The Imperial March

They never tire of it.

The frightened little ones, the loud-mouthed pre-teens, the squealing girls and the enthusiastic Dads – everywhere the Garrison go, you see the same kaleidoscope of reactions. All the hot girls love a Stormtrooper, all the geeks make jokes about droids, and all the smart arses end up on the pavement with their hands behind their heads.

Hell, I never tire of it either.

And we’ve had a few new discoveries this time. Working with us at Bristol and Southampton to promote our exclusive book-plated edition of Star Wars: The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, the UK Garrison do seem to like Forbidden Planet. Lord Vader himself came to inspect Bristol, where he absolutely refrained from throttling anyone (unless they really deserved it) and loomed outside the store, silent and menacing and breathing as only Vader can. Surrounded by a plethora of flashing cameras, eagerly costumed children and wide-eyed tittering Mums.

The UKG absolutely excel at the Comedy Photo Op. They will pose for days and the passing public will never let them go… but there’s also something surreal and hilarious about any Stormtrooper doing something that’s essentially mundane. Trooper reads menu, Trooper goes into shop – it’s a win every time. Faceless and humourless, voices both mechanical and polite, all they have to do is stop by the front of a market stall and people turn and point.

And they never, ever, tire of it.

Today, though, we’ve had a moment.

Spotting a pair of smartly kilted bagpipers on Southampton High Street, the Troopers naturally had to investigate. The public were naturally entertained. The piper naturally made an attempt at The Imperial March on his chanter, and promised solemnly he would ‘learn it’ for the next time.

Fair enough, we thought.

Imagine our wonder, then, when the ‘next time’ turned out to be two hours later, when both pipers came down to Forbidden Planet Southampton. As promised, he played, fucking flawlessly, the Imperial March.

We were, Troopers and store and onlookers alike, absolutely gobsmacked.

Check this out…

[vimeo 16125323 w=400 h=300]

Piper at the Gates of… from Danie Ware on Vimeo.

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Better Vader: Designed

This is a repost of a guest post for; my response to the Design a Better Vader competition. The full results and opinions of the other judges can be found here.

There you are, a scarred and battered Anakin yours to mould. You can do anything with him – anything! – change his face, his body, his gender, her image, its impact. You can remake the Ultimate Villain into whatever you want… an armoured giant, a perfect beauty, a sex toy…

Being asked to judge a competition like this means you have to make a tough choice. You know that the ten semi-finalists will all be arse-kickingly good – and you know you have to pick the best ones. It’s a hard selection – but as the Emperor threatened my son with incarceration in the Spice Mines of Kessel, I had no option: –

Forbidden Planet is about being different. For my three, I chose to look for those who’d thought outside the armour – who’d actually broken or changed the classic Vader mould and done something new with the Anakin canvas.

My second runner up is No 6 because it’s androgynous – even inhuman. I like the strong use of simple colour and the stance… and (oh yes all right) I like the weapon. Forbidden Planet aside for a moment, the Viking in me is still a bit of an ordnance freak and giving the New Vader a New Weapon seemed an integral part of the creation. It’s strong, and striking and simple – and carries the right sense of presence and fear.

My first runner up is No 9. It references Vader in the caricature helm and armour, but I love the play on Master Yareal Poof (the position of the lightsaber didn’t go unnoticed – no, I’ve never worked out how he managed to fight either!) and the comical contrast of a belly that would better on Selbulba. It’s sharp, well-drawn and insightful – and the wristwatch on the chest gives it a comedy-steampunk look that ties it all in perfectly.

My winner is No 10 – am image that has taken the traditional Vader and made him darker, more evil, less human. I love the picture – it’s gothic, dramatic, sinister – and it’s the one that’s made me think. Not about his WarHammer –esque appearance – but about how changes in his construction would change his character, would change the story in Episodes IV though VI, and change the whole Universe of Star Wars as we know it.

Could you imagine this Vader being mushy about his Jedi son?

If you’re going to design a New Vader – why just stop with how he looks?

Reposted with thanks to Emperor Palpatine, and to Diz and the boys from the 501st for their help in choosing a new Boss, right in the middle of Forbidden Planet’s birthday party: –

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Vader’s Fist: Event Horizon!

Girls can’t resist a man in uniform.

And when that uniform is iconic, faceless white armour, it’s a beacon of irresistible allure – and undeniable authority.

The ladies loved them, begged to be cuddled or hand-cuffed. Guys knelt on the pavement, fingers knotted behind their heads. I watched people, at gunpoint, lay full-length on the floor to have white boots planted on their backs. From elderly ladies to tiny cubs to suited corporates to brides-to-be, everyone adored the Stormtroopers.

The traffic hooted, chanted, cheered and sang; the local police stopped to join the fun. One ‘arrest’ turned out to be a pornographer who asked if the Troopers would have sex with his wife on camera… helmets still on. I think that startled even them.

Out of armour, the boys were pretty normal bunch – but kitting up, they underwent a miraculous transformation. Protected by their anonymity, they developed attitude and confidence; they carried themselves differently. Their speech patterns and accents changed. They became their own Brand, instantly familiar to all who saw them.

I understood their transformation… but how did they get away with making people kneel at gunpoint on a public pavement? Surely it was offensive, oppressive? Anywhere else, it’d be a tinder-spark to ignite a hundred political accusations. Wouldn’t it?

Two days with the 501st UK Garrison taught me three answers.

Firstly, simply – they understand their audience. They’re performers; their manners are flawless and their perception (if not their visibility!) sharp – they instinctively understand how far they can go.

Second, more subtle – they’re fictional. They’re iconic of our childhood, playthings, not quite real. In their stylised-skull helms, their very lack of humanity makes them a game – and less than a threat.

Lastly, crucially – they’re both magnet and power-source, they generate energy and around them, people come to life. Everyone wants to be involved, wants the photo-op – wants a part of the legend for themselves.

And that energy expands – their presence at Forbidden Planet drew in the Bulgarian Eurovision entry (seriously), filming round the store. It drew in a random Vader – turning up in costume to join the fun. It drew in cosplayers, rickrollers, passing press and pausing tourists.

It also showed me something.

The event was a vortex – a literal ‘event horizon’. It pulled attention from every direction.

Thanks to cowfish, the London Flickr Group were there. On vlog detail, sizemore was arrested upon arrival – but took some awesome footage. There were eyes and wonder and cameras everywhere; events like this are generated, enhanced and maximised by the tools and friends of Social Media.

I have a feeling Vader’s Fist will punch out and go Viral.

I’ve always known how it’s supposed to work… it’s the first time I’ve ever been in the centre of it.

It’s kind-of a Force to be reckoned with.

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