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History in Objects: Darth Vader’s Helmet

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Finding Balance in the Force – Vader Closed Out the Prequels with a New Look

“History in Objects” is a continuing series exploring Lucasfilm’s legacy stretching from our founding in 1971 to today. Through objects both rare and commonplace, the company’s past, present, and future are brought to life.

Production: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

By the time fans became reacquainted with the intimidating visage of Darth Vader in 2005’s Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, it had been 22 years since they had last beheld the character on screen in a new scene. And in that moment, after all those years, fans may have picked up a very subtle difference in Vader’s appearance, and in his mask and helmet, specifically. While audiences had thoroughly internalized his image in the nearly three decades since his debut, they may never have noticed that his helmeted visage was ever-so-slightly… askew.

Vader’s Revenge of the Sith mask and helmet, which were created exclusively for the production, were the first versions to be perfectly symmetrical. In the three films of the original trilogy, Vader’s mask and helmet were mildly uneven on either side, since they had been hand-sculpted without the aid of computerized tools. As a result, some slight variances can be detected between the halves, although because Vader has become so iconic, it’s hardly noticeable if you’re not looking for it.

To achieve Vader’s symmetrical design, Revenge of the Sith costume props supervisor Ivo Coveney and his team actually recreated half of Vader’s mask and helmet from scratch, staying as true to the original as possible. They then scanned the new sculpture and digitally-flipped the image, so that a mirrored half could be machined and matched to the first half. The resulting mask was perfectly even on both sides, with some slight modifications to the helmet (the sharp “widow’s peak” seen on Vader’s A New Hope helmet was slightly flattened, appearing to more closely resemble the version seen in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi).

Given that this film depicted the creation of Darth Vader, it makes some sense that his helmet would be perfectly formed in its original, primary state. One can only imagine what may have transpired in the years that followed to give Vader his signature, asymmetrical (although darkly appealing) visage seen in A New Hope. As it happens, Vader’s helmet was also re-fabricated for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but that film’s designers chose to keep Vader’s look nearly identical to his appearance in A New Hope (red lenses, asymmetrical mask and all), since its story would be set immediately prior to the events of the 1977 original.

Because of the mask’s balanced look in Revenge of the Sith, it stands apart as probably the most individual of all the appearances Darth Vader would make in Star Wars feature films. Whichever version fans prefer, most will agree, Vader’s mask is the stuff of legend (and nightmares).

Check out the fabrication of Vader’s Revenge of the Sith mask and helmet in this short featurette from 2005:

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