Original Stormtrooper Armor and Helmets

OK, for the Star Wars movies there were a number of different kinds of Stormtrooper helmets used - ditto armor. For example for the first film (ANH/A New Hope) there were TWO main Stormtrooper helmet types - which not only looked different, they were also made of different materials.  For The Empire Strikes Back they just reused the "old" ANH helmets - after giving them a slight "makeover". For Return of the Jedi they needed a lot more Stormtrooper helmets than they had left over so they made a whole bunch of new ones, which were cast off one of the old ANH helmet.

Does this make sense? Read on and we'll try and explain.........

Where it all began....

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 as part of George Lucas' wish to help visualise the movie for Fox company execs.. 

At this point in the stories evolution, Lightsabers were de rigour for all combatants and not just Sith and Jedi. However as you can see the basic design of the Stormtrooper character is pretty well defined. Moving on a year or so to February 1976 as pre-production started in London, an original clay sculpt was produced of the Stormtrooper helmet and armour. As you can see at this stage in the design process the sculptor was by now very close to nailing the finished screen look. - 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 a single piece design (such as Vader and thus made from fiberglass). However it appears that fairly late in its development, and with ever-tightening timescales looming they decided to opt for vacuum forming of thermo plastics.

In order to accommodate this the Stormtrooper helmet had to be split into two main sections, the face plate and the back/cap section - which were then bolted together. This created an unsightly gap/overlap between the two separate section and thus the "ears" were introduced to bridge them. Looking at this original clay sculpt, the way the eyes meet also looks a little different, so again its variance with the finished look could well have been dictated by the change in production method and materials.

What is not clear is who actually sculpted the Stormtrooper helmet, since at the Court case in London in 2007/08 there were conflicting accounts of whether it was Liz Moore (who sculpted C-3PO), or Nick Pemberton - an associate of Andrew Ainsworth. However what is clear is that the physical manufacturing of the helmets and armor were the responsibility of Andrew Ainsworth (AA) at Shepperton Design Studios in Twickenham, established a few years earlier in 1974. Ainsworth and SDS became a key element in the production process given their manufacturing input into a significant number of helmets and costuming parts for the movie including the Stormtrooper, TIE Pilot, Death Star Gunner, Imperial Guard, Rebel X and Y-Wing pilots, Rebel Fleet Trooper and Rebel Ground Crew/Guards.

Lucas and Mollo's decision to use Ainsworth/SDS may look a little strange today, given they'd had no previous experience with TV or Movies. However when you consider the massive costuming project that was in place it is a little more understandable that the Production Design team were looking for people who could solve problems. Recent court reports suggest that John Mollo contacted Nick Pemberton (who DID have experience in prop-making in the entertainment industry), and Pemberton knew well of Ainsworth's abilities in vac-forming plastics, since his business was literally just a few doors down the road from his own.

Here a shot of some partially completed helmets and armor outside Shepperton Design Studio's near London in March 1976. As you can see the helmets have all been spray-painted, and many have the ears and brow trims attached. If you look closely the "mic tips" look more bulbous and less defined than the screen-used ones suggesting that they were replaced by the Art department at the Studio. Behind them you can see some vac-formed sheets of armor, ready to go to the Studio where John Mollo's team assembled the costumes...

SDS was a well-established producer of vac-formed plastics for the leisure market, with a range of products including canoes, paddles, sports helmets etc., although AA also had a passion for producing “Kit-Cars” popular in the 70’s and 80’s. Ainsworth, who was only fairly recently out of Design College, was contacted by Nick Pemberton in Jan/Feb 1976 and asked whether he could help “with a new Sci-Fi movie project” . Essentially is seems that Pemberton acted as liaison between the Star Wars Costume Design team (led by John Mollo) and Ainsworth/SDS. Records suggest that Pemberton also worked on a number of characters for the movie including the Tusken Raider, Jawa's and some of the original Cantina Aliens.

SDS's original receipts dating back to 1976 show that in total they fabricated fifty-six Stormtrooper helmets, twelve Imperial Forces' (Gunner) helmets, twelve Imperial (TIE) Fighter Pilots' helmets and twenty X-Wing Fighter Pilots' helmets - along with the Imperial Guards and of course the Stormtrooper and TIE Armour.

Stormtrooper Helmets - Hero's and Stunts?

Ainsworth was initially approached to produce around 50 Stormtrooper helmets. However, as soon as he began he realised that the complex shape of their design (such as the male and female curves on the helmet rear) necessitated the use of a less than ideal kind of plastic, High Density Poly Ethylene. HDPE is a flexible material now used to make things like milk cartons, but the khaki-green coloured sheets Ainsworth used required him to spray-paint them white. So fifty of these "Stunt" helmets were produced and the vast majority of Stormtroopers you see in the movie are them.

However, because painted helmets don't look all that great under close scrutiny, Lucasfilm/Mollo requested that Ainsworth also produce six "close up"  helmets when Stormtrooper were to be featured more prominently - such as when Luke and Han are disguised as Stormtroopers (although they can also be seen in numerous other shots as well). We refer to these six as the "Hero" Stormtrooper helmets as they were made to a higher specification, vac-formed in a shiny white ABS plastic, and have a higher quality of detailing, including curved eye lenses. Hence in the screen-shot above the Hero is on the Left, with the Stunt on the Right. Note that the armor is the same, only the helmets varied.

The Empire Strikes Back - For the sequel, Mollo and his team simply re-used the same Stormtrooper costumes and helmets that had previously been used in A New Hope. This was the simplest solution since less than a dozen were required - and it also saved them money on what was a strict budget.  For Return of the Jedi over 50 were needed so new armor and helmets were produced - cast from an original ANH set. You can read more about this in the different sections below.....


So now you've read about the background. just Click on the different helmets below to open a whole new world of Stormtrooper info.....

Star Wars - A New Hope

The Empire Strikes Back

Return of the Jedi

Episode VII (2015)

ANH STUNT Stormtroopers ANH HERO Stormtroopers ESB Stormtroopers RotJ (+SE) Stormtroopers Ep7 Stormtroopers
In addition you can click on this link for side-by-side comparisons of the different Stormtrooper helmets


Back to all the Original Helmets here