Rhys Troake caught up with Andrew Ainsworth to find why he thinks now is the right time to start the Stormtrooper licensing programme.
Since first appearing in the opening sequence of Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977, the Stormtrooper has arguably become one of the most iconic figures to come out of the saga.
Many may think the Stomtrooper was born from the imagination of George Lucas, but it was industrial designer Andrew Ainsworth who came up with the original design of the Imperial soldiers' armour.
Now, almost four decades after the film's first release, Ainsworth has launched a licensing programme inspired by the iconic Stormtrooper.
So, how did Ainsworth first get involved with Lucas to become such an important part of the films production?
“Well a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I was an industrial designer straight out of art school,” begins Ainsworth. “I was in Twickenham building my business making products from modern plastics for Habitat and other people like that. This was the early ‘70s when plastic was a new material for making things.
“I had a neighbour, Nick Pemberton, who was a scenic artist, hand painting backdrops for plays and films. George Lucas contacted Nick in search for an outside contractor to make helmets and characters for him, as he didn’t have a lot of money for it all and I don’t think the studios at Elstree had the knowledge to make things other than from plaster.
“So my Nick said he knew a man who could do that and that man was me. So the job was passed over me.
“I knocked up a sample of the Stormtrooper helmets in a couple of days and took it to Lucas and he said ‘that’s fantastic! Give me 50 of them’.
“I made the 50 he asked for and then the phone would not stop ringing from the studios. ‘Can you make this? Can you make that? Can you make the armour?’ I ended up making around 200 characters for the first film. Everything they asked for on the phone I made and they never complained.
“Half the reason they didn’t complain was because I didn’t do it under a contract. It was just a punt for me. Nobody ever paid me for generating the Stormtrooper and I never charged anybody. I just sold helmets to Lucas for £20 each.”
With the Stormtrooper’s helmet being the element most people instantly recognise, how did Ainsworth come up with the original design and mould.
“Lucas gave Nick a tiny sketch of his idea of it – it was a nice little painting actually – and that’s all we had,” continues Ainsworth. “I managed to get near enough to the image and Lucas said it was fine. Everything he gave me he would say was fine and just use it.
“He was a very practical man and had a big problem getting the film together, getting the money for it and the whole production working.
“He employed a man called John Mollo, who was an experienced man in creating military uniforms for films like Zulu. He was very easy to talk to and would easily describe to me what Lucas wanted over a phone call and I would understand what he wanted. We spoke the same language and things came together.
“Mollo rang me one day and said ‘I need three white ones and two black ones’, i.e. three goodies and two baddies. They didn’t have names, they weren’t written into any films and he said ‘make one look like a samurai and one with a protruding jaw’. So I knocked something up and named one ‘The Samurai’, another the ‘Cheese Grater’, because it had a lot of holes in it and the last the ‘Jawbone’.
“I invoiced Lucas saying I had a Cheese Grater and a Jawbone, that’s how we got things done in those days. It just shows the intuit and vibrancy of how the film was made and that carried on through the films and why it was such a success, because it was from the soul.”
As the saga and production of the films changed with the most recent releases, so did the Stormtrooper. But it is the original armour that stood the test of time and still remains popular. Why is this?
“We didn’t really use computers back when I first created the Stormtrooper so it was all from imagination,” states Ainsworth. “Its appearance was meant to be as though it was a being from another planet with a toxic atmosphere.
“The idea was that it wasn’t a man, that it had grown that way, like an armadillo growing into its armour. You couldn’t see any fixings or a head inside, I took the human element out of the being. That was my interpretation of what the future human may look like.
“Because the costume wasn’t designed by a computer and digitally influenced, it was completely inaccurate and wobbly. But that was the future for me.
“I wasn’t involved in the later films. Lucas used my Stroomtroopers in the first three films, but the computerisation of film making kicked in and the saga became more computer-generated.
“I think that’s the point when a lot of fans lost interest in the soul of the Stormtrooper. I think the earlier ones were the only Stormtroopers to have a link to humanity.”
After all these years since he produced the first Stormtrooper, why was now the time to begin the licensing programme?
“About five years ago the public asked for Stormtroopers. By chance we sold a couple of helmets that I had lying about and they fetched more money than we could have imagined.
“After that the phone would not stop ringing from people who wanted to get into business.
“By then, 30 years had gone by and I had nothing to do with the film, its licensing or merchandise and people found me, the source, and asked for reproductions to be made.
“We had kept the original models and moulds, everything we had was original. So I had made 56 for the films and then number 57 for a man who wanted one and it went on from there.
“Lucas had his empire in America and had forgotten where the original stuff had come from, they were under the impression they did it all themselves. But we kept all the records and it took us nine years to prove through the UK courts they didn’t.
“So now we have the rights to make a licensing business. We want to emphasise the originality and the soul of the Stormtrooper. We don’t just want any old copy from an image; we are where the original design comes from so we will focus on the quality and originality of the thing. Lucas made the films, that’s his, we just want to be ourselves.”
On behalf of Ainsworth, Licensing agency Golden Goose has signed several deals with the likes of Trademark Products and Thumbs UP UK to create products inspired by the original Stormtrooper design.
“We have extended into a few product categories,” begins Adam Bass of Golden Goose. “We are looking into a few niche, independent products which aim to be separate from the Disney franchise.
“We are working with a company called Thumbs Up who is in consumer electronics and we are going to create a life-size replica of the Stormtrooper helmet that is also a sound speaker,” concludes Bass. “It will be a premium product around £50 or more, something every real Star Wars fan would want in their man cave.”