In recent years, Star Wars cast-and-crew item collecting has taken off in the collecting community. Cast-and-crew items are special collectibles made exclusively for the individuals who created the Star Wars films. They can be widely released to every cast member or an extremely limited piece can be issued to handful of people within a small unit. Crew items are thrilling to collect since they are constantly being discovered and documented, keeping even the seasoned collector on their toes. What was once an esoteric area for collectors has gone mainstream with several active discussion forums and social media groups.
The grail among grails for crew collectors is the Empire Strikes Back snowsuit that was custom-made for the crew. The Empire Strikes Back was filmed in Finse, Norway, a remote town on the railway line between the cities of Oslo and Bergen. Finse was the perfect location for the planet Hoth, as during much of the year it is buried in snow and surrounded by breathtaking mountains and glaciers.
The crew for Empire filmed during heavy blizzard conditions. To prepare all the crew members for the harsh filming conditions, each person was issued a custom snowsuit which consisted of a blue parka with hood, matching pants, boots, two sets of socks, long underwear, mittens, a thin balaclava, a knitted balaclava/cap, and ski goggles. The entire outfit is color coordinated in matching blue.
Although stock items were used for most of the outfit, the knitted cap and parka were Star Wars-themed. The cap has a rectangular Star Wars logo patch along the top just above the visor, and the parka has several unique features. Most notable is the Empire Strikes Back “Vader in flames” patch on the front right pocket. An alternate version of the Vader patch was later sold to members of the Official Star Wars Fan Club after the filming of Empire. The left pocket has a custom nameplate for each member of the crew. Really advanced collectors look for these outfits from major actors and crew members of the Norway shoot. Below the nameplate is a small patch that says “Norwegian Unit.” The left sleeve has the same rectangular Star Wars logo patch found on the knitted cap.
But why is this outfit so popular with collectors? First, it’s extremely challenging to find one. Only a few dozen of these were ever made for the crew during the filming in 1979. Many crew members wore them for years following filming, kept them, or threw them away. There are only a few known to exist in private collections. Second, it’s one of the more elaborate and impressive crew apparel items ever made, since it’s a functional outfit decorated with Star Wars patches. Finally, these suits were prominent in behind the scenes footage from Empire. In fact, so much so that it is almost impossible to find a scene from the Finse, Norway, shoot where someone is not wearing one of these outfits. Although George Lucas did not join the crew in Finse, he was seen in the studio wearing his jacket from shoot. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher also appear in many behind-the-scenes shots from Finse wearing their Norway parkas. Irvin Kershner, the director of The Empire Strikes Back, is seen wearing his suit in just about every behind-the-scenes shot from Finse.
So how do collectors find these items? The few that have surfaced have made it into circulation a number of ways. Some have been put up for auction by the original owners. Collectors have also tracked down members of the crew who saved their outfits and bought directly from them. And a few others have surfaced from prop dealers who made contact with crew members. On the rare occasion you can find one, expect to pay $7,000-$10,000 for a complete outfit, making it substantially more valuable than just about ever other Star Wars cast and crew item. But the tough part is actually finding one…
Gus Lopez is a Star Wars collector based in Seattle who specializes in rare and obscure Star Wars collectibles. Gus created The Star Wars Collectors Archive (theswca.com) in 1994, the first Star Wars collecting website on the Internet.