Tag Archives: Star Wars

LAUNCH DAY! More Cosplay Disasters

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Yes! It’s finally launch day for my new e-book, “More Cosplay Disasters”!

In this follow-up volume to “My Cosplay Disasters”, I lay out the method I failed to develop properly to build another four helmets. This time I ruined:

A Captain Rex Clone Trooper Mod

A First Order Stormtrooper Helmet from “The Force Awakens”

Handles the Cyberman Head from Doctor Who

A Deathtrooper helmet from “Rogue One”

Each disaster is neatly laid out (which is more than can be said for my workshop) with accompanying photographs and a detailed account of where I went wrong (often, simply starting the project.)

There are many authors and makers out there who are keen to tell you how to do things right, but I’m pretty much the only person showing you how I do things wrong, thus proving that YOU could do a better job than me if you put your mind to it. Also, that I should have a different hobby.

The e-book is available exclusively on Amazon:

In the US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XCF665N

In the UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XCF665N

In Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B06XCF665N

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And anyone else, check your local Amazon variant!

After two months…

I finally got to put up the Star Wars Day display at the library.

It was fun to get everything together and write out some information cards for each helmet, trying to find links to specific books, as well as pointing out how Star Wars contributes to drawing new children into reading each year.

 

I was also proud to receive a card from the Commanding Officer of the local 501st Garrison, the Outer Rim Garrison. He left his card, so I’m hoping to catch up with him in the next week before the display comes down.

 

What are YOU doing for Star Wars Day?

Life isn’t binary (or “Why I’ll probably like Star Wars Episode VII AND Star Trek 3”)

Binary Code. Thanks to WikiCommons.

Binary Code. Thanks to WikiCommons.

Since the late 80’s there’s been a vogue for things to be digital. Starting with watches and spreading throughout our lives; we watch digital tv, listen to digital music players, even make the tea with digital kettles.

But digital is a binary thing. On or off. Ones or zeroes. Life isn’t binary, but we like to pretend it is. If you don’t believe me, argue with a US Republican on the internet. They will reason as follows:

“Argument ≠ Republican THEREFORE : Liberal (insert insult)”

(This is, of course, a gross generalisation, and I apologise to the Republicans I have had reasonable discussions with. You both know who you are.)

There’s no degree of political engagement considered, it’s a digital, binary state of on/off, yes/no. And it’s not just politics either. This binary attitude crops up in the important things too.

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TREK OR WARS?

and within these there are binary choices too:

Star Trek                                                                             Star  Wars

Did you like the reboot?                                            Did you like the prequels?

Often we use this binary reasoning to find our tribe, clonking down the branches of a flow diagram where each path has only yes/no choices until we find ourselves at a point where there are no more questions to ask, and we know the people around us are sane, clear thinkers, because they agree with us on everything.

But lately I’ve been noticing the analogue side of life more and more. As the Weasels shuffled themselves into tribes (Whovian, Sherlockian and Merlinian), I felt bad that they felt there were areas they couldn’t go, fandoms that were closed to them because of their choices.

In an analogue world, you can just like something. Not a Facebook “like”, but a faint “It’s ok” with no more commitment than that. Not a ringing endorsement, not a lifelong commitment, not something that will trigger dozens of adverts for similar things… Just an admission that you think it’s ok.

I’m a Star Wars fan, but I like Star Trek. I like Voyager more than Deep Space Nine, but I also like the reboot movies. AND the original series. Come to that, I also like the prequel Star Wars movies, though yes, I can see where they are flawed. From a certain point of view. I didn’t like all the novels and comics, though, and I don’t think I have to.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy Episode 7, The Force Awakens, and I don’t think that’s a betrayal of anything, any more than it’s disloyal to go watch Star Trek 3 and like it.

Life shouldn’t be about binary choices, where the things you like automatically define things you DON’T like. We should be willing to stand up and be counted, yes, but there will be times when we’re not that fussed about standing up, and may just raise a hand. We just like it, that’s all.

A Perfectly Useless Hobby : Part 2

The Shakespearean Vader Helmet: Another insane project begun.

The Shakespearean Vader Helmet: Another insane project begun.

It’s nearly the first weekend in April, and that can only mean that FanExpo Vancouver is just around the corner. After last year’s triumph with costumes for the weasels, I was determined not to be left out this year. But the Mando Armour had defeated me. Too many attempts to rebuild had left me dispirited and I abandoned it, leaving the helmet on the shelf with my other projects.

WP_20140829_004Unfortunately for my sanity and the well-being of the family, I had a new bright idea. For my birthday, I received a copy of Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean Star Wars.

Worse still, only a day or two later I was wandering through Value Village when I found a Darth Vader Voice-changer helmet, on sale for only $6. Clearly, this was a sign. I must make a Shakespearean Darth Vader costume!

Adapting the helmet was stage one, and something I could do in short bursts. This was, after all, only September, and there were many months before Fan Expo. The rest of the costume would be easy to put together in the months to come.

I took the basic helmet and added extra flanges at the end. Just so I could use the word "flanges".

I took the basic helmet and added extra flanges at the end. Just so I could use the word “flanges”.

WP_20140907_006 WP_20140918_002Years ago, my Dad had a tool that could measure a curve. It was a brilliant thing, but I don’t have one, so I used estimation and an iterative construction and redesign method to create the crest. Mrs Dim says this is actually “Bodging it with trial and error.” She may have a point.

WP_20141001_005Once I’d added the crest, I smoothed over the joins and sprayed it with gloss paint. I also sprayed the helmet itself with an artist’s acrylic gloss to make it shine like the movie helmet does – the plastic used for the kids’ helmet is actually too matte.

WP_20141006_002It took a while to find the gold filligree for the decoration. Amazingly, there aren’t many options for self-adhesive gold decoration. I tried all the obvious places, but eventually found something that would do at Michael’s, the craft store. It comes on a roll like selotape, but since the design winds around on itself, it’s much harder to remove from the backing. There was much cursing as I patiently applied each piece, then went back and stuck it back down again a few minutes later. And again a few minutes after that. Then I spent several days finding more bits of gold glitter everywhere.

So that was the easy bit. And there’s a pretty good argument that says I should have stopped there. After all, I had a Mando Helmet, a Scout Trooper Helmet, two Clone Trooper helmets, and a Hiccup Helmet from “How to Train Your Dragon 2”

Weeks of work, snatched five minutes at a time, resulted in this replica. Not for Halloween, or Fan Expo, just...because.

Weeks of work, snatched five minutes at a time, resulted in this replica. Not for Halloween, or Fan Expo, just…because.

Maybe I should have just said “Helmets are my thing.” They’re easy to display, fun to make and everyone can try them on with no real effort.

But I was ambitious, and more than a little jealous of the fun the Weasels had at Fan Expo last year. This Vader costume would be a big hit. And besides, I only really needed a breastplate and a decent cloak. Plus, look, I had a miniature Vader head already, if I sprayed it silver and mounted it on the hilt of my SFX Vader lightsabre….

Yes, I already had the lightsabre why do you ask? Don't YOU have a lightsabre at home?

Yes, I already had the lightsabre, why do you ask? Don’t YOU have a lightsabre at home?

So fine, I would make the whole suit. I obtained a pair of simulated leather leggings. I already had suitable boots from my Mandalorian outfit. With a black undershirt already in my wardrobe, all I needed was the breastplate and cloak.

I went to work on the breastplate.

The majority of the plate is a foam tile designed for flooring. I shaped it a little to bulge impressively over the manly chest I haven't got, and topped it off with some halloween costume armour for the neck and shoulders.

The majority of the plate is a foam tile designed for flooring. I shaped it a little to bulge impressively over the manly chest I haven’t got, and topped it off with some halloween costume armour for the neck and shoulders.

I checked back with the original illustration….

I needed more gold decoration. The chains were easy enough to come by, at Michael's again.

I needed more gold decoration. The chains were easy enough to come by, at Michael’s again.

I haven't added the chains yet.

I haven’t added the chains yet.

Since the breastplate cuts off at waist height, I checked out the original Vader costume at ILM in San Francisco. The illustrations in Doescher’s book are a little light on the full-length shots, but here’s what the original Vader looks like from the waist down…

Clearly, this was something else I would have to reproduce....

Clearly, this was something else I would have to reproduce….

Adding that extra detail turned out to be a good idea, since it gave me a belt I could use to hang a scabbard from, allowing me to carry the lightsabre without having to …er…carry it.

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I’m guessing you’re waiting for the photo of me wearing the whole rig and posing impressively. Well, there isn’t one of those right now. There’s still work to be done – I have the material for the cloak, but haven’t converted it from curtain to cloak yet. What there was, this afternoon, was some fairly intense discussion on whether this was a useful hobby, because every time I come away from working on the latest project I am frustrated and angry. Mrs Dim points out that hobbies are supposed to be satisfying, or relaxing. She points to her gardening, which is incredibly restorative and has the bonus of producing actual food. Why do I pursue an activity that doesn’t even make me happy when I’m done?

The honest answer was that I don’t know. This is something I want to do. More than that, it’s something I want to be good at. As long as I can remember, I have been fumble-fingered, which sounds daft coming from a juggler. But I couldn’t build models. My woodwork made my CDT teacher shake his head sadly. My DIY is done on the “Measure twice, cut once, buy more, get someone else to measure…” method. Practical crafts are not my thing.

But I have always been fascinated by the behind the scenes footage of the guys building the models of the Star Wars spaceships or the miniature scenes from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. I see the people of Weta Workshops building real Elf and Orc armour and weapons and I long to have a go at that. I tell myself it’s lack of time, or lack of proper materials, or tools, that someday I will be GOOD at this. Maybe that’s true, or maybe I’ll be hopeless at it forever, no matter how much filler I use, or whether I ever get my 3d printer and vacuum former. On the other hand…. I wanted to build a Mandalorian helmet, and I did. I wanted to build a Scout Trooper Helmet, and I did. I wanted to build a Hiccup Helmet, and I did. Now I’m building a Shakespearean Vader suit. They may not be the best, they may not be perfect, but they are real, and here, and they are here because I made them. It’s probably time I took some satisfaction in that achievement, instead of just hoping it’ll be better next time.

See you at Fan Expo Vancouver.

A week in reading

Sometimes reading feels like famine or feast. I go through periods of brilliant books, then can’t find a damn thing to read anywhere (and when you consider that I work in a library…)

This last week has been a feast period. I started with two fun Star Wars books, downloaded a gripping audio book and found a bargain e-book written by a friend. So let’s start with that one.

Jane Turley is an English writer who I have come to know through G+. She’s cheerful and friendly and encouraging, and has often mentioned that she’s been working on her novel. That novel is “The Changing Room“, and she posted it online this last week. I downloaded a copy, keen to see what she’d produced, expecting – hoping – to enjoy it.

What I didn’t expect was to be totally swept away by it. The book is written from the point of view of Sandy, a wife and mum who is a great salesperson. She doesn’t love her job at the furniture store, but she likes people, and her work helps support her husband’s building company in the tough times of recession. During the course of the novel, Sandy moves from her sales job at the store to a more flexible one working from home, then finds a surprising extra source of income when a friend reveals she runs a sex chat phone service.

Throughout all this Sandy is caring for her mother, who is sliding deeper and deeper into Alzheimer’s. Sandy wants to put off taking her mother into care, but it has to happen eventually, for her own safety as much as for Sandy’s sanity.

I won’t detail everything that happens in the book, but suffice to say, I read it in two sittings. Sandy’s life is busy, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s unexpected and familiar at the same time. More than anything, this book feels REAL. I have no hesitation in recommending this book.

The two Star Wars books I read this week were “Allegiance” and “Choices of One” by Timothy Zahn. Both these books are now available under the “Star Wars – Legends” banner, since Disney decided all books produced after “Return of the Jedi” were non-canon. HERESY! Ahem.

I thought I had read both these books before, but I was delighted to discover that I had made a silly mistake. “Allegiance” is the first of the two, and I had only read the second book. When I picked up “Allegiance” last time, I read the blurb and thought it sounded familiar, so I assumed I’d read it. Here’s why:

The first book deals with Mara Jade, the Emperor’s Hand. She’s got a mission to fulfill. A group of stormtroopers, disgusted with some Xeno-cleansing they have been ordered to take part in, accidentally kill a political officer and go on the run, fortuitously stealing a fully-equipped and disguised ship. They elect to continue as rogue stormtroopers, serving their image of the Empire, as a just bastion of stability and order. Meanwhile, three very familiar rebels are also on a mission – Han, Luke and Leia (and Chewie!) – that takes them into the same area of space.

What follows is a clever dance. Zahn introduced the character of Mara Jade in the first post ROTJ book “Heir to the Empire” and showed us then that she had not met Luke Skywalker previously, though she knew of him and hated him for killing the Emperor. By writing these prequels, Zahn risked contradicting his own work, so he has managed to manipulate the characters and events so that the stormtroopers work with both rebels and Jade, but those two groups never communicate directly with one another.

It’s not world-changing stuff, and it’s really most fun if you’re a fan of Zahn’s previous work and want to see Mara in her prime and Luke as a know-nothing proto-jedi. Read them in order, and be surprised at how you can come to admire a group of stormtroopers.

The audio book I’ve been enjoying this week is “The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith (Or JK Rowling, as he’s also known….). Mrs Dim and I both enjoyed “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, finding it mildly less grim than “The Casual Vacancy”, and “The Silkworm” is in much the same vein. Of course, since solving the high-profile Lula Landry murder, Cormoran Strike and Robin are on a much better financial footing, and Cormoran himself has finally found a new place to live, so he’s not sleeping in the office any more.

The book is slower to start, lingering more on the details of Robin and Strike’s lives, but I was perfectly happy with that. Rowling didn’t go into a great deal of detail on her principal characters in the first book, and I was interested in how things had gone for them in the intervening time. There’s still plenty to be told – mention is made several times during the book of the traumatic events that made Robin drop out of her course at university, but unless I missed something, we never found out exactly what it was. Her fiance does express surprise that she wants to become an investigator herself “after what happened”, so there’s a clue there, maybe…

I found myself making excuses to plug my headphones in so I could listen to the story, and inevitably got cross with myself after finishing it. What am I going to listen to now? I enjoyed it so much, i found it hard to understand the negative reviews it garnered on Amazon. Not many, certainly, but I think most were still looking for another Harry Potter book.

A perfectly useless hobby.

What are you supposed to do as a hobby when your real job is something other people do as a hobby?

When I was a kid, one of the things I wanted to do was work in the movies. Specifically, I wanted to work in Special Effects. Back in those days, that meant modelmaking, creating real props, and, occasionally, blowing stuff up.

When I was eighteen, I actually had the chance to visit a real effects workshop, and saw some of the machinery they had. They even owned their own fire engine to produce rainstorms when the weather wasn’t co-operating with filming schedules. More sobering was the owner’s right hand, missing two fingers after an effect went disastrously wrong.

But I didn’t get into the movie biz, and modelmaking does not suit my short attention span. Every model I make ends up looking like it was hit by anti-aircraft fire, even when they’re sailing ships.

Costume on stand

But the Cosplay bug bit a few years ago, once we had settled down into a house where I had a workshop to call my own. I made my Mandalorian helmet, using trial and error and error and error. Once I’d stopped working on that (not once I’d got it right…I’m fairly realistic about my efforts here) I decided to tackle the Scout Trooper Helmet.

I don’t know why I coveted this particular helmet. It’s probably because “Return of the Jedi” was the first Star Wars film I saw at the cinema, and the Speeder Bike chase scene was burned onto my brain ever since.

Remembering the frequent disappointments with the Mando helmet, I swore that this time I would take things slow. Not rush stages and spoil things.

I found an old ski helmet at a sports sale and decided to use it as the base for the helmet. Then I decided the two other main materials were going to be the foam flooring tiles available in stores everywhere ($11.99 for four) and lots and lots of filler. Filler can be bought in big tubs, it’s almost stiff enough to mould and hold a shape, and you can sand it smooth. If you have patience.

I cut a disc out of a flat piece of floor tile and settled it on the helmet, then replaced the disc to make the raised section on top. The side pieces are held in place by a foam insert (white). Filler round the top attempts to smooth things over.

I cut a disc out of a flat piece of floor tile and settled it on the helmet, then replaced the disc to make the raised section on top. The side pieces are held in place by a foam insert (white). Filler round the top attempts to smooth things over.

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I used some pipe insulation to make the raised section that goes from ear to ear around the back. This is the first place where careful measurement and symmetry comparisons would have been good.

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The “jigsaw” lines are the result of using the straight edge of the floor tile, then filling the gaps in the jigsaw edge with glue. Amateur mistake. The glue resists sanding, either sticking to the sander, or melting and flinging glue everywhere.

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As usual with projects like this, I can’t help spraying on some paint in the hopes it will start to look really good. It never does.

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Heavy application of filler begins to cover over the glue jigsaw disaster. I start to use the filler to flare out the “ear” portions. Again, I did this without carefully checking the various reference photos I have of the real helmet.

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I removed the foam inserts and immediately saw that I hadn’t got the front cut straight, or attached evenly. I SHOULD have taken it apart then and there. Instead I decided to try and press on and fix it as I went.

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I was quite proud of this front piece. After so long staring at the cowling, it was nice to see the face of the trooper helmet emerge. I cut the visor hole freehand, and did not use any measure referents. It is not even. I did have scalpel blades to cut the foam tile, but no scalpel to hold them in. This is not an optimal situation.

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Adding more filler helped the shape of the face plate, and emptied the filler tub. Please don’t imagine this is taking place in one or two extended sessions. Each advance takes place over five or ten minutes grabbed here and there amongst other adventures. On the plus side, this means the filler dries before I attempt to ruin the next bit.

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The faceplate is way too long, so I need to cut it down. Plus it doesn’t go all the way around to the back, so I have a piece to put in. I added the purple piece because it’s raised detail on the actual helmet, and I felt putting in a piece of thin foam would be easier than sculpting it in filler.

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This shows the gap at the back that needed sorting out.

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With the faceplate cut down, the helmet sits at a more pleasing angle.

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More filler and some determined sanding starts to get the right surface finish. I also cut and reshaped the corners of the cowl. It’s too high, but it’s the right shape.

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The reshaping has left one side looking oddly angled. Naturally, I tried adding paint to see if it helped. You can see how well that worked.

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Shaping the snout was moderately successful, and actually, adding more paint makes the whole thing look more of a piece. The contour lines running out from the snout are wrong though, and in remodelling I’ll get them wrong in a different way.

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When I found the visor material (an old school binder cover) I couldn’t resist sticking it in temporarily and trying it on. It’s hard to see through, steams up, and is impossible to take selfies in, because you can’t see what you’re doing.

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More sanding has improved the surface, but left the thing looking like it barely survived a fire.

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This shot shows how badly asymmetrical the faceplate is. A devoted cosplayer would either start afresh, or tear the helmet down a few stages. I tried adding more paint.

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Oh yes, that’s much…er…shinier.

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In the real helmet, that cut down the side is where the faceplate lifts up so you can put it on. That doesn’t happen with this one, but it still has to be there.

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Shots like this make it look pretty good. Mostly because they don’t include the reference photographs showing where I was going wrong.

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The surface of the snout wasn’t smooth enough, so I decided to add another piece of the thin craft foam. This picture is just checking the fit – I sprayed it black before gluing it in.

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Real dedication would have been continuing to sand and paint and sand and paint. But I lost all patience and glued the visor in instead. Now I couldn’t spray anymore, unless I went to the trouble of covering the visor. And you know how likely that is.

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Couldn’t resist trying it on. Vaguely reminded of Snoopy.

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With all work on surfacing pretty much abandoned, it was time to add on the little details. Measuring for pinpoint accuracy and comparisons with photo referents were just two things I didn’t do….

I added the "Enhanced comlink" piece to the bottom of the snout.

I added the “Enhanced comlink” piece to the bottom of the snout.

Now I needed the extra pieces to complete the snout. Here, measuring would be vital to get them looking exactly right.

Now I needed the extra pieces to complete the snout. Here, measuring would be vital to get them looking exactly right.

But unfortunately, I didn't do any.

But unfortunately, I didn’t do any.

WP_003656This whole project took around six months. Along the way, Mrs Dim reminded me that I’m not very good at this sort of thing, and I had a serious think about WHY I still do it. I can see the flaws in what I’ve made, even while I’m making it, but making it is something I enjoy doing. I don’t mind that I never get whole days to work on it. Probably wouldn’t enjoy it if I did. I know this is nothing like the 501st produce, but that’s ok too, because I don’t think I’m really doing this for the Cosplay aspect. It’s just something I do for me, something that isn’t writing, or cleaning, or cooking, or parenting. It may be less practical than knitting, less aesthetically pleasing than painting, but it’s my hobby.

Any suggestions for my next project? I quite fancy taking on a Clone Trooper helmet…..

Dear Disney: An open letter about the Boba Fett movie

DSCN7100Dear Disney (or at least, the parts of Disney under the Lucasfilm banner),

I read on the internet this week that there is some trouble over the proposed Boba Fett movie. Problems with a satisfactory script, say the rumours. Well, it’s the internet isn’t it? Who can believe what they read there?

But in this case, I think I can see there would be an issue.

My friend on G+, Eoghann Irving, says the problem is that Boba Fett is an over-rated character – two dimensional and actually uninteresting. It’s certainly true that he doesn’t get to do very much in the films that actually feature him : “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”. In the first he is merely persistent, tracking Han and Leia to Cloud City and taking possession of Han’s frozen body for delivery. No action at all. He does get to fight and fly in “Return of the Jedi”, but he’s not very impressive there, using a cord-projector to try and trap Luke Skywalker, who has no trouble cutting the cord with his lightsabre, then getting knocked off the skiff and into the Sarlacc pit by Han Solo even though Han’s still blind.

Despite this lack of brilliance, Boba is beloved of fans, and even before the prequels gave us Jango Fett showing a more combat-savvy Mandalorian fighting style, there were legions of Boba wannabes building their own dented helmets and jet packs.

Mandalorian

I suspect the problem you’re having with the movie is that you want Boba to be the hero. You want him wisecracking, and fighting for good. And you want him winning some fair maiden’s hand. And taking his damn helmet off, too.*

The fundamental dichotomy here is that you have a niche character, and you want to make him appeal to a huge demographic so they will all pay lots of money to see his movie. But that’s not going to work. Boba achieved iconic status DESPITE his lack of action, and the fact he only speaks a handful of lines in the trilogy. (I would bet that kid-Boba has more lines in “Attack of the Clones” than his elder counterpart has in the two movies that feature him…) To make a good Boba Fett movie, you have to have him BE Boba Fett, not Indiana Jones in a dented helmet and jetpack.

My appeal to you, Disney (and I know it’s no more likely to succeed than my letters to Microsoft or the UK Revenue) is to let Boba do what Boba does best. Send him off on a hunt for a bounty. Stop thinking he’s a hero, and start thinking ANTI-hero. Hell, why not model him on Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Western character, the Man with No Name? I can see Boba playing two sides off one another in a war so that the way is clear for him to collect a whole bunch of bounties.

The point is, you’re not going to end up with a movie that you can use to sell plastic toys to seven year olds. I mean, sure, you can make the toys and sell ’em, but the movie should not cater to kids that age. It should cater to kids like me, who are forty odd years old, and have loved Star Wars since our first visit to that galaxy far, far away. Boba’s a bounty hunter, just a working stiff trying to make his way in the galaxy. We don’t want to know more about his motivations and his back story – we want to see him in action, shake off that “Vader’s lapdog” image and be the badass we all hope he really is.

If you want a better idea of Mandalorian culture, go read Karen Traviss’ books. She took those brief hints from the movies and created a warrior race to be proud of, complete with language and traditions. You could do a lot worse than use her ideas in your movie. A lot worse.

Boba Fett: A Practical Man: Star Wars (Short Story)

Please, whatever you decide to do, don’t go with “worse”.

 

May the Force be With You.

 

 

*It’s like this : I’m a Judge Dredd fan, and I saw what Stallone did to that character. Karl Urban did a stand-up job, but seriously, Sly, what the hell? Did you even READ the source material?

And yes, I am writing a screenplay for a Boba Fett movie. Why, do you know someone who might be interested?