Who hasn’t wanted to have an authentic Star Wars costume at some point?
I certainly always have, but I had no idea where to start or even if such a thing were possible. After all, there is no costume store that I’ve ever seen where you can walk in and simply buy a full movie-accurate costume. So this long-time wish was also at the same time a very back-of-mind wish.
My interest in making it more than that was initially piqued when I took my family to Disney World’s Star Wars Weekends because this is where I saw real screen-accurate costumes by the dozens!
Disney has put out some great videos for this event:
I took my family to this event a few years in a row starting in 2011. The main attraction at this event for me the first year was the parade. Here are a few pictures. This is just a sampling.
And of course the thing that geeked me out the most was seeing my favorite character, the Sandtrooper:
I was encouraged one year when I went into the huge temporary tent store set up for Star Wars Weekends and saw this:
But then I saw the price tag, $1,700, and walked away (I’ve also since learned that this suit actually isn’t even approved by the 501st Legion because it is not accurate enough. Some people have bought for use with the 501st but it requires a lot of customization and modifications).
Like I said we went a couple years in a row before I tried to learn more. I remembered seeing this banner at the front of the parade each year. The first couple years I saw it but didn’t understand it and didn’t think to look into it. The last year I went I decided to google what was on the banner — “501st Florida Garrison.”
The google search took me into a massive and complex world of costuming, certification, and charity events done by an organization called The 501st Legion, Vader’s Fist. It’s a fan group that builds screen-accurate Star Wars costumes and does appearances for free at charity events and things like Star Wars Weekends. The banner in the parade says “Florida Garrison” because the 501st is split up into garrisons all over the world. Naturally the Florida Garrison is the one invited to lead the Star Wars Weekends event in Disney World. I’ve been interacting with my local garrison (the Georgia Garrison) and they’re a very active and helpful group.
The 501st website lists all of the approved costume types and requirements for being accepted as an official 501st member. For anyone interested in attempting screen-accurate Star Wars costumes, that’s the place to start.
These last two sites have more detailed information about requirements for 501st certification but also very active discussion boards with people from all over the world chronicling where they got their costumes and how they built them.
Yes, built them. 99% of people buy unfinished parts and spend hours and hours trimming pieces, painting, and assembling the costume. The other 1% represent those who opt to pay someone else to put it together. The point is, each costume is a time-consuming project.
One of the first things a newcomer notices about this world is the somewhat frustratingly “underground” nature of the costume buying market. There are no websites with costumes, pictures, prices, and shopping carts. Instead, the process goes something like this:
- Scour the message boards to discover who the sellers are
- Send a private message through the boards to each seller asking for info about what they sell
- Receive a private message or an email in return with information, pictures, and prices
- Send money through Paypal
- Wait for shipment
I’m not certain why the market is like this. I have to guess that it’s a combination of two things: a) the market isn’t big enough to merit a full-fledged website and/or b) Lucas holds the rights to these costumes and would shut the whole thing down (or require royalties) if it was out in the open. I’ve heard other tidbits relating to this but will leave it at that for this post.
So after going through the above process I ended up landing on these pieces:
- Helmet from a seller called “ATA”
- Body armor from a seller called “MTK”
- Orange Sandtrooper Captain Shoulder Pauldron from Trooperbay.com
- Boots from TKboots.com
- I’ll hand-make a T21 Blaster
- Other odds-and-ends pieces of the costume like gloves, microphones, etc.
I’m having a blast. If my kids don’t think I’m cool at least they think what I’m building is cool. I’ve been talking about it with anyone nerdy enough to listen. My brother in California and his nearly 18-yr-old son have decided to join me. Our goal is to troop together in the 2015 Star Wars Weekends at Disney World!
[Update as of late 2015]Disney has discontinued Star Wars Weekends at Hollywood Studios! So sad! But I guess they say that it’ll be “Star Wars Day” every day in the parks now that they are beefing up the Star Wars presence. It was fun while it lasted. And what an amazing experience to have trooped in the last year of SSW! Read about that experience here.