The "Real" Stormtrooper Helmets & Armor

A New Hope

Star Wars featured some of the most iconic costume designs ever seen in film, none more so than the Imperial Stormtrooper. The design work for these characters can be traced back to Ralph McQuarrie's early drawings and paintings produced in 1975. 

Below a photograph of the original clay sculpt of the Stormtrooper helmet, taken at Elstree Studio's near London around February 1976. Most people looking at this will believe it has the unmistaken look of the finished design, especially when you look at the curves around the frown and nose sections. As you can see the ears are "missing", with this presumably a late design change where the ears were added to hide the join between the face and back section. This wouldn't have been necessary if the helmet was made a single piece (such as from fiberglass, like Vader), however given they opted for vacuum forming it required 2 separate sections (face and back/cap), creating a gap between them and thus the "ears".

Apart from the ears the way the eye's meet looks a little different, and again this could have been influenced by the change in materials. The physical manufacturing of the helmets were the responsibility of Andrew Ainsworth at Shepperton Design Studios, established earlier in 1974. They became an important element of the production process given their input into a large  number of helmets and costuming parts for the movie including the TIE Pilot, DS Gunner, Imperial Guard, Rebel X-Wing, Fleet Trooper and ground crew/honour guards.

More recently a number of fans have produced some quite interesting "what would have been" versions of Stormtroopers, Vader and 3PO based on Ralph McQuarrie's original designs (see fan section). AA’s company was an established producer of vac-formed plastics for the leisure market  with a range of products including  canoes, paddles, helmets etc., although AA also had a passion for producing “Kit-Cars” popular in the 70’s and 80’s. AA, who was only fairly recently out of Design College, was contacted by Nick Pemberton in Jan 1976 and asked whether he could help “with a new Sci-Fi movie project” , who acted as liaison with John Mollo and Lucasfilm. Pemberton also worked on a number of characters including the Tusken Raider, Jawa's and some of the original Cantina Aliens.

The company's original receipts show that in total they fabricated fifty-six Stormtrooper helmets, twelve Imperial Forces' helmets, twelve Imperial Fighter Pilots' helmets and twenty X-Wing Fighter Pilots' helmets. For the Stormtrooper Helmets, an initial run of 50 "Stunt" helmets were made from a Khaki-coloured HDPE material, which was subsequently painted white. Following this 6 "Hero"  helmets were made for close up work out of white ABS (i.e. no need to paint) and these were the helmets worn by the Luke and Han characters when in Stormtrooper disguise. Below, one of those Hero helmets from a 1976/7 publicity shot....

Working to a frenetic deadline, AA and a very small team worked around the clock in their design studio from February - May 1976 churning out helmets and armor used in the film, being shot at Elstree and Shepperton Studios. The sculpts they worked to were produced at Elstree by Brian Muir, who sculpted the armour and Liz Moor who produced the helmet. At that time, the huge success of Star Wars had not been anticipated and, according to Andrew, the making of the costumes was very much a process of trial and error. The initial helmets produced (which later became known as the "Stunt" helmets used in the movie), were made from a khaki-green coloured  Polyethylene - aka Polythene (HDPE) material that was being used in the workshop at that time to produce fish ponds!. The material was then spray-painted white, although the finish was less than satisfactory, as the material didn’t take the paint very well.

Above, here's a photo of one of the 56 "Stunt" helmets, the infamous Move Along helmet I found a few years back, sold off at Christies - its profiled extensively on this page here. Its believe all the Stunt helmets were made of the khaki HDPE (ie. the painted white helmets rather than the already white plastic), before they moved onto white ABS for the six "Hero" helmets, which were initially to be used for close-up shots (like the photo below), as well as the Han/Luke disguise helmets. For a comparison of all the different Stormtrooper helmets used in the various Star Wars Movies then see this page......

AA was asked to produce the helmets for the shooting which was to start imminently. In all he would vac-form 56 Stormtroopers (helmets and armor) and 12 Rebel X-Wing Pilot helmets. Following on from the initial run he added a number of other helmets including 12 TIE fighter pilots, 12 Imperial Gunners, 12 Squad commanders and the Rebel Fleet Trooper helmets seen primarily during the opening scenes on the Tantive IV blockade runner. Many of these were in act “bastardized” versions of other helmets, the TIE pilot clearly a combination of a Rebel X Wing helmet with a Stormtrooper face and a couple of other helmets.

Above and below are PR shots of a "Hero" suit taken before release in 1977. The helmet itself is very interesting as its asymmetric in appearance. For instance, if you look at the right tube (as you're looking at the helmet) it is quite significantly different in size and overall shape than the left. Many reproductions have ignored this and "sanitised" its appearance and incorrectly given it a more symmetrical look. As mentioned elsewhere the "hero" look is quite different from the "Stunt" with a lowered frown, bubble lenses and three sets of teeth either side of the frown. In addition, the Hero only has one screw on the central ear section, not two. The ABS production helmets and all the Armor were 1.5mm and made of a specific ABS mix which had a higher ratio of rubber to styrene, making them very strong (though slightly duller). As an indication of this strength, AA's sporting canoes were made from just 3mm.

The next 3 pics of the Hero helmet used in the Lucasfilm promotion photos before release were provided by Veedox - thanks to him, great resolution

Note that all the helmets in the Original Trilogy (OT) were Asymmetrical. By this we mean that the left hand side of the helmet is not exactly the same as the right (its not a mirror image). This is because all the sculpts were done by hand (remember this was before real Computer Aided Design was in place), hence Original Trilogy helmets are often referred to as "wonky". Human faces are asymmetrical and in my opinion, all the better for it! More at base of page.

From the rear you can see how much less undercut there was on the Hero helmets, this was party down to the less springy ABS material (the fishpond HDPE being much easier to remove the the moulds so the undercuts could be greater), but also potentially from mould damage caused  by the rushing of the 50 Stunt helmets which preceded the Hero's - many of which needed to be cut from the moulds at the rear.

The good news is that this helmet still exists - although its held under lock and key at the Lucasfilm archives in California - However in June 07 they showed it off at C4 and pics are lower down!

Ironically the design of these helmets which have achieved such an iconic status, was to to some extent “trial and error”. Although the Stormtrooper was predominantly a unique sculpt, the other helmets, such as the Imperial Gunner, Rebel Fleet Trooper and X-Wing (and its “derivative” TIE), were partly fabricated out of existing helmets (such as the US APH-6B, a US Navy Talker helmet, and other objects found either around the factory or at a local military “junk yard”

Thanks to Braks Buddy for updating these shots, above and below. The Stormtrooper Armor was initially due to be fabricated in-house at Elstree (most probably in fiberglass), although the Elstree technicians had been having problems with their vac-forming machine so this process was out-sourced to AA. Due to its boat-making business, Shepperton Design Studio’s was fortunate in that it had a HUGE vac-forming table, which was over 4 meters long. This was perfect for the trooper armor as it allowed a complete set of armor to be made from a single pull – a great time saver when there's 56 sets to make!

 AA was required to make six “Hero” helmets, referred to as “close-up helmets” by the company. These were hand finished in white ABS to a higher standard than the standard “Stunt” helmets and featured curved lenses (manufactured with the same "double-bubble" lenses as the TIE Helmets, i.e. a single lens material with the two eye “bubbles” vac-formed from a proprietary material).

Below some Hi Def screengrabs of some of the Hero helmets. As detailed elsewhere the Hero's have less "teeth", smaller "frowns" and also have curved eye lenses

In addition the ears are slightly different with a different bump pattern on the grey ear centres. This is most probably due to the damage to the ear moulds caused by over 50 sets of ears being vac formed from the moulds used. Remember the Hero helmets were made some weeks after the Stunt helmets.

There's no discernable difference between the Hero and Stunt armour as they were essentially the same. However its quite possible that the armour worn by Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford may have been fitted slightly differently.
Its clear that the undercut on the Hero's was significantly less than the Stunts. This was probably due to a number of things including the relative flexibility of the different materials (the khaki HDPE of the Stunts being a lot more "springy" than the white ABS of the Hero's), as well as possible damage to the moulds following 50 (very rushed) stunt pulls made earlier. Basically the more you make, the greater the likelihood that you'll have damage and wear.
Details on helmets such as the Stormtrooper’s, were made from whatever they could lay their hands on. The mic tips have the words "HOVI MIX pa2" written on the side of them. Even now its not clear whether these were actually rheostat knobs (possibly military?), air inlet valves or microphone condenser tips. Note its possible some of the helmets had the real mic tips, however the majority of the Stunt helmets had resin casts of them.

Disaster struck on the evening of March 26th 1976, as AA’s factory caught fire. Three oxy-acetylene canisters, which were in the building at the time exploded and the factory was gutted, with some work lost, although thankfully not the moulds! Unperturbed they returned immediately to the project and working 20 hour days they were able to complete the order on schedule.

Above, an unfinished Stormtrooper from Andrew Ainsworth's personal collection, sold at Christie's in 2002 . Fabricated in white painted vacu-formed plastic with black rubber details, simulated vents and clear plastic eyepieces (one missing) -- made for the 1977 20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm production Star Wars; accompanied by a black and white photo of a group of Stormtrooper helmets and a corresponding black and white still. The above sold at Christies in December 2002 for $7,144. Looking at the photo it's missing its ears! 

Update: 25th May 2004 - Here's an updated photo showing 26 helmets and armor outside Shepperton Design Studios in 1976.

Prototype Stormtrooper Helmets -
Don't believe the Hype - Edit from here...

Below are a couple of shots of work-in-progress Stormtrooper helmet made after the film-used 56 and were therefore not connected to the films production. Initially it was presumed that these were prototypes but it has been confirmed that they were produced later. The key differences with the helmet being the 3-piece design and serrated neck.

...and left, another shot of one of the incorrectly-termed "prototype" Stormtrooper helmet, made some time between 1977-1979. This image clearly showing its age and state of this prop. This particular helmets looks to have been made of white ABS, and is a THREE part design. The screen-used helmets were just two-part with a single "swoop" from forehead to the nape of the neck, which must have been a nightmare to pull! The rear section of these helmets were made from a "U" shaped piece of metal with a hose pipe attached, with the ABS pulled over them. This was then added to a cap cut from a traditional cap-and-back sections from the screen-used helmet moulds.

Above an interesting photograph from the collection of Andrew Ainsworth of a partly-made Hero helmet taken at his workshop in early 1976. Its missing the ears, mic tips and hasn't had the painted areas but is still close and is clearly made from white ABS.

Above and below are four really nice photos of one of the original ANH Stunt helmets, this one the "Set for Stun" who got capped by Leia on the Tantive IV.

This helmet (also known as the "Dave M" helmet) really is in fantastic condition with everything intact including ears, trim, eye lenses, mic tips and decals.

The paint finish is also superb with the khaki HDPE only showing through in a few places. Many thanks to Art Andrews and Dave M for these great shots.

Below, here's a comparison of the 2 helmets on-screen on the Tantive IV, with the Hero on the left and the Stunt on the right.
It looks like the Hero may have been the Han Solo Hero below (remember the brow moves)

Above, FOH still featuring Hero Stormtrooper (in this case Han),

Above and below a couple of unique shots taken by Todd (TK-765) at his local Toys R Us in 1977 featuring what certainly appears to be an original ABS Hero Stormtrooper Helmet and Armour. Many thanks to Todd for sharing these photographs.

Below three film-scans by Brak's Buddy of Stunt Troopers. To the left a typical Death Star shot whereas to the right a close-up of the Sandtroopers in Mos Eisley (note the diamond shape knee pad) and finally athe "Look Sir, Droids" shot. Many thanks to him for these shots.

These next three from Braks Buddy are very nice as are screen grabs from the "Making of" program. Top left is a hero whereas the blower larger picture features a Hero with two stunts behind him. 

The whole project from beginning to end was probably no more than a few months, and yet the designs have become some of the most recognizable film props of the 20th Century.
Here above are a couple of interesting photos. The one to the left was taken in 1978 (possibly 79) and is one of the hero helmets with what looks like taped up mic tips. Interesting as it was taken during ESB pre production and there are a few scuff marks on it. The photo to the right is a reconditioned ANH/ESB Stunt previously owned by the Joiner/Kurtz archive, later reconditioned (again) in 2007 and detailed on this page.
Here's a publicity shot done in the UK in late 1977 / early 1978 for the UK release. Its clear that they've just tried to pull together any bits and pieces they can get their hands on including parts from both Stormtroopers and Sandtroopers (check the knee plates and the left troopers stomach box). Vader himself also seems to have a wonky dome and may well be the ANH original, which did not have a reliable fixing mechanism. It featured in the UK Monthly Poster mag (Spring '78). Thanks to Braks Buddy for the photo and Jackie Chan Fan for the excellent clean-up.

These next three excellent photo's are from Brian R of his original ANH Stunt helmet. Thanks to Brian for releasing these great shots of your elmet.

The helmet is white-painted Khaki fishpond HDPE and as you can see its in superb condition and has been well looked after by its previous owners. Looking straight on you can really see how wonderfully asymmetrical the helmets were with the right cheek tube (as you look at it) significantly larger and more bulbous than the left.

The mic tips are still in place and again appear to be in superb condition. You can see that the original helmets had hand-painted detailing and this is noticeable when you look at the tears under the eyes and the vertical stripes in the rear trapezoids.

It really is in fantastic condition and surprisingly very little of the paint has cracked and fallen off. I'm sure its the pride of his collection so many thanks to Brian for sharing them and allowing our readers access to these great shots of his helmet.

Incidentally, I was sent these comparisons some time ago by Jack Noren but forgot to put them up. They show (pretty conclusively) that one of the screen-used HERO Helmets used in ANH was the same one photographed with an early Boba Fett prototype helmet in 1978 (and was probably used on the horrible holiday special)

Above the original helmet (with taped up mic tip) and below a shot from the Movie (as Leia's being led away from Vader on the Tantive IV)

..and below an on-set photo of "Stunt" Stormtroopers lined up in Death Star Docking Bay set at Elstree.
Next up, and courtesy of Braks Buddy are a couple of shots from the Lucasfilm archives taken in 2006 of one of the Hero helmets used in ANH. These helmets were the white ABS ones made by SDS and referred to as the "Close up" helmets, as worn by Han and Luke (and a number of other close up shots). Below you can see the "Hero" on the left and "Stunt" on the right.
Above on the left, standing next to one of the HDPE Stunt helmets, and below a close-up of it on its own. This is the very same "promotion" helmet seen at the top of this page, used  in the "white backing" studio shots, which I think were photographed in California after the film wrapped. This Hero was probably also used in the infamous "Holiday Special". Its missing its eye lenses, but apart from that looks remarkably good.

This same helmet was exhibited at Celebration 4 and a number of people have taken some really nice shots of it, including these from Shadow

Its missing its eye lenses but otherwise is still in great shape

Good to see that Lucasfilm has been looking after it!

These great pics below from "Noonch"

Above a nice shot of the rear swing the tiny bums thanks for TK4510, and last by by no means least, Rebelscum.

Below a couple of really nice shot from FreakEngine

To finish off some Hi Def screen-grabs from RoCKo of various Stunt and Hero troopers. Firstly Luke's Hero helmet (and suit). Remember this is White unpainted ABS plastic

Next a trooper showing off a very shiny looking "Stunt" helmet - it hardly looks painted!

No doubt about the paint marks on this Stunt. The ear screws have even been painted white but they forgot to paint his tube stripes!
Finally, here's a composition showing the effect of the asymmetrical nature of this wonderful hand-sculpted creation. Since the left and right hand sides of the helmets are NOT mirror images of each other (unlike the more modern Clones), if we do mirror the face down the central axis we get quite a strange look - showing IMO asymmetrical is best!

This shows how difficult it is to make a symmetrical (non wonky) Stormtrooper helmet replica, as attempted by Don Post a few years back.

For The Empire Strikes Back Stormtroopers go here

For Return of the Jedi / Special Edition Stormtroopers go here

or to compare ANH Vs ESB Vs RotJ Helmets then go here

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