A Trooper’s Point of View: Under the Helmet

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The costumes of Star Wars are iconic.  They are some of the most recognizable costumes in the history of cinema.  Even those not familiar with the movies recognize the costumes.  They have made an indelible mark on pop culture.  Wearing the costumes, on the other hand, is a completely different experience.  First and foremost the costumes were designed to look good on the big screen.  They were designed to be archetypal, at a glance the audience could easily tell the good guys from the bad.  The costumes were not designed with normal human movement in mind nor were they meant to be worn for long periods of time.

We have to take this all into account when talking about actually wearing the costumes as a member of the 501st Legion.

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The iconic and ubiquitous Stormtrooper becomes far less menacing when you realize the field of vision is so limited that they can’t see something right in front of them, or that movement is so limited they can’t pick up something at their feet.  We wont even bring up the true enemy of the mighty Imperial forces, stairs.

As I said these costumes were designed to look good in a movie.  There is nothing about them that works in reality.  I’ve nearly fallen trying to go down one 8″ step.  The costumes are too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.  There is almost nothing about an armored costume that I would call comfortable, there is only ways of minimizing your discomfort.

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Let’s start with the helmet.  A Stormtrooper’s helmet first can not just be taken straight on and off.  Because of the shape which is more of a flattened oval than a circle, you have to do a “corkscrew” method to take the helmet on and off.  You start with the helmet at an angle and turn it as you pull down.  Once the helmet is on, your vision and hearing are limited.  Imagine you are holding a pair of binoculars in front of your face, that is how much we can see in front of us.  Our peripheral vision is completely gone.  Needless to say we have to be very careful and aware of the area around us.

Some interesting things do happen once we put on the full armor and helmet.  Every part of your body is covered so you get a great feeling of anonymity.  This helps the first few times you wear the costume out in public.  No one knows it’s you and it can be very freeing.  Conversely people act differently when they can’t see your face.  In some ways it can dehumanize you and some people will forget that there is a person inside the armor.  Thankfully our negative experiences are few and far between.

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The body armor limits your movements in a variety of ways.  The shape of the pieces and how they fit together prevents a lot of movement.  If we drop an item it’s almost impossible to pick it back up.  Something as simple as sitting in a chair becomes a complicated ordeal.  I still have no idea how Harrison Ford managed to sit with his feet up and legs crossed.  The most impressive feat I’ve managed is being able to sit in a car (not driving) wearing most of my armor.

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Then there are the armor bites, or armor kisses as some call them.  These happen when two pieces of the armor come together in places like elbows or knees, the skin gets caught between the plastic and pinches.  It feels just as pleasant as it sounds.

We can’t see.  We can’t sit.  The armor pinches and limits our most basic movements.  You must be asking why we subject ourselves to such torture.  It’s the smiles.  For many of us it’s something we have dreamt about since we were kids.  The first smile we see is our own in the mirror as the costume comes together.  Everyone always seems so happy to see us that in the end it’s all worth it.

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  • Alice Bouchard

    I am currently drawing a sitting down Captain Phasma and I was having a hard time imagining how the legs/hips part could actually works. Turns out it really does not work! This is fascinating! Ahaha :)