Scruffy-looking Nerfherders

::SPOILER FREE ZONE::

Like many geeks of my age, I have been anxiously awaiting the release of the newest Star Wars film. I have been guardedly optimistic throughout the past year and a half, seeing trailers and hearing casting news, and trying my best to avoid major spoilers. Everything I did see and hear made me think “Hey, maybe this won’t be another Phantom Menace.”

Don’t get me wrong…I saw Phantom Menace in the theatres about five times when it came out. Not because it was that great (although I have to admit, I loved watching a rather young Ewan McGregor jump around in lightsaber battles), but because it was Star Wars…on the big screen! Something new and intended to be exciting.

Lackluster performances from some cast members in that and later films still couldn’t shake me from my love of the franchise. Granted, the prequels weren’t great, but I hadn’t expected to ever get another full-length feature film. And a recent read (and embrace) of a certain fan theory has upped my appreciation for the prequels. (This is head canon for me now, by the way)

As the opening of the newest movie drew closer and the excitement grew, I decided I would attend the screening at Cinema Arts. They are the only theater in the area that was allowing (and even encouraging) people to dress up completely for the screening. Masks were allowed, which meant we could have folks in armor. The area 501st generously lent a few sets of armor for opening night, as well as a couple of stormtrooper helmets for display.

I already had a Jedi costume (which I have not had cause to wear nearly as often as I’d like), but I needed to figure out something for Robert. He’s a good sport and has agreed to wearing a costume from time to time, as long as it’s not something too crazy – an understandable caution, given my propensity for large, ridiculous costumes. He found a couple of files on line for 3D printing Han Solo’s blaster, as well as pieces for the gun belt, so the decision on what he’d go as was pretty well solved for me.

blaster

Robert’s finished blaster, and a small corner of the gun belt

We began the process of putting together the ensemble. Robert handled the prints (naturally, as the printer is his and my interactions with technology tend to go like this) and the construction of the blaster, and I got to work on the “soft elements.” Namely, figuring out the clothing. First, I had to decide which version of Han’s clothing to make. I went with the classic look from A New Hope, as it seemed the easiest to figure out.

Even though it seems like fairly ordinary pieces of clothing, Han’s shirt and vest have a few distinct elements to them to set them apart from other store-bought items. The collar of the shirt, for instance, has a slightly deeper vee than most of the shirts Robert buys, and has what appears to be a Mandarin collar. Staring at the reference pictures, it’s hard to definitely tell whether the fabric is woven or knit. It’s probably knit, but I went with a woven cream fabric that had a little texture to it. This was mainly because all of the cream knit fabric I found was cheap t-shirt material that just wouldn’t do.

I cobbled together a pattern for the shirt, using the top half of a jumpsuit pattern (the same one I used for Heather’s “Barf” costume) and the sleeve from another pattern. The smallest size I had for the jumpsuit pattern was XL, which worked for Robert’s shoulders, but not for the rest of his shirt (Seriously, that man has some surprisingly wide shoulders). I brought in the sides of the panels quite a bit…and it was still not enough. I tried the body of the shirt on him, measured, and then moved the sides in an additional inch. Finally, I had something I could work with. The sleeves, thankfully, were perfect. The collar on the shirt is not perfect, but it’s a lot better than I expected, considering I didn’t really have a great shot of it to work from.

The vest pattern I cut was also gargantuan, despite having cut the extra small (I really don’t know what was up with the patterns I was working from). I pinned the first run together at the shoulders and sides so I could put it on Robert, and then just hacked away at it.

This is, of course, the main problem with sewing for people who are nowhere near your own size. I’m used to the adjustments I have to make when sewing things for myself…I still haven’t quite mastered the alterations I need to make to patterns, when sewing for some other people.

At long last, I had the vest where I wanted it. I went ahead and made changes to the original paper pattern I had drafted, so now I have a copy of a Robert-specific vest I can use later. He has requested some of the other Han Solo shirts and jackets, when I have time, so I figure the pattern will come in handy.

The pockets were pretty easy and straightforward. Three of them have top flaps, but I didn’t want to use velcro or snaps to keep them closed – especially since it doesn’t appear that they have them in the films. So I just stitched the edges of the pocket flaps down about a quarter inch from the top of each, and that seemed to work. You can still get in the pockets, but they stay down nicely.

Mom was nice enough to go out and look for a pair of blue pants we could use for the costume, cutting out some of my prep time. She picked up a pair at Goodwill, down the street, and I began making the necessary adjustments. First, I removed the company label that was stitched on the back pocket. Then, I ironed them a bit, to prepare them for the Corellian blood stripes. I bought a pair of iron-on vinyl stripes from a vendor on Ebay. They’re okay, to some degree, but they do require a good deal of patience, to get them right. And I think my iron was having issues maintaining the right amount of heat, so some of the stripes have started coming off. I think, for the next version of the pants (the blue ones aren’t quite the right color, and are a little too “blousey” around the leg, and I’d like to also make a pair of the brown pants with the 2nd-class yellow Corellian blood stripes) I’ll just make a template and handpaint them down each leg.

With the pants, shirt and vest done, we were almost finished with the whole look. We were just missing the most important component – Han’s blaster and gun belt. Robert had been diligently working away at the blaster: sanding it, filling in small holes with paperclay, sanding again, priming, painting, assembling everything with epoxy and the tiniest bit of hot glue. I had him trace the blaster onto some cardboard, so I could use that to create a pattern for the holster while the paint on the actual holster dried. I pulled out an old pair of pleather pants (don’t judge…I was young once, too, and I’m sure every person my age had a pair at one point or another) and proceeded to cut them apart for pieces.

In case you didn’t know, it’s kind of difficult to sew pleather together on a machine. It likes to stick to the plastic bits. And the metal bits. And your fingers. Of course, part of the problem was probably the age of the material – it was pretty clear that it was starting to break down. Thankfully, I managed to stitch together a holster without too much trouble. The cardboard version of the blaster fit perfectly, and I hoped that the added width of the real thing wouldn’t change the fit.

Figuring out the angle of the rest of the belt pieces was a bit of a challenge. The buckles and the loops all have to sit at just the right angle for everything to look right. I used the original waistband of the pants for the top part of the belt, as I figured it would be easier than measuring and cutting and sewing and double-checking the width of a new piece. The width of the waistband was perfect, anyway, so it worked out.

Then came the challenge of figuring out how to attach the waistband to the buckles and loops. Ordinarily, I would just sew things together. However, Han’s belt requires rivets to hold everything together. I know I have a rivet tool somewhere in the basement – my father did leatherwork for a long time, after all. I’m pretty sure we’ve got tools that no one even knew existed – but I didn’t know where it was, and I didn’t have the time to tear apart everything to look for it. I did know where the rivets themselves were…in a case on the workbench in the laundry room. Robert figured they would be too big for our purposes (the pleather is pretty thin), but I rigged them in a way that they held together. They aren’t going to hold up to a lot of weight and stress being put on them, but they held well enough for that evening.

It took a while to get the belt all measured out and arranged to where we wanted it, but at long last all the rivets were in, pieces were sewn together, and the whole thing looked finished (though it still smelled a great deal like spray paint and was tacky enough that we left a couple of fingerprints in the paint if we pushed too hard).

The boots were the final piece to the costume, and were a little tricky. They’re not perfect – mostly because they’re women’s boots that are a smidge too small for Robert, but he was a good sport and wore them for most of the evening. Before we left for the event, Mom asked if we wanted to take some pictures. It felt like prom, only better…Star Wars Prom! We didn’t take any there, as we needed to get to the theater, but people came up and took photos while they waited. In fact, there was a little girl – probably about six or seven – who came up to take a picture with me three separate times. I asked her if she was excited about the movie (of course she was) and who her favorite character was (Chewbacca) and what color lightsaber she would have (yellow). Hooray for young Jedi!

Watching the movie was emotional. Don’t worry, I promised no spoilers. It was emotional for a number of reasons – among them, the fact I actually felt transported back to my childhood during this movie. None of the prequels ever really did that for me, despite my excitement to see them in the theater. Perhaps it was because I hadn’t seen the Millenium Falcon fly across the big screen for so long. Perhaps it was because, as a child, I had wanted to be one of two things – a Jedi or Indiana Jones – and here I was, watching Star Wars while dressed as a Jedi, and Han Solo (sort of) sitting beside me. Maybe it was the fact that the movie didn’t rely on CGI and instead embraced the use of miniatures and in-camera effects and creature puppets that were actually there, recapturing some of the sense I had gotten from the original films of actually being there. Whatever the reason, for those two hours and sixteen minutes, I was a child again, watching an epic story unfold across an entire galaxy.

I should probably note…this is the first costume I’ve made (not counting this year’s hastily thrown together Deer Hunter for Halloween) in about two and a half years. That’s a fairly long period of time to go without such a major part of my personality. I mean…that’s one of the things that has defined me. I love costumes and props and weird creature heads. In fact, I think my first embrace of them came from watching Star Wars as a kid. I remember watching behind-the-scenes featurettes on HBO, discovering how the Rancor was really a puppet about a foot and a half tall (which, incidentally, helped me not be horrifically scared by it upon repeated viewings). All these years of making dragon heads and spooky Blink angel masks and funny little puppets…it all stems from those childhood experiences a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Life has been stressful and overwhelming of late – for a couple of years now – and I can see how that has impacted my ability to sit down and just make something.

I’m thinking, again, of costumes and props and conventions. It seems The Force Awakens has rekindled something else in me. Perhaps I should write J.J. Abrams a thank you letter.

group shot

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