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.

The sculpting of the Stormtrooper helmet was done by Liz Moore (who also sculpted C-3PO) with the body armour sculpted by Brian Muir at Elstree Studio's. The bucks from these sculpts were then given to Andrew Ainsworth at Shepperton Design Studios in Twickenham, London who fabricated both the helmets and armour. SDS became a key manufacturer of costuming parts for the film, providing helmets and other hard-parts for the Stormtrooper, TIE Pilot, Death Star Gunner, Imperial Guard, Rebel X/Y-Wing pilots, Rebel Fleet Trooper and Rebel Ground Crew/Guards.

The 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 Khaki HDPE helmets have all been spray-painted white - 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 Elstree 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. and was contacted by Nick Pemberton in Jan/Feb 1976 and asked whether he could help with a new Sci-Fi movie project . Court papers suggest that Pemberton acted as liaison between the Star Wars Costume Design team (led by John Mollo) and Ainsworth/SDS. Records also 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 - although for the latter its not known whether they were screen-used or not.

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?

The original contract was for the production of 50 Stormtrooper helmets. However, as soon as SDS began o produce them they 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 rubbery, flexible material now used to make things like milk cartons, which was better suited than ABS to handle the complex curves and undercuts. So the khaki-green HDPE helmets then had to be spray painted white after manufacture.

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. Instead they were vac-formed in a shiny white ABS plastic, with higher quality 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.

Three years later for The Empire Strikes Back, John 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 only 12-14 were required - and it also saved them money on what was a strict budget since they only really needed a quick tidying up.  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 these different versions in the following 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

The Force Awakens (2015)

ANH STUNT Stormtroopers ANH HERO Stormtroopers ESB Stormtroopers RotJ (+SE) Stormtroopers TFA 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