Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor by Ryder Windham and Adam Bray is a must-read for any Star Wars fan. John Liang takes a look at what makes it special.
If you’ve ever been interested in the iconic, white-armored soldiers of the Galactic Empire, authors Ryder Windham and Adam Bray have just the book for you. The 174-plus-page Stormtroopers: Beyond The Armor delves deep into the production lore of stormtroopers. It describes how the armor were designed for all the movies in which they appear, from A New Hope through The Force Awakens and Rogue One as well as the Clone Troopers of the Prequel Trilogy and cartoon series.
For instance, the book delves into the differences between stormtrooper armor and sandtrooper armor in A New Hope. One would like to think that the two were designed differently on purpose from the get-go, and not that the sandtrooper armor design was rushed to be able to get it on set in Tunisia. The film’s art and costume department had more time to design the stormtrooper armor for the Death Star sequences that were shot in the UK.
As for the stormtrooper voices that you hear in A New Hope, a cool tidbit is that sound engineer extraordinaire Ben Burtt used radio DJs Jerry Walters, Terence McGovern, Morgan Upton, and Scott Beach speaking into walkie-talkies. Authors Windham and Bray point out the dialogue between the two stormtroopers standing guard while Obi Wan Kenobi deactivates the tractor beam as showing that these soldiers weren’t “mindless automatons.”
Pre-production designs of the snowtrooper costume (Amazon/HarperCollins)
Once pre-production on Empire Strikes Back comes along, the costumers came up with the snowtrooper design with its iconic hood that covered the trooper’s neck. The detail about how director Irvin Kershner would frustrate costume designer John Mollo by simplifying Mollo’s design elements to make sure they were kept as visually simple as the costumes in A New Hope was really cool.
And then of course comes a popular favorite stormtrooper design, the biker scout. Windham and Bray describe how Lucasfilm set up an in-house production team for Return of the Jedi to come up with the design. One of the neatest details was how they designed the adjustable visor that could be flipped up away from the face to make it easier and less time-consuming for producer George Lucas and director Richard Marquand to give the actors playing the scouts a direction while the actors still had the helmets on their heads. (The regular stormtrooper helmets weren’t exactly comfy to wear, so the actors would put them on at the last minute, adding time between the direction and “action.”)
One can see the flip-up helmet in use quite often nowadays, especially Ezra’s multicolored helmet in this season of Star Wars Rebels.
Ezra’s biker scout helmet (Disney XD/Lucasfilm)
The book also delves into the “Special Edition” version of the Original Trilogy, specifically the expanded scene in A New Hope featuring the stormtroopers in the Tatooine desert — with one on a new, animated dewback — searching for droids. That scene in the special edition was the first use of previsualization techniques that were later used for the Prequel Trilogy.
Sandtroopers from the Special Edition of A New Hope (Amazon/HarperCollins)
Speaking of dewbacks, there’s a whole section in the book that describes how the desert animal was originally designed in England and then wound up not working properly once it got on set in Tunisia.
Not to worry, prequelists, there’s a whole chapter that delves into clone troopers from both the movies and cartoons.
And yeah, if you liked the new stormtrooper designs in The Force Awakens, there’s plenty of detail in the book to whet your whistle. (Phasma!)
From conceptual art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston to the final costumes worn by actors on set, the book is a treasure trove of details that will delight both casual fans and hard-core 501st Legion members alike (the final chapter is all about the volunteer costuming organization).
It’s not just about the movies, though
The book doesn’t just limit itself to the movies and cartoons, though. Ample attention is paid to stormtroopers featured in novels, comic books, video games as well as the stormtrooper toy merchandise that was produced beginning in the 1970s all the way to the present day with the run-up to The Last Jedi. (It does touch briefly on the two classes of guard/troopers that have already been released as merchandise for TLJ, so proceed with caution in that section of the book.)
Stormtroopers in comics (Photo credit: Amazon/HarperCollins)
Also spread throughout the book are six fold-out pages with additional art, text and photos, as well as an envelope inside the back cover that includes cool things like:
- A copy of the Kenner stormtrooper action figure backer card;
- A copy of a 1979 Star Wars comic strip written by Russ Manning and Steve Gerber;
- A copy of a storyboard from ROTJ depicting biker scouts on Endor being pelted with rocks by Ewoks;
- A copy of the stormtrooper mask that came on the back of the 1984 Kellogg C-3P0’s cereal box; and
- An early concept sketch of a white-armored death trooper with a kilt.
Flip-Out section from Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor (Photo credit: Amazon/HarperCollins)
In sum, Windham and Bray’s Star Wars Stormtroopers: Beyond The Armor is a must-buy for any serious Star Wars fan, whether they came of age during the Original Trilogy, Prequel Trilogy, Clone Wars/Rebels cartoon series or the new trilogy.
It’ll be really cool to see if/how Stormtroopers are portrayed in next year’s Solo movie.
Star Wars Stormtroopers: Beyond The Armor is now available at all major brick-and-mortar and online book retailers.
John Liang is a producer for the Beltway Banthas, a Star Wars and Politics podcast on the Retrozap Podcast Network. He has appeared on panels at Star Wars Celebration and DragonCon related to politics and the military in Star Wars. A journalist since 1994, John has covered the U.S. military for the past 20 years. He saw A New Hope at age eight when it first came out in theaters in 1977, but didn’t become a fan until reading the novelization two years later. He’s been a Star Wars book geek ever since.