I get asked a lot of questions about stormtrooper armor. Most people see one of the CostumeBot YouTube vids and it whets their appetite for more info. Unfortunately there’s just not a lot of reliable information out there. Now, I’m certainly not the most knowledgeable person on this subject but I have been a 501st member for a few years and I know my way around.
You have to understand how precarious the relationship between Lucasfilm and the fan armor makers is. LFL supports the 501st because the 501st supports LFL. We can mobilize a literal army of stormtroopers (and Tuskens and Clones and…) at the drop of a hat and the majority of them will not embarrass themselves or LFL. That’s a tremendous resource for LFL to use in promotions and goodwill opportunities worldwide. Trouble is, most of our armor isn’t licensed.
LFL makes a LOT of money off of licensing Star Wars products. When a company buys a license they are also buying the strong arm of LFL to help protect their investment. In other words, if I buy the rights to make and sell light bulbs shaped like Imperial Guards, I want to be assured that LFL will go after anyone else who tries to bring the same items to market. If they don’t protect my investment then I bought nothing…I could have made my light bulbs without the expensive licensing deal.
So there’s a bit of a catch 22. LFL likes having fans in armor but no one has made a good set of licensed armor to date (this may be changing–see Anovos below). LFL’s lawyers have eaten up a few very public armor makers over the years but they generally leave the underground armor makers alone. Why?
I think part of the reason is that LFL has traditionally thought that there aren’t likely to be any real companies who will want to buy licenses to make such an expensive and difficult to manufacture and fit costume (this may be changing – more on that in a bit). Now they’ve set a precedent that they will leave the underground hobbyists alone AS LONG AS THEY STAY UNDERGROUND. This is why you will never see the contact info for one of the armor makers mentioned out in the open on any of the 501st forums. Members will debate the armor to death on the boards but the makers info remains quietly in private messages. So couldn’t LFL watchdogs dig into the forums and ask for the armor makers’ contact info? Sure they could, but it’s become something of a don’t ask don’t tell kind of rule with them because the 501st is – A. On Lucasfilm’s side (most of the time) and B. Doing lots of charity work around the world in the name of Star Wars.
So, that said, I will not openly post info here regarding how you can contact any of the armor makers. Most of these guys do what they do out of love for the hobby and they don’t make a living doing this. One of them is even a cop so I KNOW you don’t want to be on his bad side. What I will do is give you the info you need to be able to take the next step and decide if this is really for you or not.
I cannot recommend highly enough the Mos Eisley Police Department. They are the Sandtrooper detachment of the 501st legion and they are some of the most detail-obsessed guys (and girls) in the hobby. The unusual part is the fact that they are also open, welcoming, and friendly. Just visit the site and join the forums and you’re in. There’s a lot more info there than I could ever hope to include in a single web page.
If you’re looking for pics and info on the original costumes (and some of the fan-made suits and helmets as well) check out Jez’s site Star Wars Helmets. His is an invaluable resource when doing research for Star Wars costumes.
So now you wanna know about the armor, right? Okay, but put on your thinking caps. It gets a little confusing.
The first thing you should know is that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks is the best armor out there if you’re happy with what you have. All of the suits I’m going to discuss are high-quality kits. All of them can be made into very nice costumes. Some people get hung up on the holy grail of screen-accuracy (I’ve been known to take a dip or two in that pool myself) but you should know that you don’t have to spend $3K to have a very nice suit. You’ll probably end up spending close to $1K when all is said and done though, even with the cheapest options because very few of these kits come with necessities like an undersuit, gloves, boots, straps, blaster, voice amp, mic, fans, etc. The only element I’m going to be discussing here is the armor itself. Also of note is the fact that I’ll only include armor that can actually be purchased. There are those who build and sell to only a tight-knit circle of friends and while their armor is top-notch, I don’t include them because their paranoia has kept their wares off the market. As far as I’m concerned, they might as well not exist at all.
Stormtrooper armor falls into three categories – those fan kits derived from LFL sources, those that are entirely fan sculpts, and licensed consumer models.
Fan Armor Cast from LFL Sources
So far, there’s really only one verified source for a suit whose origins can be traced back to the original production of SW:ANH. Yes, Andrew Ainsworth’s helmets appear to be from the original molds but not his suits. For that, you’ll have to turn to RS Propmasters. They’re currently very up front with their armor making, so unlike most of the others, I’ve included a link to their web site. They’re also on Facebook. Their armor is truly a wonder to behold, but beware noobs — it comes exactly like the originals, warts and all. That means that there are bumps in the plastic, asymmetrical sculpts, paint drips, and other “flaws” that we hardcore trooper fans look for in the name of authenticity. These are not the suits you saw in your mind’s eye when watching the films but accurate reproductions of the original props. They’ve even formed some helmets from HDPE, the original material that the first batch of helmets was made from — a material that doesn’t take paint very well. I’ve seen some awesome workups of these helmets and they’re so close to the originals that they’re practically forgeries. Check out Jez’s comprehensive review (with pics) at his Star Wars Helmets site.
There are also a couple of kits that are readily available that were supposedly cast off a LFL tour suit of ROTJ armor. The molds were modified to make the armor more accurate to ANH but these are the only makers whose work is physically based on a real suit. They are TrooperExpert (TE) and AuthenticProps (AP). Both will fit well if you’re under 5-11 or so and under 190 pounds. Smaller folks can be accommodated but larger folks should probably look elsewhere.
TE has declared himself done with the hobby a couple of times and even though he keeps popping up, I’d recommend TrooperExpert2 over him anyway. TE sold a set of his molds to TE2, hence the name. TE2 is one of the nicest guys in this biz and is one of the most honorable armor sellers out there. His suits are made of styrene and sport some of the sharpest pulls because of it. Unfortunately because they’re styrene, his suits also require painting. The styrene can also crack easily if mishandled. His kits come untrimmed although you can order your helmet assembled (I think). I’ve never purchased from him but I’ve met him and he has a firm reputation in 501st circles.
AP is similar to TE2 but is formed out of glossy ABS so there’s no painting required but since his ABS is thicker than the styrene TE2 uses, the AP kit pulls aren’t as sharp and well-defined as TE2’s. It’s a reasonably accurate kit except for the reuse of one of the shin sections on both sides and the fact that both forearms are the same. Still, it’s a very nice kit and AP is easy to deal with.
Fan Armor That’s Been Recast From Fan Armor From LFL Sources
This is a relatively new grey area of armor vendors that includes ATA, CAP, & CAP2. All of these have been recast from TE sources, supposedly by permission. I don’t want to get into the whole recasting debate, but suffice it to say that the waters get turbulent when this subject comes up. The fact of the matter is that these are less expensive options for relatively accurate suits but the details are softer due to the very nature of recasting. Still, if you can afford it, you’re better off with TE2.
This is the category that’s been growing every year. As more and more fans get interested in the hobby it’s inevitable that more people with the skills needed to sculpt and form their own armor will surface. For my money, the best of this lot is the UK’s own TrooperMaster (TM). While not as easy to obtain as some of the others, the TM armor in high-gloss HIPS is really a sight to behold. It runs a little larger than the LFL-derived armors but not by a lot. I own one of TM’s stunt helmets and was able to compare it to a LFL hero and while they weren’t identical the resemblance was uncanny.
RT-Mod is a Canadian armor maker and his stormtrooper armor was designed for us bigger guys. He attempted to scale up the standard trooper look with very good results. His armor is made of heavy ABS. If I ever purchase another suit, it’ll most likely be one of his.
FX armor used to be what most (probably upwards of 90%) troopers wore. I’m wearing FX armor in my “How to Dress a Stormtrooper” tutorial. It’s not accurate in any way but it’s a good looking kit that’s durable for trooping. It can be adapted to fit a large range of body types but the helmet can certainly look oversized on smaller troopers. The helmet is the worst part of the design but you have to remember that this was sculpted long before we had the visual resources we have today.
FX has now been retired except for some ebay vendors who offer poor recasts (avoid Ebay when it comes to buying armor). The newly revised FX is called Armor Master or AM and it’s been modified to look more accurate and fit more body types. Everything in the kit still comes pre-trimmed but the pieces are larger and can be trimmed down for a perfect fit. Even for a tall trooper like me! My recommendation for new recruits is to purchase an AM armor kit minus the helmet then purchase a better helmet separately. This is the way that many 501st troopers are currently upgrading their gear. AM has even been offering a headless kit at a considerable discount.
The new kid on the block is Anovos. They’re clearly dedicated to the production of accurate looking costumes if not the most screen-accurate ones. I should take a moment to clarify this distinction. Costumes made for a production like Star Wars are often designed and built under a great deal of time pressure and with the knowledge that the suits only have to last for a short time. The results usually include a lot of compromises that you really wouldn’t want in a costume that you want to wear comfortably for many hours at a time without a cadre of assistants nearby. Some fans are after a costume that’s a prop replica–i.e. as close as possible to the real thing. Others want a costume that looks like the way the suit might appear in the fictional universe. Still others want a costume that looks like the screen image but is much more comfortable and convenient than the real deal. As far as I can tell, Anovos falls into the latter two categories. Their trooper armor (both kits and finished costumes) will be released in late 2015 so we’ll see just how good they turn out to be, but the preorder info looks pretty good. Could this be the first decent licensed stormtrooper armor? Time will tell.
If you’ve purchased an Anovos kit and would like some pointers on assembly modifications, check out THIS POST.
While his isn’t actually a license (unless it’s a license to steal), Andrew Ainsworth’s company, Shepperton Design Studios, has been producing armor “from the original molds” for a few years now. They’re won their UK legal battle with LFL over it and are not available directly to US citizens as a result. There’s considerable doubt that what Ainsworth is selling is actually from the original armor molds, although his helmets look genuine. He fabricated the original armor for A New Hope working from the designs given to him. He currently claims the right to reproduce the helmets and armor based on his claim that he designed them. However, I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in anything he says. Some say that the armor he’s selling is a recast of an AP suit and for more than twice what AP charges!
Surprisingly, for Halloween 2008, Rubies began offering a set of armor that had a suggested retail of about $1K. Given Rubies track record with SW costumes, most 501st folks were skeptical, and rightly so. It was a pitiful version of a ROTJ suit. Do not purchase this overpriced trash! It’s not acceptable for a Halloween party, let alone entry into the 501st.
If you’re just looking for a helmet, EFX Collectibles has been offering some wonderful ones. They’re currently offering low cost helmets from the old Master Replicas CE helmet molds and those are easily modded to make the acceptable for 501st use. If you want something more accurate, they’ve offered screen-accurate helmets in the past, but be prepared to pay prices that will make you think twice about trooping in them.
So that’s it for now. Hopefully that will be enough to get you started. Happy trooping!