of it on, and did start with a test fit, sticking everything together. For the most part, it fits well - the legs and arms fit well, as well as the chest and shoulders.
The abs plate, however, does not:
Doing some research and comparison photos, the abs plate for the MTK sculpt is quite a bit shorter than my older FX. I’m 6 feet tall, and that’s actually tall for a stormtrooper, as it turns out.
The chest, while I thought it held up nicely before with the straps that I’d put in, pops out behind the abs, and it’s not a good look.
I think what I need to do is to cut the abs plate in half, where the belt covers it, and shim it with another piece of plastic (The trusty for sale signs that I have will come in handy.) That’ll give me a couple of extra inches that it looks like I’ll need to make this fit properly. I think, in order for that to work, I’ll need to add on some additional rivets and snaps to the belt, which will hold it firmly in place.
So, no full test fit this time, because there’s still more work to be done. I’ve got 11 days to make it work.
One thing that I’ll say about this, though: getting a group of people together to work on the same thing? It’s a fantastic way to get armor built. Here in Vermont, we’ve got 5-6 people all building from the same kit at the same time, and having everyone in the room doing the same thing is really useful. 1) You can share tools and see how people are doing things, 2) you can all figure out how to work on the armor the right ways and 3), when you pop on the right soundtrack of 80s hits? Magic happens.
Next week: will this armor come together before the film hits? Stay tuned!