Star Wars Stormtroopers – The Story Behind The New Design

The look of the Star Wars stormtrooper is one of the most iconic character designs in film history. In fact, the stormtrooper is one of the most recognizable icons in worldwide popular culture. So, if that’s true, why would the developers of the new Star Wars film, Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens, change the look of the classic stormtrooper?

Michael Kaplan is the costume designer for Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens, and as such, he’s the man responsible for the new stormtrooper look. Kaplan’s pedigree is formidable, having worked on dozens of such great films including Blade Runner and Fight Club. Michael has worked with The Force Awakens director, JJ Abrams, on the Star Trek reboot, and its sequel, Star Trek – Into Darkness. In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Kaplan discussed how both Nazis and the Apple computer company influenced his design.

Kaplan talked about how his experience on Blade Runner taught him how to reintroduce and re-use existing designs when creating new ones.

“I learned a lot on Blade Runner, just my love of grit and texture and things being overly aged… I learned from Ridley [Scott – Blade Runner’s director] how great it is to re-use things and make new things out of things that already exist in a way, where you’re kind of not even recognizing the object that you started with. We re-used many things [in Star Wars – The Force Awakens], like taking old military gas masks and tubes and hoses and kind of applying them, which we did on Blade Runner, which I’ve always liked to do when I can.”

However, Michael Kaplan said they didn’t go back and re-use any props from previous Star Wars films, including the stormtrooper suits.

“…the old stormtroopers uniforms would not be usable. Audiences of today have become so sophisticated that a lot of things you could get away with in the past, you can’t anymore. So the new uniforms are much heavier. Also, the action in the film required them to not be ‘VacuFormed’ [like the original stormtrooper suits were] as those all broke and cracked. These new ones are much more heavy-duty, but they are redesigned, too, they’re not the same stormtroopers.”

Kaplan said that the new look of the stormtroopers involved much conversation and thought between himself and JJ Abrams. The idea that 30 years had passed since Return of the Jedi was very much on their mind.

“Everything was a conversation with J.J., of course. He wanted to hold on to the uniqueness and not get too far away from the stormtroopers, keep that iconic look, but still have 30 years of difference. I mean, it would be a little odd to have the same stormtroopers this much later when Leia and Han are so much older.”

When coming up with the new design, Kaplan turned to an interesting source of inspiration: the makers of the iPod, iPad, and iPhone.

“…with the stormtroopers it was more of a simplification, almost like, ‘What would Apple do?’ J.J. wanted them to look like stormtroopers at a glance but also be different enough to kind of wow people and get them excited about the new design.”

It certainly makes sense to change the look of the stormtroopers for the new film. When you think about how soldiers around the globe looked 30 years ago vs today, there are differences, and yet the overall feel of most of the uniforms are primarily the same. That’s essentially the idea behind the new look of the Star Wars stormtrooper.

But what purpose will the stormtroopers play in the new film? After Star Wars Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, the Empire was destroyed. Will the new stormtroopers play good guys as the clonetroopers of Episodes I, II and most of III were? Or will the stormtroopers be a new faction of evil serving some sort of new Sith Lord? Rumors and spoilers abound, of course, but we won’t delve into those here.

What Star Wars fans know for sure is that stormtroopers – or some derivative of them – will be included in the new film as evidenced by the first trailers, and designer Michael Kaplan has made sure that though the stormtroopers are updated, their iconic, original look from 1977 will be very familiar.

[Photos by Ian Walton and Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images]