Investigation - ESB "Type
Were Return of the Jedi style Stormtroopers
used in The Empire Strikes Back?
|There have been some discussion on a number of forums
recently as to whether RotJ-style Stormtrooper helmets and armor were used in
ESB, filmed three years earlier. This would therefore mean that the
mould used to create the helmets for RotJ was cast off an ANH before the
second film was made - rather than as previously thought the third film. Though we initially did not think this could be the case,
following investigation including an interview with John Mollo (Costume
Director for ESB) we were able to find out the truth - the Return of
the Jedi style of Stormtrooper helmets, actually originated from The Empire
Strikes Back..... (Note - for a
comparison of the different
Stormtrooper helmets ANH/ESB/RotJ check here)
Traditional thinking has been that there were two distinct helmet
forms used in the Original Trilogy movies; the sharper but wider styling
seen in ANH and in 1976 and the reused in ESB 1979 - and then the softer
thinner recasting made for RotJ in 1981/2. When looked at side by side the
differences are clear (ANH/ESB on left without ears, RotJ on right)
Thus, its always been believed that all the Stormtroopers seen in ESB were
re-used helmets (and armor) from ANH. This has been backed up by photo evidence, on-screen and
on-set photographs as well as original ESB helmets that have emerged over
the years. Of the two ESB-style Stormtrooper helmets that we've seen, both were clearly old-ANH helmets which have had some
minor modifications done to them such as decals, a black painted frown and
some minor trimming around the eyes. Of these two helmets we know of, one of
them has actually been placed in The Empire Strikes Back....
|So we can be sure that the helmet
we identified a few years ago in London, was the same
one used in the movie. When we reviewed it, it was clearly a re-used ANH
made from khaki HDPE.
|In addition there have been a few shots of Stormtroopers
from ESB that have clearly been re-used ANH's, like these three.
|...and also these two seen captured by Lando's Bespin
Guards.... Again definitely re-used ANH helmets.
|Okay, so we can be 100% sure that
most of the helmets and armor used in ESB were the same ones used in ANH.
However, armor-maker Paul "Trooper Master" believed that some helmets
and armor seen in ESB were not ANH - and therefore must have been
specifically made for the movie. These helmets and armor had more of an
RotJ-like appearance. He specifically drew attention to this particular
Stormtrooper, seen within the Carbon Freezing/Elstree scenes in ESB
are really ANH. Well we know that new armor was produced (and
later sold at Christies
here) - but what about the helmet?
|Though this alone is far from conclusive, there's also the
following publicity photo taken for Topps Cards sometime on or before 1980.
The Stormtrooper on the right certainly has the RotJ look - although again
its not conclusive since it could be one of the ANH Hero's taken from
an unusual angle (albeit with grey frown).
The Publicity Photographs
|However, still no "magic bullet".
Things get a bit more
interesting when you look at the following two publicity photographs,
especially as the Getty image on the left is dated 1980 and the troopers in
the shot could be RotJ. There's no date for the photo on the right of Vader
and two clearly RotJ troopers (although we were concerned that it could be
part of the 1983 Harrods RotJ exhibition) - but the detailing on the troopers is
uncannily like the ones in the left photo with the right most trooper in
both photos having a raised shoulder bell.
Taking a close look at RotJ Helmets
So digging out some shots of original Return of the Jedi
Stormtroopers, we decided to look at the two different types of helmets that
had been found. The vast majority were the Rounded Frowns (RF) - although in
the UK there were some Square Frowns (SF) in private hands...
|So here is a comparison of a number of different Stormtrooper
helmets all believed to have been used in Return of the Jedi. As you can see
they do vary in appearance quite considerably - although we do need to be
wary of angle, distance from camera, lens etc. which can all affect the image. This has led to questions as
to whether there were two different moulds, and even whether one of those
moulds could have been made for The Empire Strikes Back - resulting in some
"RotJ-style" helmets and armor appearing in the earlier movie.
composition above of nine original RotJ Stormtrooper helmets, the three in
the centre column are the ones we refer to as "Square Frown" (SF)- and the
columns to the left and right are all the more common-place "Rounded Frown"
(RF). Though both "types" of helmets appear to have been manufactured in
a very similar way, the RF's are made out of standard ABS, whereas the SF's
appear to be made out of Haircell ABS - which is texture on the inner
surface. In addition they have been detailed quite differently. The more
common-place RF helmets in the left and right columns) have frowns which are
painted a little thicker, with curved or rounded ends, as their name
suggests. They also have Aluminium Mic Tips, new "RotJ" style decals and
hard-hat liners installed to make them easier to wear - and also two black
lines on their ears.
This differs from the SF helmets (in the centre column above) as they don't
have rounded ends to their frowns which look to have been masked off in a
straight line - much like the ESB Stormtrooper helmets. In addition they don't
have Aluminium mic-tips like the other Jedi helmets but has resin "Hovi Mix"
style mic tips (like the ESB Stormtroopers). They also don't have the
pre-installed hard-hat liners that the the RF helmets have, but instead have
foam (YET again like the ESB Stormtrooper Helmets). Also, instead of two, they
have three black lines on their ears.
Hence, there's a theory (originally put forward by Paul/Trooper Master, who
really does deserve a lot of credit for pushing this issue) is that
some of the Stormtrooper helmets we think are RotJ helmets, could have actually
been made either from ESB, or just following production
Reaching an impasse - Enter Mr Mollo!
Well at this stage we needed assistance from someone involved in the
production of the Empire Strikes Back. So who better to ask than John Mollo -
the Costumer Director for the movie. Mr Mollo has assisted Star Wars
Helmets.com in the past and as ever we're extremely grateful of his help.
||So a couple of phone calls later and Mr Mollo
had kindly agreed to meet us to discuss the costume design for ESB and
specifically the Stormtrooper.
Over the years, John Mollo has proved to be a very reliable source of
information for the movies he worked on since he kept chronological “sketch
book’s” / diaries which detailed all the work he did including names, dates,
art work, “to-do’s” and design workings for his costume work. Leafing
through these books is fascinating since they details much of what was going
on during the production at that time.
So we spent a considerable amount
of time looking at whether any new Stormtroopers were made for The Empire
Strikes Back - and thus try and tie up any potential link with RotJ
style helmets. Although we couldn't find a definitive answer, it is clear
that SOMETHING new was made for the Stormtroopers in order to produce what
was referred to as the "Mark 2 " version - even though from a dates
perspective it was done part-way through filming at Elstree in June
When we look at the costumes used in ESB its clear that many were simply
re-used from ANH - although reworked or reconditioned in some cases. Since
the main Imperial trooper character for ESB was going to be the Snow
Trooper, there wasn't the need to have numerous Stormtroopers running around
the place. By this stage the vac-forming press at Elstree was up and running
so they were able to produce the new Snow Troopers there with little fuss
(and therefore no need to outsource to Andrew Ainsworth as had happened in
Looking at the call sheets, for
the majority of the early scenes set on Cloud City/Bespin (filmed before June
1979), there was only a requirement for seven Stormtroopers. It
appears that they had just about enough helmets and costume parts to rustle
up these seven required sets - but not enough to cover the TEN sets
required for the main Han Carbon Freezing scenes and the Leia/Lando
Bespin corridor escape. However, the scenes requiring ten Stormtroopers were
not due to be filmed until late June/early July hence there was just enough time to vac
form new parts - or even complete sets.
|Looking at John Mollo's notes made at the
time, there is an entry for the morning of 11th June; "Gary Kurtz
complains over Stormtroopers - put Mark 2 into making". So although
many of the Stormtrooper scenes had already been filmed, they still needed
to work on the new "Mark 2
Stormtroopers" either because there weren't enough completed sets - or
the quality of (some of) them was just not good enough for the key Carbon
Freeze scenes - as well as the chase across Bespin, where we can count nine
Stormtroopers in this one frame....
|So the new Mark 2 Stormtroopers were worked on,
according to Mollo's notes: "Cast off an existing model by
plasterers". There's another note in his diary on 19th June saying
that the "prototype" was ready - i.e. well in time
for the Carbon Freezing scenes over the following weeks.
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are
Now we know a lot of things, since John Mollo's diary gives us
details about what was changed on these Mark 2 costumes...
Below a scan from John Mollo's notes......
Helmet - "New liners, chin straps, trim, decals and new
vac-formed green eyes" . However, all but the vac-formed eyes appear on
ALL the ESB Stormtrooper helmets so we cant say they are unique to any
Most of the changes were to assist the wearers, such as “Elastic for the
shoulder pads”, “glue shoulders to arms”, “rivet and bolt
shoulder plates” - although interestingly also includes “Edged (armor)
body with white plastic” – something more commonplace on RotJ armor.
However, as with the helmet, these could all be changes on every set of ESB
armor - not just the Mark 2's.
Below from Mollo's diary and again the same date.......
So what we need to try and understand is whether ENTIRELY NEW Helmets or Armor were
produced, or just new parts to augment some of the existing
sets that were simply not good enough to used on-screen.
If we go back to Mollo's diary there's a budget for the new Stormtroopers
that covers materials and labour.....
So we know that the Plasterers (who make the moulds) were budgeted 7
hours work, with the Vac-formers another 12 hours (including forming and
trimming). In addition we know how much ABS they needed, just 3.5
sheets - although the size of the sheets is not known we do know that the
ABS was £16.50 per sheet back in 1979 according to Mollo's notes. In today's
money that £68 per sheet or over $100 - and I bet you can buy quite a big
sheet of ABS for that!
initial conclusion - for now
Its hard to come to a firm conclusion as much of the information we have at
this point suggests a lot, but doesn't actually deliver the killer blow. Ultimately it
seems we have more questions than answers, such as;
|Did they just vac-form missing or damaged pieces or the complete
|If they did how many did they make, 3, 4 ?|
|Did they make helmets or just armor?|
|Can you recast an entire suit in just 7 hours - or just the helmet?|
|How many helmets or suits could you vac-form and trim in 12 hours?|
We'll update this page as more information becomes available as we
Our current thinking is that there could well have been up to three new
Empire Strikes Back "Mark 2" helmets and (part) armor sets produced
for the Carbon Freeze and Bespin Escape scenes - since there just weren't
enough decent-quality sets left over from A New Hope. Whether any of these
helmets have survived (and their relationship with the Square Frown helmets
above) is not clear at this point. However it is strange how the SF Jedi
helmets have just about ALL the same detailing as the "normal" ESB helmets
including mic tips, decals, frown style and internal padding.
We know that a new plaster mould was made and its possible that
this mould could have been later used for the production of the Return of
the Jedi helmets and armor - although at this stage there isn't enough
evidence yet to decide either way.
Whatever happened, we're pleased that Paul/Trooper Master opened
up this very interesting can of worms!
Thanks again to John Mollo for his invaluable assistance - he's a true
The Smoking Gun! - 31st May 2012
|Recently (2012) there was another
SW exhibition - this time in Montreal. A big thank you to Bigturc and also
mintinbox.net who took lots of photos - and also thanks to Nairod for
bringing this to our attention.......
|So we're pretty sure that the
helmet seen on the left had side of these shots from the Bespin Carbon
Freezing scenes is the same as the helmet seen on the right photographed in
Montreal in 2011. The only nagging doubt is the length of the
frown although that could be angle/lenses etc. Certainly the overall shape
seems to match up as does the angle and marking on the brow trim (see centre
markings and they way it crosses the top corner of the right eye lens). Also
the left mic tip seems very similar and we can also line up some scuffs on
the vocoder too.
|Above and below some great close up
shots from Bigturc of this helmet in Montreal. The key thing were looking at
here is material - this is clearly ABS and not (painted) HDPE - yet also has
a number of differences from the RotJ helmets. In addition we were sent some
interesting shots of six Stormtroopers at Fox HQ in London taken on May 20th
1980 (Empire Day) - with several helmets looking very un-like the ANH style
(unfortunately we're unable to show these) However, given we think we've
actually placed this in ESB in the Carbon Freezing scene then we think we
can be pretty sure now this issue can FINALLY be put to bed. Thanks to
everyone for their help. We got there in the end!
|Basically the Art Department at Elstree made of
cast of the helmet and armour, which has a slightly more "RotJ" look about
it. This the became the basis of the helmets and armour used in Return of
the Jedi - with just this one helmet used in ESB. BTW these great new shots
above and below are from Tom (Big T) from The Prop Den. His photos were taken at an
exhibition in Paris.
look at an original ESB Mk2 Stormtrooper Armour here...