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Original AT-AT (Imperial Walker) Driver Helmets
 from The Empire Strikes Back

As mentioned elsewhere on this site, when Lucas came to make The Empire Strikes Back in 1978/79 it appears they tried to re-use as many of the ANH costumes that they could, probably with cost-control in mind given he was funding this himself. So the costume makers based the AT-AT Driver straight off the TIE Pilot, switching the colour scheme from Black to Grey

Since the AT-AT Drivers would only be seen in a single scene (with a single mocked-up set doubling as two different Walker cockpit's), they simply took two TIE pilot helmet and armor sets and re-sprayed them grey. After adding a few greeblies like the hangers, tusks and rear-helmet tanks the transformation was complete. Note the "grey" point since there's been a misconception right since people have been looking at this character since it appeared on-screen in 1980 that it was white, when in fact it was light grey. It just looked white under bright studio lights!

Every now and then we get a really great opportunity to see something special at StarWarsHelmets and this is one such example. A couple of years ago we were contacted by the owner of an original AT-AT helmet, and following this were able to and put the following review together of a long-lost piece of Star Wars history. Enjoy!

 See our detailed reviews of this helmet on YouTube... Click here to watch!

..Or just carry on reading below....
 

Original AT-AT Helmet Review

Essentially there were only two scenes involving AT-AT's, both filmed on the same cock-pit set – mocked up to look like two distinct AT-AT cock-pit’s. These helmets can only be seen on-screen for a few seconds, however the AT-AT Driver character has none the less caught the imagination of Star Wars fans as they piloted those wonderful ubertanks across the snowy wastes of Hoth. Though what appeared to be four helmets were used in ESB, we've now been able to confirm that only two were actually made. The two above are in fact the same as the two below - except with red electrical tape added to the rear!

For The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas needed some new Imperial characters to drive the AT-AT’s and John Mollo, the costume designer opted for an amended "white" version of the ANH-used TIE Fighter helmet. I use the word "white" in quotes since the first thing to say about this helmet (and therefore presumably the armour) is that in reality they weren’t white at all - but were in fact painted glossy grey.  When I last met up with John Mollo some while back we discussed the AT-AT helmets but not in great detail hence its something I’d like to pick up with him again.

To be clear we're not talking an off-white, milky-white or white with a hint of grey - these helmets were GREY and photos from the early eighties back this up - this isn't aging paint. As you can see the helmet is in great condition. Turning our attention to the helmet is clear that despite it missing some of its greeblies, its still in really fantastic condition. The grey paint is in a pretty incredible state for paintwork over 30 years old. Unlike the HDPE material most Stormtrooper helmets were made from (which is notorious in its ability to reject paint), the ABS used on these has positively welcomed the new grey spray paint - giving a finish that doesn’t look far different now from what was seen on screen back in 1980.

As an update, its recently emerged  that this helmet is in fact the "Hero" helmet used in the on-set photoshoot seen on all the promotions for the character since 1980 - including all the toy's etc.

We can be sure of this as a number of things clearly match-up including the decal positioning and angles, the overspray on the lenses, paint detailing, trim lines, cog orientation etc.- as well as some of the minor tells like the slight dent over its right eye. Note that helmets will never appear identical in photographs unless the camera distance, focal length, zoom and aperture  are precisely the same which is incredibly difficult to emulate. However, even without this its clear this is the same helmet, just 30 years older!

Turning our attention to the helmet detailing - the cog decals are a higher quality than those used on ANH, and this time obviously in red and printed on better quality backing and have a glossy lustre. Interestingly they have the same asymmetry as the ANH Cogs. The tube stripes look like black electrical tape or possibly automotive/car stripes, trimmed to the required shape on the helmet. You can still just make out the remnant pencil marks where the cut lines have been drawn.

Though spray-painted really well in a glossy grey, the original black ABS underneath can still be seen in some places and of course when looking inside its all Black with just a little grey overspray. From what I could tell the black Mohawk had been spray painted grey and then Black which I found quite amusing. I did something similar a few years ago when I sprayed one white without thinking – and then suddenly remember that it needed to be black and I could have left it as it was in the first place!

When painting they didn’t mask very well - hence the overspray on places like the eye lenses (which are the correct grey double-bubble lenses btw) etc. The inside had a number of other Ainsworth tells including the type of glue used, as well as the yellow maple-leaf foam padding, which was also augmented with a couple of rectangular foam pads, all held in place with copious amounts of gaffer tape.

The helmet still has one of the original grey-hoses – which has one end affixed to one of the rear-tanks, the other side the owner usually loops round to fit into the other side. Not sure if the hose is actually grey or black-hose that’s merely been pained grey. Interestingly there are some remnants of the oval “tracks” in both tear trapezoids, though nowhere near as clear as on the original Stunt Stormtrooper helmets. As a side-issue I note that when comparing to the SDS this detail is not present but let others draw their own conclusions from this.

The rear size hangers are as I always said – the soda-water CO2 chargers and the one’s currently doing the rounds are 100% accurate – bar the obvious gap in the top where the screw-fitting goes. On this helmet the centre detailing/circuit board was missing as was the forehead clock parts and the black tabs that fit above the CO2 chargers.

Interestingly the front metal tusks did not connect directly into the front tube slots – instead there was a separate thick white circular plastic “thing” - possibly a found plumbing part - that pushed the tusks forward. I have a couple of sets of metal tusks for my helmets and although very accurate to the eye – they are just a little too small and are only a single-piece design - whereas the originals have an outer sleeve and separate inner "nib" sections.

The rear pill-box looked just the same as the original TIE's - although in this instance it had been glued shut and despite much prompting did not want to open. However it had the same spring loaded mechanism present on the TIE box and as I’ve always said is probably a record player needle box or possibly a box for storing plectrums.

The rear canisters were screwed, not bolted to the rear of the helmet (cheap and cheerful prop making for ESB) and I’m confident these are just off-the-shelf plumbing parts. My next task is to locate the specific parts used for the original, hopefully including the correct brand. The canisters have Red and Grey electrical tape adorning them, with paint flaking off the tanks revealing the white plastic below.

An indication as to the colour of the helmet can be seen in this photo as I compared it to a work-in-progress replica AT-AT. Notice how the colour of the helmet varies dependant on what its filmed against or next to - as the auto white balance and exposure of modern camera's take over. I can only presume that they decided to go for the grey colour when contemplating shooting a white helmet in a bright cock-pit in front of a snow covered Hoth scene. 

I find it funny how in everyone’s consciousness these helmets have always been bright white – and I’m thinking about the toys here – when in reality they were a totally different colour. The limited amount of information, especially quality on-set photos led to a situation where Kenner must have thought they were white, and no-one at Lucasfilm could suggest otherwise. 

And finally the obligatory "I got to wear a real Star Wars Helmet" shot. Sorry, couldn't resist!

So again, thanks to the owner Dom for allowing StarWarsHelmet.com to review this great piece of movie history. So what are you waiting for AT-AT fans - get you spray can’s out!

We've added a 3D "Rotating" photo set of this helmet - Click Here!
 

 

 

 

 


The "2nd" AT-AT Helmet - A Sad Story!

Only the one picture, but its a good one. Regular contributor CKing's sent me this shot of him in the early 90's wearing the other screen-used AT-AT Driver helmets made for The Empire Strikes Back in 1979. This is a great shot from Chris although on behalf of him I'd like to apologise for the shirt! Note that the helmet appears white as the photo is significantly over exposed due to the flash.

However, the story behind the helmet was quite interesting especially since its original acquisition was quite similar to the TIE Pilot Helmet  we also featured on this site. Unfortunately this story does not have a happy ending!. 

The AT-AT Driver helmet was owed by Jim "Mr Star Wars" Stevenson from Mansfield, Nottingham who had/has one of the largest collections of Star Wars items in the UK. In the early 90's he was approached by a guy called Vic Menay. Vic worked as a transport driver for Lucasfilm during the filming of ESB and Raiders of the Lost Ark. 

Jim bought the helmet and was thrilled with it because it was his first genuine prop from the movie. Several months later, Jim's house was burgled and the helmet was stolen, along with many other rare items of his Star Wars toy collection. Though the toys were found by the Police and returned - the helmet was never found.

Note that its clear that "Jim's" helmet is not the same as the one found just recently, the helmet markings, detailing and decal placements instead indicate its this helmet, which is seen front-on in single shot. The fate of this helmet is unknown with rumours that it was either destroyed by burglars unaware of its importance, or perhaps retro-fitted back to a black TIE fighter. Both are equally as depressing!.  I suppose we should be thankful one survived!

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