The power of the Force, plus a lot of zip ties and duct tape, keep this family’s costumes flying high.
When Lesley McDonald’s sons were seven, they took on Halloween with the heart of a couple rebels preparing to make a trench run on the Death Star.
The twins, Tyler and Brandon, dressed as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, respectively. And while Tyler donned the orange jumpsuit of an X-wing pilot who didn’t need the help of a targeting computer, suiting up his brother as the Dark Lord of the Sith required some special modifications to his wheelchair.
Lesley took great care to mount the massive TIE fighter wings to her son’s transport, a challenge to ensure that the ship wouldn’t break apart once they entered the atmosphere of Halloween revelry walking the streets near their home in Goderich, Ontario, Canada. “It usually involves a lot of zip ties, bungee cords and duct tape,” Lesley says. That first year, she and her husband dressed as a stormtrooper and Princess Leia and joined in the fun.
The build was such a success, Lesley has crafted several other galactic starfighters and freighters in the years since, adding working lights and other details to her more complicated builds, including a Star Destroyer one year and turning Brandon’s wheelchair into the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy another.
Each year is a new challenge. There are no detailed blueprints or ship schematics to translate a ship like the Millennium Falcon into a costume that will fit Brandon’s wheelchair, forged from insulation board and cardboard mounted to his chair. Armed with just a photo or two printed off the internet, Lesley scours her local dollar stores to scavenge the raw materials to bring Tyler’s ideas to life. “I walk up and down the aisles seeing if anything catches my eye that would work,” she says. “The costumes have grown in scope and difficulty because of Tyler. I swear he picks some of the larger ones just to test me to see what I can do!”
The Falcon, the first ship where Lesley added working lights, also remains one of her favorite costumes so far. “It’s always a challenge to mock up something that looks similar and is the right size to not only fit on Brandon's wheelchair but also looks like what people know from the movies,” she says. The lights on the front of her version of the bucket of bolts were simple push-button lights powered by small batteries. For the back, she had to get a little creative. “The lights on the back are actually battery operated string lights, but they only had white, so I took a blue marker and colored them,” she says.
The experience helped her learn some tricks for later when she took on the Empire. “The Star Destroyer also used the same type of lights and I punched holes through the costume and taped the lights to the inside,” she says. “For the jets on the back, they are actually blue squirt bottles with these blue, battery-operated glow sticks I found. The result is pretty epic.”
Some of the costumes have been so cumbersome, Brandon can’t wear them and fit through a standard door. “On Halloween, we actually attach it to his chair in the garage because we can't go through doorways,” Lesley says. But the end result keeps the whole family smiling. “It makes Tyler so happy. Sometimes we are talking about what the plan for Halloween months before. It's become a family tradition.”
The rest of the year, the presence of Star Wars is felt in the McDonald household, where Tyler and his father make a weekend tradition out of screening the films for a sleepover in the family room when Tyler is not hanging out in his bedroom, decorated top-to-bottom in galactic style. “He has actually gotten in trouble at school for playing Star Wars music in the hall when he's leaving for the day,” Lesley says. “He said at the start of this school year that he wants to wear a Star Wars shirt every day and I'm pretty sure he has.”
And this Halloween, Lesley tackled a different kind of Star Wars vehicle for the now 13-year-old Brandon’s costume -- a sandcrawler --venturing off the beaten path once more to turn Brandon's wheelchair into a treaded fortress worthy of the Jawas of Tatooine. Utinni!
The projects still come with their challenges, but each year Lesley learns something new. “The key to every build is a good base. For the last few years I've actually used a lightweight insulation board. I try to keep it as lightweight as possible because Brandon and his chair combined are already around 200 lbs. to push around,” she says. “I use the insulation board and cardboard to build the shape and figure out how it will be mounted to his chair. This is always my least favorite part because this process always seems to take a long time to get right. Once the base is built, that's when the fun starts! If a ship has lights, I will figure out how to make that happen and then I paint.” Lesley tries her best to capture the essential details from the films.
“As the years have gone on, the ships have gotten bigger and that means we clear sidewalks as we travel,” Lesley says. “But everyone is so excited to see it, they don't mind.” The costumes have garnered so much attention, Mark Hamill himself shared a photo of one of the builds on his Twitter page a few years ago. But mostly, it’s a way to bring the family together and keep their neighbors entertained and in the Halloween spirit. “My biggest takeaway from the experience has been how much joy it brings, not only our family but our community.”
The Most Impressive Fans Q&A
What’s your favorite Star Wars memory?
Jeremy: Going to the theater to watch Return of the Jedi with my cousins.
Lesley: Watching the movies on VHS as a child with my brothers.
Tyler: Watching Episode IV, A New Hope, for the first time.
Would you join the Resistance or the First Order?
All: The Resistance!
If you could fly or drive any Star Wars vehicle, what would it be?
Jeremy and Lesley: The Millennium Falcon!
Tyler: An X-wing.
Which Star Wars character would you want as a roommate?
Jeremy: Luke Skywalker because he could teach me the ways of the Force.
Lesley: Princess Leia because she is a strong, fierce woman.
Tyler: Because he can play music and because he's the best droid in the galaxy!
If you could have any job in the Star Wars galaxy -- Jedi, Sith, Death Star janitor, rancor keeper, whatever you want -- what would it be?
Jeremy: A pilot.
Lesley: I would work in a medical bay of some sort.
Tyler: I would want to be a Jedi.
Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them.
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