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Piercing the Veil: The Imperial Royal Guard Helmet

So it's time for a confession of sorts. I read the novelization of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi BEFORE I saw the movie. I found the book on May 22nd, 1983. I begged my Mom & Dad for it, and I promised that I wouldn't read it before the movie opened.

I read it that night.

The best part of the book was the middle section that consisted of eight pages of fuzzy, over saturated ’80s publication photos, and the coolest picture in there was the very first one. Darth Vader standing next to something red and radical. Some kind of amazing new trooper in red armor and a cloak, which the book described as the Emperor's Royal Guard. I mean, look at those guys. They’re beyond intimidating. I know they’re wearing helmets, but somehow they’re even more expressionless than simple Stormtroopers. Are those pikes? You know, the things people display heads on? Dude.

Royal Guard Helmet

The takeaway from this I suppose is don't trust an obsessed twelve year-old Star Wars fan with no self-control, and I've been fascinated by the red Imperial Royal Guard since before the film even opened.

This is only one reason why working at ANOVOS is amazing. It gives us the ability to investigate, measure, and document these amazing pieces from our past. We do this to preserve these pieces, and to facilitate their recreation, so that we can see and touch and wear something from long ago in a galaxy far, far away.     

So, it really shouldn't be much of a surprise that I'm really excited for us to finally be making the Royal Guard's helmets. These things have been on my personal "Holy Grail" list for a long time now, and the wait is almost over. There's just a tiny problem, we have to totally re-engineer the helmet from the ground up.

What we see in the archive is sometimes not how we necessarily imagined it when seeing them on the movie screen. By now, that should be a familiar trend in our blogs.

So, this first blog will be what we found. By studying these artifacts (I prefer the term “sacred relics”) we begin to understand the story of how they were made back in the day. We should be able to discern the intent from the technology as a function of its time and, if we’re lucky, see if our current technology can either complete or re-tell that story. It’s almost a form of archaeology.

Okay, here’s a few “Did you know?” facts :

  1. This helmet was thermal-formed.
  2. Helmet was assembled in two-halves, and seamed right down the middle.
  3. This thing was fastened directly to the cape.

Thermal-Formed: One thing we were not expecting to discover, was that this helmet had been thermal-formed—the process where a sheet of plastic is heated to a forming temperature, stretched onto a single-surface mold, and forced against the mold by a vacuum. Admittedly, we were guessing it utilized fiberglass construction. So, to pick it up and find it so lightweight was surprising to say the least.

Royal Guard Interior

Seaming: The other weird thing we discovered was its odd construction. As you looked inside the original helmet, there was an unsightly seam of glued thin plastic rectangles right up the  middle of the sculpt starting from the back lip to the front lip. When you then looked at the exterior back, you could see a roughly puttied line which was, in fact, the seam of two halves! As any curious ultra fan of this suit would then exactly was this even fabricated. That’s when it dawned on me, it had to have been a single sculpt that was then cut in half with each half then being vacuum formed. Ockham’s razor, right? Had each half been sculpted or milled separately, you would think that they would have engineered a gluing lip or something.

Royal Guard Interior

Cape Attachment: The last thing that was worth bringing up is how this was made functional. Did you ever notice in the movie, the head never moves independently of the cape and vice versa? Well, we have a definitive answer as we found two hooks that we assume latched onto the fabric ponchos that the guards wore. This couldn’t have been comfortable to say the least.

Royal Guard Interior

Okay folks, that’s it for now and I hope you enjoyed our research notes.

Part 2 will talk about how we discussed and concluded which technique we decided to go with in replicating this classic helmet.


John Cooley April 16, 2019 0 tags (show)