In December, Lucasfilm debuted its latest live-action Star Wars series to Disney+: The Book of Boba Fett, putting a spotlight on the fan-favorite character after his triumphant return to the franchise in the season 2 episode of The Mandalorian, “The Tragedy.”
Fett was originally introduced to the franchise way back in 1978 in the much-lamented Star Wars Holiday Special. Following the success of the original Star Wars, George Lucas and his team at Lucasfilm began work on a sequel, and began as part of that process, wanted to find a way to up the stakes for the film’s heroes: a sort of super stormtrooper.
Lucas explained to The Making of The Empire Strikes Back author J.W. Rinzler that he pulled in some of Darth Vader’s original backstory for the character — a sort of nameless gunslinger — and the idea that the character would have been “part of a force we called supertroopers; they were like these high-tech fighting units and they all looked alike.”
That summer, the team at Lucasfilm prototyped an early version of the character and conducted a screen test. Like the stormtroopers, the character’s armor was a bright white, and includes the features that have made the character stand out: a black, T-visor, segmented armor, a jetpack, and rangefinder that topped the helmet.
The costume didn’t remain that white color for long: according to Joe Johnson, the studio didn’t have the budget for dozens of new costumes for the upcoming film. Lucas instructed Johnson to do something with the character, and the team swapped out the white paint job for something a little more colorful: drab green, with yellow-orange and highlights. In September of 1978, the character joined Darth Vader for a parade in San Anselmo.
The character’s first official appearance in the franchise came a year later in the Holiday Special, with a completely different look to his armor: rather than the drab greens and muted highlights, Fett boasted a completely different color scheme: a blue helmet, gauntlets, and boots, tan chest armor and knee plates, and a white undersuit.
By the time The Empire Strikes Back arrived in theaters in 1980, Fett was back to his original appearance, capturing the imaginations of fans despite only showing up in the film for just a couple of minutes for a handful of lines. The character returned in 1983’s The Return of the Jedi, and when he did so, it’s clear that he made some upgrades along the way: his gauntlets, which were green in Empire Strikes Back, were changed to a deep burgundy, while the left one features a slightly different flame thrower in Return of the Jedi. His backpack goes from an almost uniform green to one that’s blue, burgundy, and dark yellow. His cape no longer features a stripe down the middle, he picked up a new ammunition belt.
His helmet also features some significant changes: where Fett’s helmet is a darker drab green in Empire Strikes Back (and features a line of 14 yellow stripes on the left side of the helmet), in Return of the Jedi, it’s painted a slightly different shade of green (along with the rest of the armor), a set of orange kill stripes (18 of them). It also features an entirely different pattern of weathering.
As we saw in The Mandalorian and more recently, in The Book of Boba Fett, Fett’s time in the Sarlaac pit wasn’t kind to the armor: it still features much of the color, but it’s pitted and battered, with more of the silvery beskar metal showing through. After Fett reacquires it (from Din Djarin, who took it from Cobb Vanth), he gives it a new coat of paint. There’s still a handful of scratches and dings, but it’s a more uniform color, accompanied by a black undersuit that he picked up from his time with a tribe of Tuskens.
Along the way, cosplayers have replicated every version.
In the months after The Empire Strikes Back hit theaters, fans were already flocking to try and rebuild the character. One, David Rhea, cobbled together a version using cardboard and an army helmet. Other builders would soon follow. In the mid-1990s, builder and Replica Props Forum member discovered a passionate fanbase for the character when he started thinking about a build of his own, and ended up spinning off his discussions into a dedicated forum called The Dented Helmet, which remains one of the best resources for other builders.
The 501st Legion set up its own detachment forum, the Bounty Hunters Guild, which serves as a support forum for anyone within the group looking to build any variant of the character. Their members have spent years scrutinizing the costume, and have tracked down many of the original items that were included in the original costume.
It’s through those forums that builders tackled what the 501st Legion calls “one of the most complicated” in the group to make, because of the detail that’s required to bring the character to life. To achieve a screen-accurate look, cosplayers must painstakingly recreate the character’s battered appearance, and track down any number of smaller items that are included on the armor, such as tiny calculator, dental picks, camera lenses, switches and more.
Brian Anderson, a member of the 501st Legion’s New England Garrison, spent years putting together an accurate version of the character, and explained that the costume’s complexity is part of the fun. He outlined the process that he used to get the paint job just right: “you start off by priming your armor parts and painting them silver,” he said. “That becomes the base ‘metal’ surface.”
From there, a builder works on the next layers, painting on the pattern of silver spots using a masking fluid. “You then go through each of the visible colors in the armor and repeat the process,” he said, “mask off the areas where that color should show through, then add the next layer.” From there, you remove the masking fluid, which then reveals the paint that it’s covering. Builders might free-hand the wear and tear after studying photographs of the armor: others might use a template.
For those looking to get into building any of the variants of the character, there’s no shortage of tutorials and build threads floating around the internet to get you started. There’s the aforementioned discussion forums on The Dented Helmet and Bounty Hunters Guild, while various makers have put together video tutorials that go over the armor with a fine-toothed comb, showing you how to tackle everything from making Fett’s accessories (such as his Wookiee braids, his belts, and quite a bit more) to SKS Props’ build of Fett’s blaster as seen in The Book of Boba Fett, to a foam version of Fett’s helmet from Punished Props, to conversions of Hasbro’s off-the-shelf Black Series helmet into something that’s a bit more accurate.
The 501st Legion also maintains a list of approved variants (Empire Strikes Back version, Return of the Jedi hero version, Return of the Jedi special edition), which should serve any aspiring builders with a guide for what they might need to build those versions of the armor.
Those wishing to build a post-Sarlaac version of the armor or the repainted version as seen in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett might need to wait a little longer for an official CRL (and it’s worth noting that while these are good resources, they’re not the end-all-be-all of Boba Fett costuming), but while you do so, you can check in on discussions of the newer versions over on The Dented Helmet.