Tag Archives: 501st legion

A Trooper’s Point of View: Costume Malfunctions

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You’ve researched for weeks, you’ve stayed up late every night finishing it before the upcoming convention, but you have finally done it.  You have made your very first costume.  It’s time to wear it out to the show and join the costuming and cosplay fun you’ve seen online.  What do you do if a piece fails or your glue wasn’t fully dry?  How do you deal with a complete costume failure?

In addition to having made several costumes for the 501st Legion, I have made costumes for some of my other fandoms including Ghostbusters, Doctor Who and more.  I’ve also more than once been in the awkward situation of having to deal with a complete and utter costume failure.  There really isn’t anything more heartbreaking than to pour yourself into something and then to just watch it as it all slowly falls apart in front of you.

No matter how much time you put into a costume, you never fully understand how it all works until you’ve worn it several times.  Trying it on at home and wearing it for a few minutes is never quite the same as fully dressing out and wearing it in public for hours at a time.  You can never account for everything that is going to happen in the real world.

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That is why it’s so important to be prepared for what is going to happen.  I store my 501st costumes in a plastic rolling tub, and inside my armor tub, I always have my tool kit.  It has snaps, velcro, extra material for straps, a rivet gun, and the most important, a roll of duct tape.  Remember the boy scout motto, be prepared.

Early in my time with the Legion we attended a local convention.  The convention did not provide any changing space for us and since it was only a few minutes from my house I didn’t bother getting a room at the hotel.  This meant that I was forced to change in the parking lot.  Not much of a big deal, any sense of modesty is quickly lost when you join the Legion.  Unfortunately, it started to snow and it was then that I learned that the glue holding my armor together does not respond well to freezing temperatures.  Very quickly I noticed things failing and pieces literally starting to fall off of me.  It was then that I learned the importance of duct tape, for the rest of the weekend many of my pieces were being held together by duct tape (thankfully most of it was where you couldn’t see it) and sheer will.  Since then I’ve always been more careful about where and how I store my armor in the colder months of the year.

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I had played with making costumes prior to joining the 501st in 2008, but those were mostly glorified Halloween costumes, worn only once or twice and never thought of again.  Since then I have taken a different approach and really embraced the costuming and cosplay hobby.  But, it’s not without heartache.  I’ve learned several important things that I never would’ve known and had to adapt quickly to deal with them.

My toolkit also saved me when we were scheduled to make a TV appearance.  While changing in the backrooms of the TV station I heard a pop as a rivet holding my belt together broke.  With only minutes to spare before a live TV appearance, I was able to redo the rivet and get my armor back together.  Without the proper preparation, I would’ve missed out on a fun, high-profile event.

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It’s because of these and other similar events that I will never leave my toolkit at home as you never quite know what is going to happen.  In fact, I have noticed a new trend at some of the larger conventions there are now groups that specialize in cosplay repair and help for those who encounter similar problems.  These people are amazing helpers and proof of the power of a community who works together to help each other.  It’s important to work together and help each other.  The community is best when we all work together.  You can’t stop all of the problems before they happen, but if you plan and prepare accordingly you can catch it and fix it in time to avoid the heartbreak.

A Trooper’s Point of View – Building a TIE Fighter Pilot Part 3

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It’s been a stressful few months but the finish line is in sight as I’m nearing completion of my TIE Fighter pilot costume.  I have all of the construction finished and the costume is now fully wearable, I’m only missing the shoulder straps, a mostly cosmetic piece, before I can submit it for approval.  In some cases, it’s easier to opt for a buying a complicated piece instead of trying to make one.  Laziness and overall comfort won out for me in this case.

Previously, I had documented my build all leading up to a large trooping event in April.  I was able to get all my pieces wearable in time, and I had a blast wearing the pilot outfit.  The event was the Salem Red Sox Star Wars night for our local minor league baseball team.  A very fun event and one of the largest events in our area with over a dozen troopers and thousands of attendees.

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I achieved my goal of having the costume be wearable at the baseball game

It’s important to try on the costume often to make sure that you have everything lining up correctly.  This will lead to many awkward photos in your garage or living room as you are wearing pieces of a costume that are often times held in place by tape or sheer will.  But, it’s part of the process and important to make sure that you are building something that can actually fit you.

No matter how many times you try on a costume while you are building it, you are never fully prepared for what will happen when you actually go out and wear it to an event.  Every time you wear it you find things that need to be adjusted.  It takes several times before you are able to fully dial in the fitting.  There are just some things you can’t account for until you are actually out in the world interacting with people.  It’s been no different this time around either.  I’ve now worn this costume to four events and each time I’ve come home with something that needs to be adjusted.

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Since I started with the 501st Legion in July of 2008 I’ve only ever had full hard armor costumes, a Stormtrooper and later a Sandtrooper.  The armor is extremely limiting in your movements and over time I’ve grown accustomed to those limitations and found my best ways of dealing with it and compensating.  However, the TIE pilot is only hard armor on the chest and a helmet.  More than once I’ve been shocked at how much mobility I have and I have to keep reminding myself that I can actually bend or even sit while in costume.

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My Sandtrooper (right) in December for The Force Awakens premiere

This has been a stressful build and more than once I’ve felt completely overwhelmed by it all.  With that being said, I’ve enjoyed the building and I’m really enjoying wearing the costume, even if I do get called Darth Vader all the time.  I’ve tried to document my build through the various Legion forums in an effort to provide assistance to others going through their build in hopes that they can learn from both my successes and my failures.  I look forward to trooping as TI-5990 now.  Of course, I’m constantly looking ahead to what the next project and costume will be.  Costuming can become an addiction, we are always looking ahead to the next build.  Star Wars has so many great costumes that it can be hard to narrow it down to just one.  For the next costume, I have to remember to give myself a much more realistic timeframe.

A Trooper’s Point of View – Building a TIE Fighter Pilot Part 2

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Previously, we discussed the basics of trimming the armor kit.  This time, we are getting into more of the fun stuff.  Now I’m beginning to assemble pieces and it’s actually starting to take shape.

I have to admit that my anxiety around this build has been pretty high.  I think it’s two-fold.  First, I gave myself such a short time frame to get this kit to be wearable.  Second, I haven’t been able to locate as much in the way of tutorials as I have for previous projects so I’ve been having to figure a lot of it out on my own.  This isn’t a very hard build, but it’s been stressing me way out and I am constantly in fear of screwing it up.  While a few pieces have not turned out exactly the way I wanted them to be, there isn’t anything that is beyond fixing.

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After cutting the pieces to the correct sizing, you have to sand the edges smooth.  Most of your time working on armor is either spent sanding or waiting for glue or paint to dry.  Measure, compare to your reference, measure again, cut, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand, sand and sand some more.  Then you get to line up the pieces and glue them.  You will need to clamp the pieces while the glue cures.  Depending on the piece, you may need to get creative with how you clamp it by using magnets or even tape in addition to the regular clamps.

For glues, I like to use E6000 on most pieces.  It’s an industrial strength adhesive, but when it dries it has a little bit of a rubbery flex to it which can be very helpful in certain areas.  Unfortunately, it also takes approximately 24 hours to cure, which means once you get glue on your pieces you have to let them sit for at least a day.  That is one thing that can slow down the process.  Some people swear by CA glue (think really hard-core superglue) or using epoxies.  I tried CA glue when I first got my original Stormtrooper kit, but I didn’t like it and I ended up redoing almost everything I had glued.  Epoxies are great for some parts, but I don’t like that most of them make a permanent bond.  E6000, for good or for bad, can be undone by extreme temperatures.  I learned that the hard way when I stored my armor in my car during a con in the winter.

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Painting the greeblies

The 501st Legion is a great community of people.  Unfortunately for me, I was spoiled when I was working on my Stormtrooper and Sandtrooper armor because these are among the most common armor types and there is a wealth of information and various tutorials to follow.  However, the TIE pilot community is smaller and since there is less armor involved, a lot of the armor makers offer to sell it already assembled.  Thus, there are fewer tutorials to follow.  This is part of the reason I always try to document everything I’m doing.  It helps to show my progress and to give others a guide to follow.  Obviously here, I’m just giving a highlights and overview.

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My deadline is fast approaching.  I want to have it wearable by this Saturday.  Yes, this whole process for me has been done under pressure and with an unrealistic timeline.  I feel confident that I have some of the major pieces finished and some of the hardest work is now behind me.  Now it’s just a matter of getting all the separate assembled pieces together to create a cohesive whole.

A Trooper’s Point of View – Building a TIE Fighter Pilot

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Last year at this time I had a crazy idea pop in my head that just a mere two months before Celebration Anaheim I wanted to make a new 501st costume.  I really wanted to bring some kind of Legion costume to the convention and I didn’t want the hassle of flying with my armor.  So I decided to make something that was entirely soft goods that could be folded up and put in my suitcase.

I decided to make a Reserve Pilot/Imperial Crewman costume.  Basically, it’s a black jumpsuit, boots, belt and gloves.  It’s called a Reserve Pilot, because you have all the costume bits of a TIE Pilot without the helmet or hard armor.

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Now, two months is not in any way shape or form a realistic time frame to research, source, plan and build any kind of Legion approvable costume, especially not when you are also trying to finalize a cross country trip.  Somehow I managed to get it done.  I premiered my Reserve Pilot at Celebration and had a blast.  It’s nice to have a costume I can sit down in.

Fast forward to today, and I am finally working on my full and proper TIE Pilot outfit.  I ordered the armor and patiently waited a month for it to arrive.  The happiest day in any trooper’s life is the day that the Big, Brown Box shows up on your doorstep.  It’s also the most intimidating time of the process.  I laid out all the pieces to make sure everything was there, and then began to scratch my head and realize that I had no idea what I was doing.

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Researching your costume is important.  Let me say that again.  Researching your costume is important.  Especially with armor.  Once you cut that plastic it’s very hard to go back and correct a mistake.  Most everything is fixable, but you may end up doubling or tripling the amount of work you need to do for one piece.  Measure twice, measure again, check your sources, measure one more time, then cut.  Most armor makers send things out in a rough cut form.  The pieces have been cut down to the point that they will fit in the box.  It’s up to you to then trim them down to size.  This is where the research comes into play.  The various Legion detachment sites are a great tool for research, as well as any of the traveling costume exhibits.

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Cutting armor is actually easier than you may think.  Most armor is made out of a plastic like ABS or HIPS.  These cut pretty well with an exacto knife, lexan plastic shears or a dremel.  I prefer to use the exacto knife or shears primarily.  A dremel is a great tool and I highly recommend having one if you are working on these type of costumes, but for a lot of the cutting and trimming, I feel like it’s overkill.  Plus the smell of melting plastic is awful and it makes a HUGE mess.  With an exacto knife you don’t need to cut all the way through the plastic, simply score the plastic, and then you can bend and snap the piece off.  It makes for a fairly clean cut.  Regardless of the method, you end up with a lot of excess plastic, it’s helpful to keep these.  The excess pieces can be useful for fixing things or making plates to attach snaps to.

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Once you have your pieces roughly cut you may need an idea of how the different pieces will fit together, I have found that blue painter’s tape is a great option.  It’s not so sticky that it will leave a residue.

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This is where I am at now, spending my evenings on the couch watching TV and trimming out armor.  Slowly but surely it is starting to take shape.  One of our larger trooping events is coming up at the end of April and my goal is to have the armor be wearable, not necessarily approved yet by that time.  Deadlines are important, but it’s also helpful to make sure they are realistic deadlines.

Next month I should have completed pieces and will be going over fitting and wearing the armor.

Dark Times and The Force Awakens

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As of the time I’m writing this we are 31 days away from the release of The Force Awakens and the beginning of the sequel era for Star Wars.  Looking back over the last 20 years of Star Wars it’s amazing to see how much Star Wars has changed.

After the release of Attack of the Clones in 2002, George Lucas was giving many interviews explaining how Episode III would be the end of the saga.  Since the mid 90’s, we had come out of the dark times of the 80’s and been enjoying new Star Wars content on a regular basis. I wasn’t ready to give all that up again and once more let Star Wars drift into the background.  I couldn’t imagine a world without new Star Wars.

It’s such a strange concept now to think of a world without Star Wars, but in 2002 it felt like it could be a real possibility. In order to stave that off and prolong the Star Wars story as much as possible, I actually decided to stop reading the Expanded Universe novels. This was right as the New Jedi Order was kicking into motion. To this day, I still haven’t finished anything beyond book 6 of the NJO.

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This feeling of Star Wars ending stuck with me even after I joined the 501st in 2008. At the time, I felt like I was joining the group after they had peaked with the Rose Parade celebration in 2007. My feeling was that this would be a fun ride for a few years and then Star Wars would slowly drift away as other things came up to take it’s place in the geek pantheon.

How little did I know? Since then Star Wars has only gotten bigger with each passing year. Clone Wars came and broke the mold for an animated series. The 501st Legion and other club memberships continue to grow each year.

Now, 3 years after the Disney & Lucasfilm merger we have not one, but 5 new films slated for release over the course of the next 5 years, and who knows how much more beyond that. As Star Wars gets bigger and the excitement for the future of the saga grows, it gets harder and harder to ever imagine a return to those dark times of the 80’s. At least I know I’ll have plenty of Star Wars books to read if that should happen again.