In Fully Operational Fandom, StarWars.com goes right to the heart of the Star Wars saga — the fans — for insight into their thoughts and experiences surrounding a galaxy far, far away.
The Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) is no stranger to cosplay. Dozens, probably hundreds, of costumed attendees have passed through its halls at conventions over the years, but I’d argue the cosplayers filling the walkways at Star Wars Celebration Orlando with armor and Queen Amidala headdresses are some of the finest examples of costumes the OCCC has seen. I’m biased, obviously, because look at the website you’re browsing, but I’m not wrong. Case in point: a costume that imagines what would happen if a wandering, lucky Jawa found BB-8.
The costume made by Jen Yates of Epbot and her husband John combines two characters into one ensemble and gave them the opportunity to try a new design. They’re not strangers to the world of making; the duo has been designing and building costumes for years, each one more complex and elaborate than the last. This time it was all about the illusion factor.
“I love illusion costumes, so John and I were looking to do a ‘stacked’ cosplay — something with either one character carrying another or a single short character standing on top of something. BB-8 is so small that I immediately wanted to get him up to eye-level, and I’ve also wanted to do a Jawa for a few years now, but always felt too tall. So we put those two together,” Jen says.
In case you wondered, Jen is five-feet-tall. In this costume, the Jawa is about four-feet-tall. This was an ideal way to negotiate her stature.
The stacking of the costume means that, in a way, Jen’s wearing two costumes at once. The rig incorporates the Jawa and BB-8. If you’re looking at the photos and tilting your head trying to figure out what’s where, you can give your neck a break. Jen explains, “In a nutshell: everything is built onto the aluminum frame of a camping backpack, and I see through the crack between BB-8’s head and body. I wear BB-8’s head like a helmet, so for photos I tip my head down to close that crack completely. My body is inside the canvas bag, and the Jawa is in front of me, supported by a PVC arm around my side. I can puppet the head using a rod at the base of the neck, so the Jawa can look side-to-side and also nod to people asking for photos.”
Remember when I said they don’t shy away from complex projects? I think the above description of the rig makes my case, but to present further evidence: aside from the framework, the costume includes fabric elements and a paper mache BB-8. They spent a month putting it all together. The logistics alone were a challenge. “Getting the structure and silhouette right was definitely the hardest part,” Jen says. “John is the visionary of the two of us, so he never doubted, but I needed LOTS of sketches and PhotoShop mock-ups to be convinced the illusion would work.”
With the structure figured out, they had to make it all settle in a comfortable and practical way. That was just as hard as it sounded. Jen says, “After that, getting the rig’s foundation to sit right was pretty tricky. My eye slot is only about an inch high, so if BB-8’s body sat too low or too high by even a few millimeters, I couldn’t see. Then we had to adjust things so I could comfortably move my head and — believe it or not — scratch my nose, because little comfort things like that are monumentally important when you’re spending many hours on the convention floor. Now I have enough room in there to touch my face, scratch an itch, and even drink a bottle of water — though I do need a straw.”
It’s especially good that Jen was comfortable, because while she was in costume at Celebration Orlando, she stopped for a lot of interactions and tons of photos. Jen mentions pausing for pictures “posed an interesting problem (pun intended).” As she explains, the costume looks best when in it’s in motion, but she had to stay stationary for photos. “I tried to find a good balance between standing in one place and moving forward a few steps, just so folks could see how it moved and that there was, in fact, a real person in there,” she says.
When she was stopped by fellow fans, Jen tells me she was most surprised by two things: “One: how much children loved my costume, and wanted to interact with the Jawa. Two: how often adults assumed the entire thing was a robot! I got a real kick out of hearing the crowds try to figure it out. My favorite was when someone would ask John, who was always beside me, to ‘make it move!’ Naturally I would move on cue, just to keep the befuddlement going. It was great fun.”
And sometimes, they really accomplished an illusion. “The other common assumption was that the Jawa was a real person, so I had several awkward ‘high-five’ moments,” she says. “Oops. Still, talk about the best compliment: every person fooled was another mark of success!”
Amy Ratcliffe is a writer obsessed with Star Wars, Disney, and coffee. Follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek.