Force of Fashion focuses on all things wearable in a galaxy far, far away — and right here at home! — with behind-the-scenes studies on some of the most iconic costumes of the saga, and the biggest highlights in Star Wars fashion today.
Every pilot has a story to tell. Over the past few years, we’ve been introduced to an assortment of pilots from the Rebellion, the Empire, and beyond, each with their own story and reasoning for joining the fight. Some people are born into the job: Snap Wexley and Poe Dameron both followed in their mothers’ footsteps to become heroic pilots of the Resistance. Luke Skywalker unknowingly inherited his father’s keen sense for flying, and even went toe-to-toe with the man who was once Anakin Skywalker during his first major space-bound dogfight (oh, and he blew up the first Death Star, too). For others, like Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell from Lost Stars or Greer Sonnel from Bloodline, simply find their calling in the cockpit because it comes naturally to them.
What’s special about these stories is the tradition among Rebel pilots who personalize their helmets. It’s not much of a shock when it happens, and the practice (influenced by real-world members of the military) likely dates back to before the clone troopers were doing the same thing; adding dings, drawings, and etches to their buckets in order to make it their own. Most of the time, the simple dings and v-like markings are meant to document major events and battles, or for the darker-minded, major kills. The large, rounded Rebel helmet provides a large canvas for things like this, and the way those stories play out — whether right in front of us or through stories told by other characters — is all about the helmet itself.
When the Rebel helmet bridged the gap from concept art to full prop, it underwent major changes for the sake of visual performances (the pilots were all supposed to wear breathing masks, but that was removed in favor of actually seeing their faces). While roughly 20 helmets were created for A New Hope, several were re-used for different characters throughout the original trilogy. They were originally based on the design of the US military’s 1960’s-era model APH-6B fighter helmet (with the added flair of mohawk ridges on top, which earned them the nickname “Bone Dome” by designer John Mollo), a design that seemed to reflect throughout the rebellion in the helmets of A-wing fighters, and is even present today in the helmets of Resistance aces like Poe Dameron.
The influence on shape and how strongly the APH-6B’s legacy remains within Star Wars is already impressive, but one quick search for the 1960s fighter helmets will also show that the customized designs adapted by Rebel pilots were often taken straight from the APH-6B models that are catalogued today. For example, Biggs Darklighter’s checkered helmet represents a particularly popular design among 1960s-era pilots. Ultimately, the helmets were crafted as originals by Andrew Ainsworth at Shepperton Design Studios, near London. They were re-used several times, right down to the non-fighter models like Luke’s blaster shield helmet in A New Hope, which was later repainted with a stylized Rebel starbird-esque logo and deep scarlet paint for a female pilot in Return of the Jedi.
Many helmets were re-used and re-painted throughout the course of the original trilogy, but hero characters like Wedge Antilles generally kept the same design for the sake of recognizability. Luke Skywalker’s helmet design remains mostly the same throughout its use (with small alterations taking place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back) but when it comes to Wedge, catching sight of the bold, military green that covers the upper front side of his helmet is an easy identifier. Wedge isn’t the flashy type, and he’s never been, which is part of why his straightforward yet unique designs stands out so heavily.
Wedge’s colleague Grizz Flix, who sacrificed his life during the Battle of Endor, decided to keep it more uniform by creating a familiar grid pattern on his helmet that looked much like the targeting system of your standard X-wing. Some pilots stayed ever the more humble: while he piloted a Y-wing in his final battle, Davish “Pops” Krail (who uttered the iconic words “Stay on target”) wore the same standard Rebel starfighter helmet as his X-wing colleagues. Pops was a “no-nonsense” combat veteran, and didn’t exactly go above and beyond to decorate his helmet, save for the standard Rebel insignias. These logos closely match those on the helmet of Luke’s co-pilot during the Battle of Hoth, newcomer Dak.
What pilots leave behind on their helmets is their mark, and while it won’t always tell the full story, it sure can inspire when it falls into the right hands, like Rey’s in The Force Awakens. While growing up on Jakku, Rey came across (and decided to keep) on Rebel fighter helmet, as documented in The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary. It belonged to Captain Dosmit Ræh of the Tierfon Yellow Aces. The Yellow Aces already live on through pilots like Jess Pava, whose distinct yellow starbird indicates her loyalties. In Rey’s Survival Guide, Rey creates a legacy for the pilot she never knew. “When I was a kid, I liked to make up stories about Captain Ræh,” reads the book, which is written from Rey’s perspective by Jason Fry. “[A]bout who she was and what planet she might have come from.” Rey made a doll in her non-fictional-yet-imaginary friend’s likeness, and dreamed about the adventures that the pilot — who likely met a depressing end during the Battle of Jakku — once lived through. Even though the true story of Dosmit Ræh may never be told, the story she left on her helmet helped Rey cope and raise herself within the brutal deserts of Jakku.
Designer Michael Kaplan continued the tradition with the helmets of The Force Awakens, bringing back the APH-6B influence to highlight the medieval knight-like panel at the top of the helmet. Poe Dameron’s helmet is a well-crafted piece of art with colors that became so quickly iconic, they’re now making their way onto Poe-themed purses and dresses for everyday wear. Snap Wexley, Jess Pava, Ello Asty, and other members of Poe’s squadron share the same shape. These pilots are carving out their stories of heroism and camaraderie in ink, paint, and blood as we progress through the new trilogy.
Legacy has always been an important theme in Star Wars — from parent to child, from mentor to student — and through their design as well as the stories built beneath them, the Rebel fighter helmets are part of their wearer’s legacy. The unfortunate truth of fighting a galactic war is that your chances of survival are bleak, and children aren’t always an option when it comes to carrying on your story. So, in a sense, pilots who decorated their helmets were doing the same thing: saying “I was here, and I fought for the right thing,” the best and most personally uplifting way they know how to: by decorating their helmets. The counter marks for fighters downed and personal emblems are ultimately their way of saying: I made a difference.
Catrina Dennis is a writer and Star Wars die-hard. In her spare time, she tells stories, yells very loudly about soccer, and hosts a few very cool podcasts. Catch up with her on Twitter @ohcatrina.