Find out how the LEGO Star Wars design team worked to bring prequels and The Clone Wars fans together with the latest helmet designs, alongside the challenges behind Boushh’s disguise…
‘Take off your helmet,’ said Snoke to his apprentice, Kylo Ren, during one of their confrontations in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. While this might have been a small scene, one that led to Ren angrily destroying his mask, it perfectly encapsulates the two reasons that helmets are used throughout the Star Wars movies and television shows. Firstly, masks are used to hide identities. In Kylo Ren’s case it’s to hide his famous lineage and connection to his parents. On the other hand, helmets can be a way to immediately recognise whether someone is part of a galactic regime, like the Stormtroopers’ allegiance to the Empire.
With helmets being so important for this storytelling, it’s no surprise that the LEGO Group has been translating some of the most iconic into display sets. Already the LEGO Star Wars theme has included everything from Din Djarin’s shiny beskar to Darth Vader’s silhouette, with 2023 seeing three new helmets joining this range – 75349 Captain Rex, 75350 Commander Cody, and 75351 Princess Leia (Boushh). This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Clone Wars storytelling as well as the 40th anniversary or Return of the Jedi, two dates that the team didn’t want to miss.
‘We know how popular the Prequels are and that the kids who grew up watching The Clone Wars are now young adults. And this is a line that’s targeted at the adult market,’ says Design Director Jens Kronvold Frederikson. ‘We thought this was a great opportunity.’ Almost all of the previous helmets have been inspired by the original trilogy, and with LEGO Star Wars fans always hoping for more prequel sets, Clone Troopers were the obvious choice. ‘We’ve been waiting for the right time to do these characters,’ adds Design Manager Michael Lee Stockwell.
Clone Troopers don’t all have the same design though, with multiple variations for different planet climates and the helmets deliberately changing in phases in order to approach the iconic Stormtroopers that will later be their replacement. ‘It might have been cool to have both Clones from the same phase, but what we wanted to do here was to have differentiation,’ continues Jens. ‘When you have them on a shelf they look really different instead of two similar helmets.’ There was a debate about which Clone Troopers to design. The Clone Wars series made the Clones more human and relatable, rather than just the nameless soldiers that appear briefly in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. With that in mind, the storytellers added personality to these characters and fans have many favourites from across the seasons.
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While the forest camouflage of Commander Gree or the greys for Commander Wolffe might have been aesthetically pleasing, it was quickly decided that Cody and Rex would be the most recognisable – especially for more casual Star Wars fans. 75349 Captain Rex became the more complicated Phase II design while 75350 Commander Cody uses the sleeker angles of a Phase I helmet. ‘We knew we would inevitably make some people happy, and others less so, but being able to cover both helmet design phases was what we were trying to achieve,’ says Michael. ‘We felt that Phase II made a lot of sense for Captain Rex and then we would keep Cody as Phase I. We never physically built them the other way around.’
By creating the two different phases, the designers also faced different challenges for each. ‘I think they were both equally hard to make, but the tubular sides on Captain Rex’s helmet were slightly more difficult,’ says Model Designer César Soares, who spent a lot of time trying to achieve the iconic markings that Rex paints onto his helmet. Adding these details was essential as they’re what makes his helmet so recognisable, from the signature blue hawk eyes painted on the front to the droid kill marks Rex engraves on the side. ‘The hardest part of Rex’s helmet was the whole front part, both the mouth area and the blue markings on the forehead. Those were pretty tricky to incorporate because of all the different angles. It was by far the part of the helmet that took me the longest to be fairly happy with it.’
When it came to 75350 Commander Cody, the multiple angles required quite a few revisions to get the visor sitting at the correct scale. While Cody’s helmet changes quite significantly between phases, one thing that remains iconic to his design is his orange visor improver. It helps to block stray rays of light and improves Cody’s targeting when taking down Separatist Battle Droids. ‘It took me a bit to get it in the right scale,’ explains Michael. ‘I remember the first couple of iterations were a little too large and too wide. It actually surprised me while working on it, how far I had to move inwards with it to get it in the right scale. And also to integrate with the rest of the build because it changes direction quite a lot from the top of the head to the visor, along with both sides. Getting all of that to follow the System and not create any unsightly gaps was the real challenge.’
Each helmet occupies a three-dimensional space, yet the curves and angles seen on screen are seamless, whether due to the prop being moulded as one piece or animated that way. Building these shapes through LEGO bricks meant the designers had to continuously be changing direction. ‘It’s going in all directions at once. Pointing out at the front, then sloping upwards towards the back,’ says Michael. ‘It’s about knowing when to break from grid formed building, which is up and down, or sideways. As soon as you start to free-form and have something that’s built with no real connection to a grid of any sort, you have to be able to start and finish in any direction.’
Although there’s plenty of references available for The Clone Wars, with hundreds of screen shots from across different episodes, the LEGO Star Wars team didn’t rewatch any of the show while working on these designs. ‘We have turnable [3D] references, which are photos of the prop from all angles, so we can be sure that we’re getting the proportions right,’ says Jens, referring to the software that allows movie props to be scanned, or uploaded in the case of animation, at very fine detail from all angles.
‘And some of the references, specifically for Boushh, this is where we are building from really old photo archives,’ adds Michael. ‘These are not the modern, digitally turnable scans that they are doing with the Star Wars films today. So, sometimes the colour can be way off or there can be a lot of shadow, and it can be tricky to see some of the detail.’
While it might seem like a random addition to this wave, 75351 Princess Leia (Boushh) is actually a very deliberate choice. After stealing the disguise off a bounty hunter with the help of Maz Kanata, Leia uses the helmet to sneak into Jabba’s palace during Return of the Jedi. ‘We were talking a lot about it, and it’s a cool helmet, but one of the main things was it’s great to also bring in a female character into the helmet range,’ says Jens. ‘Another reason is because Princess Leia is cool and it’s a great part of the film!’
However, the old, shadowy references from Lucasfilm only exacerbated the difficulties for Boushh’s colour palette. ‘Oh, it was not easy!’ laughs Jan Neergaard Olesen, the designer tasked with bringing 75351 Princess Leia (Boushh) to life using only the current spectrum of LEGO browns. ‘There are certain colours we have a lot of and there’s certain colours we don’t have, so sometimes we need to change the colours on some elements. It’s a kind of balance between what we want and how it has to look. There may have been some colours that should have been darker or lighter, but we need to stick to the ones we have in the LEGO colour palette.’
‘It’s also something we discuss with Lucasfilm,’ continues Jens. ‘We’ll ask, “what do you think is the closest match?’’ And if we are in doubt we always go back to the reference and how it appears in the movie.’ Colour choice is massively important for the designers as often there can be discrepancies between what a prop looks like in the movie compared to a reference photo due to lighting differences. ‘We had the exact same discussion for Luke’s visor [75327 Luke Skywalker Red Five]. We didn’t have the exact correct transparent colour and what we ended up doing was comparing it to the movie because that’s the reference for most people.’
Even though these new helmets come from across all different eras and mediums of Star Wars storytelling, the same attention to detail has been given to each model. With Captain Rex and Commander Cody having returned in Star Wars: The Bad Batch on Disney+, it was also great timing by the team, even if it was a happy coincidence. As the LEGO Star Wars helmet line diversifies ever further, César notes how far the team have come in a relatively short time span: ‘It’s the little details we are more aware of now. Every generation of helmets is getting better.’